Going once, going twice: Long's auctioneering skills in high demand
Posted on November 27, 2014 10:27 am CST
By Deirdre Shesgreen
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WASHINGTON – When Billy Long won his first congressional election in 2010, he thought it meant an end to his 30-year career as an auctioneer.
But it turns out his auction skills are in high demand on Washington's political and philanthropic circuit. The Springfield Republican has done more than a dozen auctions since he became a congressman — helping raise money for everything from a Capitol Hill day care to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.
Long said he gets 10 to 12 requests a year to headline charity or other fundraising events, and he says yes whenever he can. He even gets asked to perform off-the-cuff at political soirees.
"(People) love it because it's such a unique profession," Long said. "You will go to a party up here and (people say), 'Let us hear you auction, Billy. Sell us something, Billy.'"
Long had only been in office a few months when the first request came in. It was from a congressional aide to then-Rep. Pete Stark, a liberal Democrat from California.
Debbie Curtis, Stark's chief of staff, said she saw Long's bio in the directory of new members and decided to ask if he would serve as the auctioneer for her daughter's elementary school fundraiser.
"My husband said, 'Debbie, you are crazy? He's a conservative Republican. Why would he do this for you?" Curtis recalled. But Long "didn't think twice."
The fast-talking lawmaker, who made a career out of selling everything from antiques to real estate in Missouri, wowed the elementary school parents and helped raise a lot of money, Curtis said.
"He was fantastic and people loved it," she said. "He just gets people to give cash. I think we paid for our gym teacher using the money we raised at that event."
The 2011 fundraiser was so successful that Curtis roped Long into doing another event — an auction at the day care her daughter had attended and where Curtis was still actively involved. The next spring, Long found himself hawking Redskins tickets and baby-sitting services, among other items, to raise money for the Little Scholars Child Development Center, a day care operated by the Library of Congress. The proceeds paid for scholarships to the school for low-income families.
Ilene Lewis, director of the center, said it was the first time they had a congressman — not to mention a professional auctioneer — do the event.
"We were really excited" he agreed to do it, she said. "We've asked him again for this coming year."
Over his two terms in the House, Long has put his salesman skills to use to benefit everything from a mobile mammography unit operated by George Washington University to the Congressional Sportsmen's Foundation to the Humane Society of Southwest Missouri.
Hannes Combest, CEO of the National Auctioneers Association based in Kansas, said she is not surprised Long's services are in demand. Professional auctioneers bring a lot of energy to an event, she said.
"That methodical chant at a fundraising event is very useful," Combest said. "People get caught up and they want to bid and they want to bid more."
And Long, she said, "is one of the best."
Curtis seconded that assessment. At the elementary school auction, she said after Long auctioned off all the items, "he hit folks up for straight up donations."