Mfume Moves Up

December 13, 1992

Rep. Kweisi Mfume's election as chairman of th Congressional Black Caucus is a remarkable achievement for a congressman just entering his fourth term in the House of Representatives. A back-bencher no longer, he moves to the forefront as a major player in Washington, not just in Congress but throughout the nation.

The caucus of African-American members of Congress has been a bully pulpit for advocates of minority rights, economic development and urban needs. With its strength bolstered from 26 to 40 in the last election and a Democrat in the White House, the caucus becomes a potent political force.

Restoring the country's economic strength is at the top of the Clinton agenda. So it is, perhaps with different priorities, for legislators whose constituencies embrace inner cities, where jobs and opportunity are most critically needed. That social blight particularly afflicts non-white citizens is a political fact that increases the clout of the Black Caucus. No longer will the despair of places like south central Los Angeles be allowed to slip so quickly and quietly from the national agenda.

There is an irony in Mr. Mfume's election that will not be lost on Baltimoreans. The chairmanship was sought also by a more junior congressman, who argued that Mr. Mfume was too much an insider in a post that requires someone more confrontational. In his early years in Baltimore politics, Mr. Mfume was regarded by many as confrontational to a fault. He put his foot wrong once or twice as a city councilman, but as soon as he reached Congress he read the institution correctly. Now consensus and compromise are his watchwords for legislative effectiveness.

At 44, with just six years on Capitol Hill, Mr. Mfume has emerged as a man to watch. Along with his new chairmanship of a subcommittee on small business, Mr. Mfume will wield influence in the area that interests him most and makes him most valuable to his constituents: jobs and economic opportunities for minorities. He moves into Washington's central arena, where leaders are groomed for further responsibility.

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