Representing the 7th Changed Congress: Whoever succeeds Kweisi Mfume will have a much tougher job.

February 16, 1996

PAT SCHROEDER, Norman Mineta, Tom Bevill. In all, 20 Democrats have decided the Republican takeover of the House means it's time for them to move on. The result could be a firmer hold on the reins of power by the Republican majority. The liberal Democrat likely to replace Kweisi Mfume is in for some rough times.

It will take an exceptional person to take on this job. Mr. Mfume had the benefit of Democratic leadership during most of his five House terms. But as Congress changed, so did he, from a --iki-wearing activist to a tailored-suit conciliator able to gain praise even from conservative House Speaker New Gingrich.

It was Mr. Mfume's ability to work for consensus that made him a logical choice to head the NAACP, which has been beset by dissension as well as money problems. A consensus builder can best protect the interests of urban congressional districts such as the 7th.

These districts need representatives who are willing to go to the mat for them, but who are also smart enough to know when they're only fighting the inevitable. The inevitable includes the balanced federal budget that the American taxpayer wants -- and deserves. Achieving it will require cuts in spending that threaten to disproportionately impact urban residents, especially the poor. The next 7th District representative must be able to work within the system for a balanced budget to reduce spending while preserving a safety net for the needy.

That person must have or be able to develop parliamentary skill, deliver tactful oration and possess the ability to see clearly the interests of others. Appreciating other perspectives will be especially important for someone who will be serving not only residents of urban Baltimore but also part of suburban Baltimore County. Indeed, a key role of this new representative will be to act as a catalyst for greater cooperation between officials of these two entities who too often place more emphasis on their differences than on what they have in common.

Voters of the 7th District in 1970 elected Maryland's first black NTC member of Congress in modern times -- Parren J. Mitchell, who eventually assumed a leading role in the Democratic majority. Kweisi Mfume served as the perfect bridge between that era and this as chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus and as one of the most respected members of Congress of any hue. The next representative of the 7th District must be someone who can carry on the Mitchell-Mfume tradition.

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