In Hoyer's Rise, Backers Eye Payoff

By Philip Rucker and Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Steny H. Hoyer has become such a staple of political life in Maryland's 5th Congressional District that former Prince George's County executive Wayne K. Curry says casting a vote for him there is "almost as natural as renewing your driving permit."

As the Democratic congressman from Southern Maryland prepares to assume the post of U.S. House majority leader, constituents and officials in his district hope that the move will put Hoyer in a stronger position to do what has earned him much loyal support in his 25 years in Congress: bring home the bacon.

Hoyer persistently and successfully has secured federal resources -- some call them "Steny Dollars" -- for major projects in his district, which covers all of Southern Maryland and parts of Prince George's and Anne Arundel counties.

Hoyer has helped to steer billions of federal dollars for several projects, including the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge and the University of Maryland. He is credited with protecting two Southern Maryland military bases through the BRAC process.

"You can't go into any single hamlet in Southern Maryland without seeing somewhere that Congressman Hoyer has visited or made contributions to the betterment of his community," said state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert), who has been Hoyer's ally since the 1970s.

Just as Hoyer, 67, has methodically climbed the national leadership ranks, he has focused zealously on projects for his Washington district.

"My concept is that the only reason I can be the majority leader is that the people of the 5th Congressional District have faith in me and elect me to Congress," Hoyer said in an interview this week.

Some critics in his party, however, see Hoyer as the face of a heavy-handed Democratic establishment that backed his friend Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin in his primary run for the U.S. Senate nomination against former NAACP chief Kweisi Mfume. Hoyer's support upset some Prince Georgians, who thought that it shut out Mfume from the Democratic nomination.

Others say that Hoyer can be too liberal for the more conservative parts of his district. But his electoral hold has been impressive. Since first winning the seat in a special election in 1981, his reelection victory margins have never dipped below 14 percent. This year, no Republican mounted a challenge.

Dazzling voters as a blond-haired, blue-eyed boy wonder, Hoyer won a Prince George's seat in the state Senate at age 27. He became Maryland's youngest Senate president at 35.

By 1981, when Hoyer ran for Congress for the first time, he appealed to voters with the slogan "Steny Hoyer is proud of Prince George's, and Prince George's is proud of Steny Hoyer."

The motto said something important both about how Hoyer understood the mentality of his constituents and how he hoped they viewed him, said John McDonough, a Prince George's lawyer who has run Hoyer's campaigns since the 1970s.

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