For Hoyer, a Life Of Quiet Victories, Redefined Purpose
Tuesday, February 27, 2007
His father abandoned him. His stepfather was an alcoholic. By his sophomore year at the University of Maryland, Steny Hoyer was short of cash, getting D's and drifting.
Then one spring day in 1959, a Pontiac convertible cruised past him on campus, carrying a familiar figure. Hoyer followed it to the student center. Spellbound, he listened as Sen. John F. Kennedy appealed to young people to get involved in government.
"It was just like that," Hoyer says, snapping his fingers as he sits in his U.S. Capitol office. "Just like that." The next week, he switched his major from public relations to politics. He started getting A's and went on to law school.
"You know the rest," he says.
The rest is this: At 27, Hoyer became a state senator. At 35, president of the Maryland Senate. At 41, a U.S. congressman. And, last month, he captured the second-most powerful post in the U.S. House of Representatives: majority leader.
At 67, Hoyer seems the very image of the Washington political insider, with his starched white shirts and patrician cap of silver hair. He is known as a pragmatist, skilled at navigating the legislative maze and wooing K Street lobbyists. A workaholic who makes the trains run on time.
Yet there is another side: The man who quietly fought for Soviet Bloc dissidents. The husband of a teacher devoted to the poor. The idealist who keeps a bust of Kennedy in his office.
The one-time pol from Prince George's County now stands at a historic juncture, as he tries to steer the resurgent Democrats' agenda through Congress. With a record as a moderate consensus-builder, he could be key to keeping the party together and coaxing Republicans to cross the aisle.
"I aspired throughout my life to make a difference in the things I cared about," says Hoyer, his brown-and-white springer spaniel at his feet. And to make a difference, you "try to be in a position where you can effectively advocate for what you believe is best."
A position like majority leader.
'To Be the Best'
Hoyer rarely talks about his childhood. When the new Democratic-controlled House was sworn in, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) threw a four-day extravaganza highlighting her roots in Baltimore's Little Italy. Hoyer held a quiet reception in his office.
Steny Hamilton Hoyer was born in Manhattan, the only child of a Danish immigrant and a high school dropout whose family fortune collapsed in the Depression. He is named for his father, Steen.