On a recent Sunday morning, Rep. William H. Gray III, chairman of the House Budget Committee, speaks in the emptiness of a Philadelphia television studio. "Trent and I are going to work out this budget on your show this morning, right, Trent?" he says jocularly to Rep. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), the House minority whip, and panel members of "Face the Nation" in Washington.
Half an hour later, the Rev. William H. Gray III, senior minister of Philadelphia's Bright Hope Baptist Church, telephones a church trustee from his Cadillac Seville.
"Where are they in the service?" he asks. "Have them sing another selection if I'm not there for the announcements."
Within minutes, the Rev. Gray, wearing black robes, is standing in the pulpit. He is not a Bible thumper, though his voice soars over the "amens" sprinkled around the congregation. It is Mother's Day so he expands on an image from Proverbs that a virtuous woman is like a merchant's ship:
". . . Mothers are entrusted with a special cargo . . . Mother had to go through the storms for us. When I look back and I think about that, I wonder how they got home."
Afterward, Gray dashes to catch a plane for Dallas.
"Okay, 'bye Bill," Andrea Gray, his wife, says matter-of-factly, positioning herself at the door of his office in the church to wave him off. She is left with two family cars and three children, one of whom is sitting at his father's desk, ringing a miniature Liberty Bell.
"I'm the mother ship," she laughs.
"I was elected to Congress," Gray says with a smile. "I was called to preach. One I do because people allow me to do it. The other I have to do."
Bill Gray, the 43-year-old minister and politician, is this season's congressional star, say members on both sides of the political aisle.
Yesterday the House, by a 258-170 vote, passed its version of a deficit-reduction package, the climax of months of strategy and accommodation by its prime mover, Bill Gray.
"He's talked to all the committee chairmen," says Martin Frost (D-Texas), referring to authorizing committees who didn't want programs cut. "I don't think all those committee chairmen have been happy with what's been considered, but they appreciate that he's come out and talked to them and tried to accommodate them to the extent possible."
The budget made the headlines, but this week Gray also saw the Anti-Apartheid Act of 1985 that he introduced go to the full House, and helped get HUD aid for residents of the Philadelphia neighborhood in his district that was gutted by a massive fire after a controversial police bombing. (Gray toured the site last weekend with other members of the Pennsylvania delegation and saw Philadelphia Mayor Wilson Goode briefly. Gray said that before the police acted to evict members of the radical MOVE sect, Goode "called to advise me they were going to take action . . . because the situation had gotten out of hand.")
But he will not comment on what happened. "I don't make judgments based on media accounts," Gray said this week. "I haven't talked to enough people involved in the situation -- leadership or community people -- because of what I'm doing here on the budget . . ."
In Washington, Gray has been hailed as a consensus maker among liberals and conservatives.
"It's maybe his professional training as a minister," says Rep. Mike Lowry (D-Wash). "He's a great judge of knowing how far he can push his members. He never gets mad."
Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.) calls him "one of the brightest stars of the Democratic Party" and praises him as "someone who doesn't fuzz the issues."
Being the black, liberal congressman from Pennsylvania's 80 percent black 2nd Congressional District has intensified the spotlight. When speculation rose that the committee might freeze Social Security cost-of-living increases, some members said Gray was the only person who could get away with cutting domestic programs. Lynn Martin (R-Ill.), a member of the Budget Committee, puts it this way: "If Jim Jones (D-Okla.), Gray's predecessor as Budget chairman tried to limit urban programs, he's being a southern Democrat. If I did it, I'm being the heartless Republican. If Bill Gray does it, it's because it has to be done fiscally."
In fact, the committee voted increases in several domestic programs -- and the Republicans, with one exception, voted nay.
But he gets exasperated when asked about being the black chairman of the Budget Committee and how it affects his relations with his constituents.
"That is a racist question," he says. "And I resent it and I reject it and I just don't participate in it. Not that I deny my blackness. But that question is as stupid as going to Jim Jones and saying, 'Mr. Jones, doesn't being chairman of the Budget Committee cause you to lose your touch with your district?' "
His response: "There is no title here called, 'Black America Budget Chairman.' There is no title here called 'Black Caucus Budget Chairman.' It's called House Budget Committee chairman. I happen to be black and there is no conflict in that . . . It's been proven over the years that blacks can provide leadership in Congress."
