Gilchrest takes it easy on first day Agenda includes moving in, bidding for panel seats

January 04, 1991|By John Fairhall | John Fairhall,Evening Sun Staff

WASHINGTON -- On his first day in office, Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest became acquainted with congressional prestige, posing for pictures, signing autographs, talking with Mikhail Gorbachev.

OK, so Gilchrest, R-1st, was joking when he picked up the phone and said, "Yes, Mr. Gorbachev, I was expecting your call."

You can't blame a new congressman for having a little fun at first, not when you consider the trouble that lies ahead.

Even before Gilchrest took the oath of office yesterday he attended a briefing on the Persian Gulf crisis and answered reporters' questions about it. "I think the whole Congress needs to vote to support the president at this particular time," he said.

Gilchrest tended to some other business, participating in a party caucus and pushing his bid for seats on the Armed Services and Merchant Marine and Fisheries committees, which he considers important to his district's interests in the defense industry and the Chesapeake Bay. His predecessor, Rep. Roy P. Dyson, D-1st, had seats on those panels.

As a new addition to the congressional payroll, Gilchrest also faced questions about what he plans to do with the raise House members get this year. Salaries rose from $96,600 to about $125,000. Gilchrest said he plans to give a "substantial portion" to charity, though he hasn't identified a recipient.

Gilchrest is in the throes of setting up his office and hiring staff. So far he has hired six people, among them a chief of staff, former campaign aide Tony Caligiuri.

He is considering hiring a former Republican primary opponent, Perry Weed, who campaigned for Gilchrest after losing the primary. Weed visited Gilchrest yesterday, as did another primary opponent, Mark Frazer, who didn't campaign later for Gilchrest but who now has the job of trying to protect his seat.

Frazer said he is in charge of redistricting for the state Republican Party. Under one scenario being weighed by state ** Democrats, the existing eight districts would be redrawn in such a way that Gilchrest and Rep. Helen D. Bentley, R-2nd, would be thrown into a new one.

Gilchrest's more immediate concern, however, is getting organized. His suite in the Cannon House Office Building looks ++ like a home before someone has really moved in, with some furniture and phones scattered about, a nameplate in the hall but not much else.

"I might just put a little latex paint on it," joked Gilchrest, who was a full-time teacher and part-time house painter.

His office was filled most of the day with relatives and two bus loads of well-wishers from his district. He posed behind his desk with all five of his brothers and his parents, Elizabeth and Arthur A. Gilchrest Sr. of Rahway, N.J., where Wayne grew up.

If the new congressman takes after his father, Congress is in for an earful. The patriarch of the family regaled reporters with tales of his son and cheerfully admitted he thought Wayne was a fool to run for Congress.

"I thought he was crazy," said the father, "completely nuts. Because he was giving up a job, security, and then starting over at an age, what, 40 years."

The father suggested that the son consider attacking the budget deficit by freezing cost-of-living raises for Social Security recipients, a step Rep. Gilchrest says he wouldn't take. Patting a packet of cigarettes in his pocket, Arthur Gilchrest also suggested that tobacco taxes be repealed.

But the new congressman plans a low-key beginning.

"We're just [going to] be part of the team," he said. "We'll do what's appropriate. . . . When we need to say something, we'll say something."

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