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For attorney Christine Niedermeier, Fairfield, Conn., might be her idea of the perfect small world, after all. Ten years after leaving Connecticut for a tour of duty in Washington, D.C., Neidermeier, a former state representative and Fairfield selectwoman, has hung up a shingle in Fairfield. It’s a general practice that will eventually feature a government relations component, she said. “I came back because it’s home, and I have a lot of friends here,” Niedermeier said. Her return comes after a career trajectory that took her to the brink of a congressional seat, to a place in the Clinton Securities and Exchange Commission and on to a perch as chief of staff to U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont. But Baucus fired Niedermeier in 1999, claiming she was abusive to his staff. Niedermeier denied it and accused Baucus of sexual harassment, according to court documents. She alleged in part that he suggested they go to Disney World together, according to published accounts of the dispute. Baucus flatly denied her charge. The case made national news, but a federal judge eventually dismissed Niedermeier’s lawsuit — in which she alleged employment discrimination, sexual harassment and retaliation — ruling that she had not filed it within the unique timelines laid out for employment actions against Congress. Niedermeier was also beset with personal tragedy, when her sister was murdered in Alexandria, Va., in 2003. The case is still open. NOT RELEVANT? Political observers unanimously describe Niedermeier as a highly intelligent lawyer — she was the first woman to give the commencement address at Georgetown University in 1973. She spent time in a Wall Street firm and was a partner at Bridgeport-based Pullman & Comley. “She is a smart, substantive politician,” said Bill Curry, the two-time Democratic gubernatorial candidate who served with Niedermeier in the state Legislature in the early 80s. But Niedermeier’s absence from the Connecticut scene — and the publicity that accompanied her tenure in Washington — raises the question: Will clients hire her for government relations services when her most recent service in government ended with so much controversy? In an interview last week, Niedermeier spewed invective at the mere mention of Baucus’ name. Although initially cooperative, she abruptly terminated the interview when asked about the Baucus incident. Before she hung up the phone, however, Niedermeier said that what transpired with Baucus should have no bearing on her work in Hartford, adding that she has a “very good relationship with [Gov.] Jodi Rell” because the two of them served in the Legislature together. “It’s not relevant. I don’t plan to lobby Max Baucus,” Niedermeier said. PROMISING BEGINNINGS Fairfield voters elected Niedermeier to the state House of Representatives in 1978, a Democrat representing a Republican-leaning town. She quickly distinguished herself in the Legislature as a hard worker and became co-chairwoman of the Transportation Committee, always a body of unique interest to Fairfield County. Niedermeier ran against U.S. Rep. Stewart McKinney in 1986, giving him a tough fight in what became McKinney’s last campaign before succumbing to AIDS the following year. McKinney won, but Niedermeier’s strong showing enabled her to clinch the Democratic nomination in 1987 to run against Republican Christopher Shays for the open congressional seat. Political pundits at the time pegged Niedermeier as the favorite at the beginning of the campaign. Shays, however, capitalized on his base in Stamford and defeated Niedermeier 57 percent to 43 percent. The Fairfield lawyer did eventually make it to Washington, D.C., in February 1995, taking a job as deputy director of the Office of Investor Education and Assistance in the Securities and Exchange Commission, under former President Bill Clinton’s watch. When she joined Baucus’ staff in 1998, the Montana senator praised Niedermeier. “Chris brings tremendous talent, government experience and enthusiasm to the table,” Baucus told Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper. “It’s clear that she is going to make an invaluable contribution to my legislative efforts.” The working relationship soured, however, and by September 1999, Baucus fired Niedermeier. She then made her sexual harassment allegations while he produced a petition signed by an overwhelming majority of staffers, which accused Niedermeier of a dictatorial style of management. Niedermeier eventually filed a lawsuit the following year, claiming Baucus had publicly disparaged her job performance, according to court documents. But that claim wasn’t enough for the judge to get past the Congressional Accountability Act, which established strict timelines for bringing suit against a member of Congress. Since Niedermeier did not file her complaint until after those deadlines expired — such as a 90-day window after the conclusion of mediation — the judge ruled her complaint time barred. Since then, Niedermeier worked as a freelance television reporter and said she helped the Kerry/Edwards campaign in Pennsylvania last year. “I had not planned to stay [away from Connecticut] as long as I did,” Niedermeier said. “One thing led to another.”

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