Gray notes, "I was elected by 435 representatives to be chairman . . . I'd gotten votes from the South, the North and the middle states. I had liberals, conservatives and moderates. Folks" -- he means the press -- "looked at that and they said, 'Hey, how did he do that? We never paid any attention to him.' "
In fact, Gray started running for the job in July, after the Democratic National Convention.
"I went around and asked a few people -- like the Pennsylvania delegation and the congressional Black Caucus members -- what they thought of it. If I couldn't get the support of those two groups, there wasn't any need of running. And they all encouraged me to run."
Says his friend and Budget Committee colleague, Rep. Thomas J. Downey (D-N.Y.), "He wasn't my first choice . . . Leon Panetta D-Calif. was. But Gray said to me, 'Well, look, keep me in mind.' I don't think anyone would have given him a chance."
Gray lined up supporters, including Jim Jones and several white southern members for whom he'd campaigned. But he downplays that as a reason people voted for him.
"Most of the people they talk about me campaigning for, I campaigned for in 1980, 1982, and in '84 even before I became a candidate."
Like Lindy Boggs (D-La.). "Let me tell you where I come from with Lindy. Her husband was a congressman, Hale Boggs . . . back during the height of segregation, a vote came in Congress on the civil rights law. On one of those early occasions, the only southern congressman to vote for the civil rights act was who? Hale Boggs." He pauses. "And I don't forget."
On the night Gray's committee voted on the budget, the chairman is delighted that the result -- like its Senate counterpart -- includes spending cuts of $56 billion. The House version, though, would freeze defense spending at the fiscal 1985 level (the Senate allows an increase for inflation). The House budget would not freeze Social Security cost-of-living increases (the Senate freezes the COLA increase for one year) and while the Senate voted to do away with 13 programs, the House cut only general revenue-sharing in 1987, though it did reduce spending in others.
The House Democratic leadership, which includes Gray, decided early to wait on the budget until the Republican-controlled Senate approved its version. The goal, Hill observers say, was to keep public focus -- and pressure -- on the Reagan administration and the Senate.
"Clearly the message," says Gray, "is that we cut $56 billion, protected national security, protected the old folks, protected the poor folks." Gray has said several times he didn't want to put the burden of the deficit "on the brittle backs of senior citizens."
Republicans on his committee split from Democrats on the issue of defense. Ranking minority member Delbert Latta (R-Ohio) told reporters last week that Gray's budget "cut defense to the bone."
But the consensus maker is jaunty enough to tell everyone he talks to that his bill is a bipartisan affair. "If Ronald Reagan and Bob Dole can say that they have a bipartisan victory with Edward Zorinsky the Democratic senator from Nebraska who voted for the Republican-backed Senate budget ," says a smiling Gray, "then I got a bipartisan victory with one Republican W. Henson Moore of Louisiana ."
The halls of the Cannon House Office Building, just hours ago filled with encampments of reporters and TV cameras, are deserted when Gray leaves.
"I am happy," he says, pulling out of the parking garage in his beloved 1968 white Buick convertible -- "My contribution to the oil industry," he quips. "You pass your first budget out of committee, over the first hurdle."
Waiting at a traffic light, he stops talking when the driver in the car behind him honks noisily. Gray looks in his rear-view mirror, smiles broadly and waves his arms in triumph. The driver of the car behind him is doing the same. It's Marty Russo (D-Ill.), a Democratic colleague on the committee, an ally and one of Gray's best pals.
Russo pulls up alongside.
"Sorry about my little temper tantrum," Russo calls out the window.
"No, you did fantastic, man," Gray says.
"We had a good leader," Russo adds.
"Have a good weekend," Gray calls back as the two part.
