Departing House Whip Gray to Leave Big Gap
Top black in Congress to be director of United Negro College Fund
WASHINGTON — THE expected resignation from the US House of Representatives of its third-ranking Democratic leader, Rep. William Gray III (D) of Pennsylvania, has this immediate fallout: *-The door has opened to more dynamic as well as younger future leaders in the House.
*-The influence of black leaders within the House has diminished.
*-The difficulty of getting able people to run for high office has been spotlighted.
*-In an intensely skeptical city that puts great value on political achievement, speculation inevitably swirls as to why Congressman Gray would turn his back on the prospect that within a few years he might become speaker, the top leadership position in the House.
It will take some weeks for Washington to digest fully the Gray resignation, rumored for weeks but only scheduled to be announced yesterday. He is resigning from the House to become president of the United Negro College Fund.
Meanwhile, the campaign already is fully under way to succeed Gray as majority whip. The two leading candidates are Rep. David Bonior (D) of Michigan, now the chief deputy whip, and Rep. Steny Hoyer (D) of Maryland, now chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. The two "are really distinctly the next generation of leaders. They are more dynamic" as well as younger than House Speaker Thomas Foley, says James Thurber, director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University
Other possible candidates: Reps. Vic Fazio (D) of California, Ed Jenkins (D) of Georgia, Barbara Kennelly (D) of Connecticut, and Charles Rangel (D) of New York. Were either Mr. Bonior or Mr. Hoyer to win, more dynamic Democrats would have both the No. 2 and 3 leadership jobs in the House, political analysts point out. "Gephardt's part of that generation, too," notes Thurber, referring to Rep. Dick Gephardt (D) of Missouri, who as majority leader is the second-ranking Democrat.
Gray's resignation "is a genuine loss to the Democratic leadership in the House," says political scientist Thomas Mann, director of the government studies program at the Brookings Institution: "He's demonstrated a real practical, pragmatic, nonideological" leadership in the House.
"His departure would be a real blow to the leadership, [which] already is under criticism for not representing major elements of the party, specifically Southerners and women," Dr. Mann adds. Now another large segment of the party would say it is unrepresented among the House leaders: blacks.
"I don't see anybody else" among black House members "who can move into that kind of leadership post right now," says Norman Ornstein, political scientist at the American Enterprise Institute.
Gray exemplifies the current generation of black members of the House who have been making their political marks in fields that have little or nothing to do with civil rights.
He rose to prominence in the House as the effective chairman of the House Budget Committee. Rep. John Conyers (D) of Michigan investigates government programs as chairman of the House Government Operations Committee. Representative Rangel is the acknowledged House expert on domestic drug issues.
"Gray is one of the most impressive figures, black or white, to come on the political scene in a long time," says Dr. Ornstein.
Until the emergence of Douglas Wilder as Governor of Virginia, Gray frequently was discussed by political observers as a possible vice presidential nominee. But his comments on that prospect are unenthusiastic, and may hold the key to the reasons behind his resignation from the House.
"I don't find great enthusiasm about being vice president," Gray told a Monitor breakfast group less than a month ago. "Being No. 2 is not a great thing."
He may have found being No. 3 in the House not a great thing, either. "The nitty-gritty of [being] whip never interested Bill," Dr. Ornstein says. He speculates that Gray probably found the whip job, which consists largely of rounding up votes, "pretty boring" compared to the powerful position of Budget Committee chairman.
Nevertheless, as political observers try to understand why Gray would give up the powerful whip job, some speculate on whether a legal or ethical problem may have arisen for Gray, as for several other members of Congress recently.
Informed observers dismiss the possibility.
"I have not seen a single bit of evidence" that any such problem exists, Ornstein says.
"I trust Bill Gray really felt the limits of the job and the frustrations of [the whip job] and believes he could do more outside elective office," echoes Mann. "That tells us something about the limits and frustrations of politics. There is a problem of attracting and maintaining able people in office, at a time when politics is in bad repute."
Besides, Mann notes, as head of the United Negro College Fund, Gray "is taking a position where his reputation and moral leadership are absolutely crucial to his success."