Gilchrest takes his new seat on Capitol Hill

January 04, 1991|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- Wayne T. Gilchrest, who until recently taught Eastern Shore high school students how a bill becomes law in Washington, became part of that legislative process yesterday as the representative from Maryland's 1st Congressional District.

Shortly after noon, the former teacher and house painter from Kennedyville, with his 8-year-old daughter, Katy, at his side, rose with his fellow representatives in the House chamber and took the oath of office as a member of the 102nd Congress.

Mr. Gilchrest, 44, pledging "honesty and integrity" in government, had handily defeated Roy P. Dyson -- a five-term Democrat plagued by two years of scandals -- after narrowly losing to the Southern Maryland congressman in 1988.

With a "102nd Congress" pin tacked to lapel of his charcoal-gray suit, Mr. Gilchrest, one of 44 new House members, appeared overwhelmed at times by the ceremony and chaos of the first day of his first political post.

"It hasn't hit me yet," the freshman Republican later confided to one of the scores of relatives, friends and political associates crowding his fifth-floor Cannon Building office and spilling into the hallway.

Helen McCarthy, 19, of Chestertown sat under the small sign that read "Wayne T. Gilchrest, Maryland" and recalled her former civics teacher at Kent County High School, whom students simply called "Gillie."

"There were always discussions -- the whole class would be involved. It wasn't like 'pass out the papers,' " recalled Ms. McCarthy, now a junior at Virginia Tech. She remembered field trips to Washington and class efforts to pass their own bills and said, "That was my favorite class."

"I'm happy for Wayne. Most of all, I'm happy we got a new congressman," said Perry Weed, an Easton lawyer and one of eight Republicans to seek the 1st District nomination. "I think he's going to be refreshing."

Mr. Gilchrest has already made some unorthodox pledges, for a politician. He promised not to use any of the three districtwide mailings allotted to each congressman, saying they are a waste of money. He has also vowed to donate his estimated $25,000 pay raise to charity. "We're still working on the best way to do it," he said.

Such positions -- and his laid-back, homey style -- leave some political observers wondering how Mr. Gilchrest will fare in the bare-knuckles world of Washington politics. "I just hope he can help change the Congress and not have the Congress change him," said Blan Harcum, chairman of the 1st Congressional District Republican Committee.

Mr. Gilchrest brushed aside concerns that he would be a silent freshman. "When we need to say something, we'll say something," he told reporters, shortly before launching into a discussion of the Persian Gulf.

"I think the whole Congress needs to back the president," he said. "We don't need to haggle and look weak in Saddam Hussein's eyes."

Committee assignments will be made within the next two weeks, and the new congressman has started lobbying colleagues over vacancies on the Armed Services and the Merchant Marine and Fisheries committees -- two assignments that had been held by Mr. Dyson.

The Republican lawmaker hopes to focus on the Chesapeake Bay cleanup, energy and education issues.

He also plans to visit schools in the 1st District at least once a month to discuss issues before Congress, said Diane Lynch, the congressman's legislative director. She said the congressman also may appear on videotapes.

"He really doesn't want to lose touch -- that's his big concern," she said.

Four district offices will open by the end of the month in Chestertown, Aberdeen, Salisbury and an undetermined site in Southern

Maryland, said Tony Caligiuri, Mr. Gilchrest's administrative assistant.

Meanwhile, Mr. Caligiuri said there has been no contact with Mr. Dyson since the former congressman conceded defeat on election night. "We've never heard from him," he said.

Mr. Dyson was traveling with friends yesterday and could not be reached, said his mother, Marie, from the family home in Great Mills. She declined to disclose her son's location and was uncertain about his plans.

"I honestly have not heard him say," she said. "I don't think he's made any plans."

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