Barbara Boggs Sigmund, the eldest child of late Louisiana Congressman Thomas Hale Boggs, was only 15 months old when her father was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. Growing up, she recalls, Lyndon Johnson, John Kennedy and Tip O’Neill were “household objects; politics was inhaled.” When her father, by then House Majority Leader, disappeared on a lost plane in 1972, her mother, Lindy, won the special election to succeed him and has held the seat ever since.
Given that prodigious bloodline, it was not unthinkable that Sigmund, a Princeton, N.J. housewife who turns 43 next week, would eventually run for national office. And given the family track record for determination, it was not surprising that last March 27, two days after losing an eye in a cancer operation, she was out campaigning again.
After a decade politicking at local and county levels, Sigmund is running for the Democratic nomination in the race for the seat of Abscammed U.S. Sen. Harrison A. Williams Jr. (and the chance to join Lindy as the first mother-daughter team in Congress). Sigmund had initially sought a House seat, but on April 29, at the behest of some New Jersey Democrats, she switched to the Senate race. They encouraged her, she says, because “a female candidate at the top would draw more attention to the entire ticket.” In addition, Sigmund, rated a better than even chance against a field of nine men in the June 8 primary, could face a woman in the November election: starchy four-term House member Millicent Fenwick, 73.
But that prospect does not daunt Sigmund, despite the fact that her highest elective office to date has been on the Mercer County governing board. The day she was released from the hospital after her eye operation, Barbara attended a fund raiser in Princeton, where the attraction was a Dixieland band. “I hope you know that I ain’t just whistling Dixie when I say that you-all are a sight for a sore eye,” she cracked. Then she announced that Congressman Mo Udall of Arizona, who lost his own left eye 54 years ago, had sent a telegram advising, “Come to Washington and we’ll have the best two eyes in the Capitol.” (Doctors told her later the cancer had not spread and that she could safely campaign.)
Once, Barbara’s main ambition was to “find a good husband and raise six to 12 children.” At Manhattanville College of the Sacred Heart, she was a student body president; after graduation in 1961, she worked for a church-sponsored domestic Peace Corps group, then as a letter writer in the Kennedy White House and on a citizens’ advisory committee that helped form VISTA. In 1964 she married Paul E. Sigmund, now 53, a professor of politics at Princeton University. Thereupon she quit her job teaching elementary school to raise sons Paul Jr., 18, now at boarding school in Connecticut, David, 16, and Stephen, 13.
Five years later Sigmund resumed teaching and in 1972 won election to the Princeton Borough Council. “Paul says he always knew I would run for office sooner or later,” she says. “My mother said, ‘Honey, you have such a wonderful life. Why ruin it running for office?’ Daddy just said ‘Run.’ ”
Ironically, Hale Boggs was planning to attend a political parade for Barbara’s first borough council campaign when he and three others were lost while flying in a small plane between Anchorage and Juneau. Despite her father’s encouragement in that race, she’s not sure he would be entirely happy with her upward mobility. “Daddy used to say there were only two types of people we couldn’t bring home with us—Republicans and Senators,” Barbara recalls. “I pray he will forgive me for running for the House of Lords, as he always called it.”
Lindy has won election to Hale’s former seat five times, and seems a shoo-in this year. Barbara—”Hale Boggs with ruffles,” as some friends call her—expects to enlist such old family acquaintances as Lady Bird Johnson in her cause. “Barbara’s a fantastically fine campaigner, and I’ve campaigned with the best of them,” Lindy says.
The two women agree on most issues, though Barbara admits, “Mother might be a little further to the right in terms of foreign affairs.” That political concord bodes well if Sigmund goes to Washington and feels overwhelmed by the high price of D.C. real estate. “I hear there’s a trend for grown children to move back in with their parents,” says Lindy. “Obviously, I would welcome her.”