"He got a little mad at one point," Gray says, driving along. "He thought I wasn't giving him a chance to be recognized" during the debate on an amendment offered by a Republican. Gray let the predictably critical liberal members speak first. "Then you come down to your home-run hitter," Gray says. "You want a conservative who'll be saying to another conservative, 'That's too much money.' " Gray called on his "home-run hitter" conservative (Marvin Leath, a Texas Democrat) before he realized that the liberal Russo also wanted to speak.
"I think I'll throw a little party for them next week," Gray muses.
His grandfather, William H. Gray, became pastor of Bright Hope Baptist Church in 1925, succeeded after his death in 1949 by Bill Gray's father. The church took its name from a line in the hymn, "Great Is Thy Faithfulness."
When Larry Wells, vice president of the board of trustees of the church, and other members of the congregation talk about Gray, they talk about having "raised him." "This is his family," Wells says.
"I preached the funerals of people who fed me as a kid," says Gray. "I baptized the kids of people I grew up with . . . They're the ones who paid my father's salary, who made it possible for me to go to Franklin and Marshall, my sister to go to Vassar. Sometimes my father would say, 'I don't have tuition for my son.' They'd say, 'That's okay. We'll raise it.' They'd fry some chicken and sell some sweet potato pie. I remember them coming over at night with an envelope for my father."
Bill Gray's father, a minister with a PhD in education from the University of Pennsylvania, president of two colleges (Florida Normal and Florida A & M) at different times, was a power in his community.
"A lot of people wanted his approval," says friend and Philadelphia city councilwoman Augusta Clark. "Everybody called him 'Dr. Gray.' He could run 17 programs all at one time with notes on the back of one envelope."
In a society where racism and segregation crippled lives and opportunities, black churches became a network of influential power bases in the community. The civil rights movement would spring from black churches and church leaders would become its spokesmen. Presidential candidates would court black ministers and their congregations.
So it is not surprising that the Grays knew the Kings and that Rep. Bill Gray knows Mayor Andrew Young -- because their fathers knew each other. In 1966 Martin Luther King Jr. installed Gray as senior minister in Union Baptist Church, the congressman's first church, located in Montclair, N.J.
"My father never ever said he wanted me to be a minister," Gray says. "Nor did he encourage me. Just before I left for my senior year in college, I told him I wanted to be a minister. He said, 'Are you sure? You better think about it.'
"Ultimately," Gray muses, "with all the things I was thinking about doing -- medical school, dental school -- I was intrigued by the money. I thought, 'Will money make you happy? No, it won't.' . . . My father was a college professor. My maternal grandfather was a professor at Grambling." He laughs. "I guess I wouldn't know how to be rich."
Gray graduated from Franklin and Marshall College in 1963 and earned a master's in divinity from Drew Theological School in 1966 and a master's in theology from Princeton Theological School in 1970. He also did graduate work at the University of Pennsylvania and Temple University. In 1964 he became an assistant pastor at Union Baptist Church in Montclair.
He was helping a couple plan their wedding 15 years ago when he was introduced to one of the bridesmaids, Andrea Dash.
She was a marketing representative for IBM, a Rutgers graduate, and Gray found out that both of them loved World War II movies. He told her on their first date in June that he would marry her. "I thought it was funny," she says.
They were married the following April before 700 guests in the Montclair church. "It was a little disconcerting," she says ruefully. "I was halfway down the aisle before I recognized a face."
Bill Gray moved with his wife back home to Philadelphia when his father died in 1972. He became pastor of the Bright Hope Baptist Church and four years later entered his first congressional race.
His church supported his decision to run for the seat held by a black Democrat named Robert C. Nix Jr., whom Gray claimed made infrequent visits to the district. Andrew Young, Gray recalls, said, " 'Bill, if you can pastor Bright Hope Baptist Church, Congress will not be difficult. It is essentially pastoring, ministering to the folk of your district.' "
Church members played a big part in his campaign. Augusta Clark set up coffee klatches and did advance work. His friend, George Burrell, a lawyer, discussed issues and strategy. W. Wilson Goode was the field organizer.
Gray lost by 339 votes.
