Mfume bids for No. 3 post among House Democrats

November 15, 1994|By Michael A. Fletcher | Michael A. Fletcher,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- Rep. Kweisi Mfume yesterday announced his candidacy for the chairmanship of the House Democratic TC Caucus, the third-highest party leadership post in the incoming Congress and one that is integral to reshaping the Democrats' overall image.

"[We have] got to sit down and put in place a strategy," said Mr. Mfume, a Baltimore Democrat.

Mr. Mfume said he decided to challenge Rep. Vic Fazio of California for the caucus chairmanship because Democrats need "new ideas, a fresh approach, diversity, effectiveness and, most importantly, leadership," if they are to overcome their devastating Election Day losses.

As a result of those losses, Republicans will be in control of both houses of Congress for the first time in 40 years. "For the Democratic Party to move ahead as if nothing in fact had happened would be political suicide," Mr. Mfume added.

As the outgoing chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, Mr. Mfume can probably claim the inside track on more than a third of the 103 votes needed to be elected chair of the party caucus. And black Democrats, who were largely spared in the sweeping Democratic losses on Election Day, are likely to play a disproportionately influential role among congressional Democrats.

Mr. Mfume is among several House and Senate Democrats vying to assume leadership of the Democrats' depleted congressional forces.

The outgoing majority leader, Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri, is the favorite to become the House Democrats' minority leader, although Rep. Charles Rose III of North Carolina announced his candidacy for that post yesterday.

In the Senate, Thomas A. Daschle of South Dakota and Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut are battling for the Democrats' top leadership post.

While Mr. Mfume was careful not to directly criticize Mr. Fazio, he did point out the obvious: that the California Democrat is chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee at a time when Democrats lost control of Congress. "To some extent, he was a victim of circumstance," Mr. Mfume said.

If Mr. Mfume's underdog campaign for the caucus chairmanship succeeds, he would replace another Marylander, Rep. Steny H. Hoyer of Prince George's County, who must step down from the post because of a term limit on the job. He is expected to seek another leadership post.

In the wake of last week's Republican triumph, Mr. Mfume suggested Democrats need to re-energize their base, appealing to minority voters, union members and urban dwellers.

That view could conflict with the direction likely to be taken by the nation's leading Democrat, President Clinton, who many people believe will have to pursue more conservative policies in the wake of last week's Democratic losses.

For the past two years, Mr. Mfume has chaired the Congressional Black Caucus, a job that gave him national prominence.

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