Ten years ago, few people gave Walter Fauntroy a fighting chance to make much impact on Capitol Hill. After all, he didn't have a vote on the House floor and the Congress reserved a final say over most policy and appointments.
Last night, as constituents and colleagues celebrated his decade of work as District delegate with eggplant, caviar and salmon mousse in the Rayburn House Office Building, a lot of people were marveling at how Fauntroy had survived and turned around the image of the District's representative on the Hill."He is very effective," said Rep. William Clay (D-Mo.). "Especially in the home rule fight in which no one gave him a fighting chance. "But the network he put together of all districts with a substantial black voting bloc has been used for all legislative priorities."
This year Fauntroy won the chairmanship of a subcommittee of the House Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs Committee and become chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, a post that enables him to expand his visibility on foreign and domestic pollicies. Yesterday the group called for the resignation of U.N. Ambassador Jeana Kirkpatrick because of her meetings with South African intelligence officials.
Fauntroy's enlarged role was praised by Rep. Henry Reuss (D-Wis). "He has become a national congressman. He's deeply involved in high interest rates. And he's one of the authors of the Black Caucus' alternative budget that really is a significant document," said Reuss. "The document has opened the minds of those who thought they had no alternative between fiscal responsibility and kicking the poor around."
Standing in the receiving line with his wife, Dorothy, and his son, Marvin, 16, Fauntroy greeted most of the 200 guests by name -- before he saw the names tags -- and gave a ministerial hug to most of the women. "Oh, you look mighty sharp," he said over and over to a procession of church sisters and Capitol Hill aides. The news of Police Chief Burtell Jefferson's resignation yesterday prompted several somber conversations around Fauntroy. "I am shocked and I regret he's leaving because he's a man of competency and experience," said Fauntroy. When publisher Calvin Rolark called for a few cheers for Fauntroy, he was joined by representatives William Gray (D-Pa.), Ronald Dellums (D-Cal.), Ronald Paul (R-Tex.), Don Fuqua (D-Fla.) and Shirley Chisholm (D-N.Y.), who composed a poem for the occasion.
His added responsibilities as a national spokesman, said D.C. City Council member Charlene Drew Jarvis, wouldn't diminish him impact in the city. "That role will increase his effectiveness. As he becomes a larger spokesman, the focus on the District will grow," said Jarvis. "There are an awful lot of fights we haven't won, on the federal payment, on the Metro, but I don't think it's his fault. He has to work against an insensitivity toward the city."