Hastings Joins His Former Accusers
By Kenneth J. Cooper
Hastings, a former federal judge, joined the House of Representatives that in 1988 impeached him on a vote of 413 to 3, leading to a Senate conviction and removal from the bench the following year. About 60 percent of today's representatives, his new colleagues, voted back then to charge him with "high crimes and misdemeanors," in connection with an alleged bribe of $150,000.
One of the first votes that Hastings cast as a House member was for Thomas S. Foley (D-Wash.) to continue as speaker of the House. Foley, majority leader in 1988, voted to impeach Hastings.
So did all but three members of the Congressional Black Caucus, which has elected Hastings its second vice chairman. Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), now the senior black member of Congress, chaired the House Judiciary subcommittee that recommended that the House impeach Hastings and later represented the House during the Senate trial.
But late last year the fates started to swing in Hastings's favor.
In September, he finished second in a five-candidate primary in a newly created Miami-area district in which 44 percent of the voting-age population is black. Then two weeks before an October runoff, a federal judge ruled the Senate conviction was improper. He won the runoff and the general election handily.
So a resurrected Hastings arrived on the House floor for swearing-in ceremonies as a member of the largest freshman class since 1948, one of the first black members from Florida in 120 years (there are three this year) and the only impeached official ever seated in the House.
Hastings, wearing a dark suit with a rainbow necktie that suggested his personal flamboyance, took a seat among his former accusers with a smile, and he said there is no need to exact revenge.
"I'm not a vengeful person. I get on with life," he said. "I didn't come here with my arms and my elbows flying. I came here to work. . . . I've met with nothing but pleasant exchanges."
Hastings, 56, introduced his 27-year-old son, Alcee 2d, to fellow lawmakers and sat with two other black freshmen Democrats from Florida -- Rep. Carrie Meek of Miami and Rep. Corrine Brown of Jacksonville. He allowed that he had "come a mighty long ways" to be among 13 new black members from southern and border states.
"I bring with me the added notoriety of being impeached and removed by the same body that I now get to serve in. That in and of itself is a made-for-TV movie," he said with a chuckle.
Known as a skilled orator, Hastings promised to avoid "speaking out more than a freshperson should," and to get busy as a member of the House Foreign Affairs, and Merchant Marine and Fisheries committees. On Foreign Affairs, he said, Africa, Haiti and the Middle East would be his special concerns. "I think I'll be an impact congressperson in time," he said.
Ron Lester, a Democratic pollster who has worked for House candidates, said of Hastings: "I think he'll do well in Congress. He's a great orator. He can definitely articulate what the needs of the people are."
A black acquaintance from Tennessee who encountered Hastings on the Capitol grounds embraced him and said, "We were talking about you today -- poetic justice."
His impeachment remains a touchy issue for some members. Hastings said he and Conyers met last month in Washington during orientation for new members, but yesterday neither lawmaker would say much about the conversation. "What do you want to know for?" Conyers asked.
At a ceremonial swearing-in for black lawmakers, Hastings was greeted with loud applause when introduced to more than 2,000 well-wishers at the National Building Museum. His impeachment is not mentioned in a biographical sketch printed in a Black Caucus handbook about its members.
Hastings took repeated questions from reporters about his legal history with a sense of calmness.
"I'm weary of it. But my thinking is they must ask because that is their assignment," he said. "My great hope is in a few days they'll be asking me about Somalia, Bosnia and the Merchant Marine Academy. I want them to finish asking, and they will."
© Copyright 1993 The Washington Post Company