2 Md. congressmen likely to seek spots in House leadership November elections will influence paths of Hoyer and Wynn

January 22, 1998|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Two Democratic congressmen from Maryland are expected to seek greater leadership roles in the House next year, but their prospects depend on their party's fate in the November elections and the presidential ambitions of their current leader.

Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, an eight-term veteran from Southern Maryland, is weighing a bid to become chief whip, the party's No. 2 House leader.

Three-term Rep. Albert R. Wynn of Prince George's County has announced that he intends to vie for the vice chairmanship of the House Democratic Caucus, the fourth-most-senior position among House Democrats. Wynn, 46, would be the first black member of the House Democratic leadership since 1991.

Hoyer's chief of staff, Betsy Bossart, confirmed that the 58-year-old Democrat was considering a bid to become minority whip.

"Is he eyeing it? Of course, he is," Bossart said. "Is he going to start a campaign and start to collect votes? No, he's not going to do that. Races are a real distraction. It's divisive."

Wynn said that in trying to move up in the leadership, he wants to unify Democrats around common issues and help them regain control of the House. Of the caucus vice chairmanship, he said, "it gets you in the room" when issues and party strategies are debated.

Wynn is also considering creating a political action committee, for which he would raise money to be spent on candidates he supports. Such PACs, common among senators and senior representatives, can help cement the loyalty of junior members of Congress.

The two men's moves -- one quietly canvassing colleagues' opinions, the other openly declaring his intentions -- come amid much internal jockeying among House Democrats for senior party positions. "There is a lot of pent-up energy in the Democratic Caucus," Wynn said.

House Democrats are led by Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri, a likely presidential contender in 2000.

After minority leader, the whip is the most senior position among House Democrats. Next are the chairmanship of the Democratic Caucus, a post held by Rep. Vic Fazio of California, who is retiring, and the vice chairmanship, occupied by Rep. Barbara B. Kennelly, who is leaving the House to run for governor of Connecticut.

Reps. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut and Martin Frost of Texas are likely to seek Fazio's post. Reps. John Lewis, a Georgia liberal, and Charles W. Stenholm, a Texas conservative, are also among those considering running for leadership positions, Democratic staffers say.

Hoyer, a former chairman of the Democratic Caucus, is not interested in regaining that job, aides said. Neither will he seek a grudge match for whip against Rep. David E. Bonior of Michigan, who defeated Hoyer for that post in 1991, the aides say.

But Hoyer could rise in two ways. First, if Gephardt were to resign his leadership post to concentrate on a presidential campaign, Bonior would probably seek the minority leader's post, and Hoyer could run for whip.

Second, if Democrats were to regain control of the House, they would also capture the speakership, which is occupied by a member of the majority party. In that case, Gephardt would likely become speaker, Bonior could move up to majority leader and Hoyer could seek the job of whip.

"People see him as someone who works well with other members," a senior Democratic congressional aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said of Hoyer. "He's an aggressive guy with a point of view, willing to get into a real scrap. Steny's a formidable guy."

But, the aide said, until the outcome of the November elections is clear and Gephardt's status is resolved, it is difficult to handicap Hoyer's chances.

Unlike Gephardt and Bonior, Hoyer has taken many moderate stances on key issues, supporting free-trade initiatives such as NAFTA. He is sometimes credited with reaching across party lines for compromises with Republicans.

Wynn, an assistant whip who has championed issues important to the many federal workers in his district, is well-liked on Capitol Hill but is less widely known.

"We've got to figure out how to get out of the minority," Wynn said. "We need to do things a little differently, to carve out messages and portray ourselves in a way that appeals to the country."

Pub Date: 1/22/98

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