A week later, Gray sat down with his wife. They decided they had enough money to try it one more time. In 1978 Gray won an overwhelming victory.
Young, serving in Jimmy Carter's Cabinet as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, "opened a lot of doors for me," says Gray. "Here I was having private sessions with the vice president before I was even sworn in. Here I was, a freshman arguing to keep sanctions on Rhodesia."
As a result of Gray's interest and his work on the Foreign Affairs Committee, Gray was selected to be in the six-person delegation -- headed by W. Averell Harriman and Young -- representing the United States at the ceremonies marking the independence of Zimbabwe.
"It is probably the highest moment in my life in Congress," says Gray, "probably even higher than being elected Budget chairman. Have you ever heard the sound of freedom being born in a nation that is black? I heard it when Prince Charles went up and handed the reins of government to Robert Mugabe. It's something that you can't describe. It was just an amazing experience. I sat up there in the stadium and cried."
It has been reported that Gray quit the Budget Committee in frustration, which Gray says is incorrect. He concedes he was frustrated by some of the committee decisions at the time, but says he left to become a member of the Appropriations Committee -- which, apart from specifically reserved seats, requires members to give up other committee posts. "I always wanted to be on Appropriations," he says.
Currently, Gray holds one of the three special Appropriations seats on the Budget Committee.
"I am a workaholic to a certain extent," he says. "I enjoy my work, I have an intensity that can be demanding and hard on staff and friends and family. I just want to do a good job on the budget. And if it's something good for the nation, it's going to be something good for the 2nd District."
Gray spends the week in a Southwest Washington town house. His wife and three children -- Andrew, 7, Justin, 10, Billy, 12 -- live in Philadelphia in a three-story Georgian colonial in the middle class, integrated Mount Airy neighborhood. Andrea Gray, 41, is with the Private Industry Council.
"It's very much like being a single parent," she says. "And there are times when the kids are in bed at 9 o'clock and there's just me."
On Mother's Day when Gray was home briefly, it had been almost two weeks since he had seen two of his children, Andrea Gray says..
"One time, we wanted to surprise him when he came back from Zimbabwe," says Andrea Gray. "The kids and I, his mother, all drove up to meet him at Andrews Air Force Base. The plane came in. He got off and said, 'Oh. You have to drive me to Union Station. I have to go back to Philadelphia.' " Gray rolls her eyes and drops her head to the desk in mock frustration.
"You don't see your kids, you don't see your family," says Bill Gray. "It's hard on me. It's hard on them. If you ask what's the drawback, that's it. My wife was pregnant when I campaigned. Here it is six years later. Those kids are grown. I've been running around airports, giving speeches."
One adjustment the Grays plan is to move the family to Washington.
"No one in Congress has a normal life," says Andrea Gray. Nor, she says, would her husband want one. "He would never be content to come home at 5:30, read the newspaper, and watch television for the rest of the evening. That's just not him. If he were a bus driver he'd find something else to be involved in. You adjust. That's all you do."
One night, Bill Gray remembers driving his car through the garage of the Rayburn building. In the passenger seat was Rep. Louis Stokes (D-Ohio). As they entered, the guard flagged them, and Gray pointed to his members' tag without stopping. On the way out, the guard was blocking the exit, his hand on his gun holster.
Gray remembers, "He said, 'What are you boys doing driving through this garage in that car? You get out of the car.' I said to him, 'Do you know who I am?' . . . Lou says, 'You get paid by me. You are supposed to recognize all 435 of us.' The guard said, 'I -- I'm new.' "
Gray tells it as a more obvious example of racism that still exists, though it's usually expressed more subtly. "When I think of the indignities my parents bore, we've come a long way but we still have a long way to go. My job as a black man is to knock down as many of those barriers as possible. Maybe as Budget chairman, I'll knock down some of them, so people after me will have a little easier time."
And the future?
"Right now, I'm content, trying to do a good job. I'd like to do a very good job as Budget chairman. I don't at this time have any burning aspiration for a higher office . . . I'm not going to be looking to the next ball game and blow this one. That's my biblical background: 'Be not anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will take care of itself.' "