Bonior is chosen House majority whip over Hoyer

July 12, 1991|By Peter Osterlund | Peter Osterlund,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- House Democrats elevated Representative David E. Bonior of Michigan to the rank of majority whip yesterday, brushing aside the candidacy of Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland for the third-ranking post in the party leadership.

OC Mr. Bonior, an eight-term lawmaker who has served four years as

chief deputy whip, defeated Mr. Hoyer, the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, by a decisive 160-109 vote. The new whip is to take the place in the leadership hierarchy currently occupied by Representative William H. Gray III of Pennsylvania, who is to quit Congress in September to head the United Negro College Fund.

Mr. Bonior, 46, has earned a reputation as an unflinching liberal, one whose aggressive convictions belie a characteristically stoic demeanor. Mr. Hoyer, 52, on the other hand, has honed a reputation as a centrist, though any real philosophical distinction appears more a matter of degree than kind.

But if it is outspoken, old-fashioned liberalism that House Democrats want to hear from their leadership, Mr. Bonior promises not to disappoint.

"These are the bread-and-butter issues that unite us as a party: tax relief for working families, health care for working families and rebuilding America with working families," he said after his victory.

Yesterday's ballot was secret, a fact that made the accuracy of ** Mr. Bonior's earlier vote projections all the more remarkable.

Mr. Bonior, however, had boldly claimed 160 supporters last week, even as Mr. Hoyer's supporters repeatedly insisted that the projections of the rival camp were off base. Several lawmakers and observers marveled at the apparent precision of Mr. Bonior's polling -- a fact, they concluded, that augured well for one who will be charged with determining Democratic support for the hundreds of initiatives and bills that hit the House floor.

"One thing's for sure, they've got themselves a whip who can count," said Representative Robert S. Walker, R-Pa.

Mr. Bonior probably wasn't elected for his arithmetic abilities, however. Several Republicans suggested that his victory reflected the diminishing influence wielded by conservative and moderate Democrats among their House colleagues.

It is just as likely, however, that the election of Mr. Bonior means that he is simply better liked than Mr. Hoyer. The voluble Mr. Hoyer, who represents the 5th District, has a reputation for a smooth yet aggressive style that rubs some lawmakers the wrong way. Though some are put off by Mr. Bonior's comparative taciturnity, he has won fewer antagonists with his quiet, dogged style.

That kind of persistence has paid off handsomely. Two years ago, he narrowly lost the whip's race to Mr. Gray, and has quietly collected respect since as Mr. Gray's deputy.

"He lost a race before and he lost it with grace in a very hard-fought campaign," said Mr. Hoyer. "I think that was, frankly, the key to his victory."

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