Ex-teacher Gilchrest gets schooling on Capitol Hill

November 29, 1990|By John Fairhall | John Fairhall,Evening Sun Staff

WASHINGTON -- Wayne T. Gilchrest, school teacher turned congressman-elect, is back in class, learning the ways of Capitol Hill.

The 44 new members of the U.S. House of Representatives, including Gilchrest, R-Md., are attending freshman orientation this week, attending seminars on topics ranging from ethics to office automation.

Next week, the group will be flown to Massachusetts at government expense -- a travel perk they'll learn about at the Capitol Hill seminars -- for a week of policy talks at the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government.

The Class of '90 includes a self-described socialist, Bernard Sanders of Vermont, four women and four blacks. The latter include Gary Franks of Connecticut, the first black Republican member of the House since 1935, and Democrat William J. Jefferson, the first black member from Louisiana since Reconstruction.

Twenty-five freshmen are Democrats, 18 are Republicans. One, Sanders, actually ran as an independent but says he will caucus as a Democrat.

The lawmakers won't be sworn in until Jan. 3. But, as Gilchrest is discovering, congressional business begins the day after election.

"Well, we're categorizing about 700 resumes -- mailed resumes -- and then we have the walked-in ones," says Gilchrest, who's working out of his campaign office in Chestertown. "An awful lot of people want jobs from chauffeur to" administrative assistant.

Some constituents already have asked Gilchrest to help them. And he's been inundated with invitations to speak and to attend social functions. "I'm not much of a socialite," he says, indicating he'll be saying no to many RSVPs.

Gilchrest, who will be representing Maryland's sprawling 1st District, has gotten advice from more people than he can remember, among them several current members of Congress as well as Jack Kemp, a former congressman who now is secretary of housing and urban development.

Gilchrest is keeping an open mind except when it comes to some "Washington people" who believe he needs their help. "I've had some people come in and assume we're going to be taken over," he says. "We're not going to be taken over."

Two Maryland members with four years' experience each, Benjamin L. Cardin, D-3rd, and Tom McMillen, D-4th, urge caution in hiring key people.

McMillen says it's important to hire some people with Washington experience and others with district experience. Cardin emphasizes building relationships with other members.

"I mean this place operates on relationships," Cardin says. "Committee assignments and everything else are predicated on that."

Gilchrest can hire up to 22 people with the $440,000 he's allotted for staff salaries. He says he intends to appoint his "core group" of campaign workers to Washington or district jobs, but he hasn't announced their specific positions.

He has said he won't keep any of outgoing Democratic Rep. Roy P. Dyson's staff. He says he'd like to maintain four offices, instead of the current three, in Salisbury, Chestertown, St. Mary's County and Aberdeen.

One problem -- whether to commute by car from Kennedyville or drive to the nearest train station -- hasn't been solved. If Gilchrest has to work late, he'll sleep in his office.

"Sleeping on a sofa in the office is a far sight better than sleeping on a pile of buffalo manure in a rainstorm in Vietnam," says the ex-Marine and Vietnam veteran.

Bipartisan orientation programs began yesterday with welcoming remarks by congressional leaders and an hour-long introduction to the job of a new member. Seminars followed on such topics as ethics, official allowances and expenses, and organizing a congressional office.

Today, the program includes seminars on members' benefits and services, franking (free use of the mails) and the benefit of experience and advice -- the latter sounding like a polite caution from senior members.

Spouses are having their own program today and tomorrow, with spouses past and present such as Marilyn Quayle counseling them on issues like getting along with staff.

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