Hoyer's leadership climb stalls Bonior elected majority whip by large margin.

July 12, 1991|By John Fairhall | John Fairhall,Evening Sun Staff

WASHINGTON -- Maryland Rep. Steny H. Hoyer's climb up the House leadership ladder has been stalled by a lopsided defeat in an election for majority whip, the third-highest post.

Michigan Rep. David E. Bonior, deputy majority whip, clobbered Hoyer 160-109 in a vote of House Democrats yesterday.

Bonior is a liberal and a foe of abortion. As whip, he said, he will represent the abortion-rights views of the Democratic majori

but will vote his conscience on individual bills.

Bonior said after the vote that he will advocate an agenda of "rebuilding America for working families," including tax relief and health care. He accused the White House of permitting jobs to be "shipped overseas" and doing nothing about the recession.

Hoyer, D-5th, seemed stunned by the defeat and brushed off questions about the loss and his future in the House leadership.

"I'm still caucus chairman," he said.

Hoyer, 52, has been Democratic caucus chairman, the fourth-ranking post, since 1989, and has not hidden his interest in becoming House speaker one day. "Would you believe me if I said anything other than that? Of course not," he told an interviewer last year.

But Hoyer's ambitiousness, widely recognized in the House, may have hurt him in the whip race.

Senior committee chairmen snubbed Hoyer, who was elected to the House in 1981, in favor of Bonior, who was elected in 1976. Furthermore, Hoyer may have gotten off to a late start in the whip race to counteract any perception that he was overly


Bonior, 46, began running even before Rep. William H. Gray 3rd, D-Pa., the incumbent whip, announced last month he was resigning to become president of the United Negro College Fund. Hoyer heard the same rumors that Gray might quit, but he held off campaigning until Gray made his announce

See HOYER, A8, Col. 1 HOYER, From A1 ment.

"Steny is looked upon differently than Dave Bonior and he has always had to overcome the concern of being too aggressive. So that is why it was probably difficult for him to start when there was an apparent vacancy," said Maryland Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, D-3rd, Hoyer's longtime friend and a supporter in the whip race.

Cardin said also "it was not in good taste to begin that early without a vacancy." But that wasn't held against Bonior, whose head start "appeared to be the major difference in the race," he said.

The margin of defeat surprised Hoyer's supporters. Bonior, however, had steadfastly predicted he'd receive 160 votes, and his support held, even in secret balloting that allows the unfaithful to break commitments.

For the future, Hoyer appears secure as caucus leader. Given the recent turnover in House leadership -- which includes the abrupt departures two years ago of Speaker Jim Wright and Gray's predecessor, Tony Coelho -- there may be other

unexpected opportunities.

Majority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, D-Mo., the No. 2 man behind the current speaker, Thomas S. Foley, D-Wash., is said to be considering a run for president.

Hoyer took note of Bonior's own history -- the Michigan Democrat lost two years ago to Gray in his first race for whip. "The Bonior precedent is clear in my mind," Hoyer said.

Bonior's ascent will set off jockeying for his chief deputy whip post. House leaders may split the post into three jobs to make room for minorities and Southerners.

Had Hoyer won, some members would have pursued his job or that of caucus vice chairman, which is held by a potential Hoyer successor, Rep. Vic Fazio, D-Calif.

Maryland Rep. Kweisi Mfume, D-7th, had considered running for vice chairman in the event Fazio moved up.

Had Hoyer won, "it would have been a major plus for Maryland," Cardin said. "Understand, of course, Steny holds an extremely important post for Maryland now. He is at the highest table of leadership meetings."

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