WASHINGTON -- During his victorious and sometimes bare-knuckle campaign against Representative Roy P. Dyson, D-Md.-1st, Wayne T. Gilchrest trumpeted his opponent's ethical troubles.
But yesterday, Representative-elect Gilchrest and 42 other freshman lawmakers quickly learned that once on Capitol Hill, some things are best discussed in private. Disappearing behind closed doors, they turned to the first item on their agenda: congressional ethics.
Before the huge, wooden doors slammed shut on the ornate Cannon Caucus Room, House Minority Leader Robert H. Michel, R-Ill., reminded the members that ethical lapses could put a quick end to their careers in Washington.
"Don't try to stretch those rules," he warned. "Don't try to stretch the law."
The easygoing Mr. Gilchrest, a pen tucked behind his ear, strolled into the cavernous room of chandeliers and columns with aide Tony Caligiuri and settled into a chair in front of a bulky, blue orientation notebook.
The former Kent County High School teacher -- who handily defeated Mr. Dyson, a five-term incumbent plagued by questions about his ethics and integrity -- heard pep talks from House leaders, greeted fellow members and chatted about his impressions on being a freshman.
And what about the possibility that he may have to vote on declaring war in the Persian Gulf? "I think the [military] buildup will prevent us from going to war," said Mr. Gilchrest, 44, a Vietnam veteran who has listed the Armed Services Committee as one of his choice assignments.
But for the remainder of the week, the new House members -- who include a former TV reporter as well as the body's first Socialist in more than 50 years -- will tackle less deadly issues, ranging from "organizing your congressional offices," to "the benefit of experience and advice."
They will officially take their seats at the start of the 102nd Congress in January.
Mr. Gilchrest may be on time that day, but he was 15 minutes late yesterday -- stuck in a traffic jam on U.S. 50, with so many of the other Washington-bound commuters he will be joining on a regular basis.