A few days after the birth of his daughter, Republican Gary Franks went to a Congressional Black Caucus meeting. His colleagues were showering him with congratulations when Charles Rangel, the effusive and very Democratic New Yorker, noted that the baby was born on his birthday, June 11.

"Yes," Franks responded quickly, "but I prefer to look at it as she was born one day before George Bush."

Both men retell the encounter with laughter.

That's one of the ways Franks treads Washington as the political community adjusts to a young, black, conservative Republican. One of a kind in Congress, Franks is game enough to be part of the black caucus, a group that passionately opposes most of his views; shrewd enough to recognize the advantages of being a conservative in the Bush era; and yet wary enough to reject efforts to make him a Republican showpiece.

"I see being a black Republican as unique, I don't see being a black conservative as unique," says Franks, who represents a tract of 25 towns, including Waterbury and Danbury, in western Connecticut. "I have a lot of views that many in the black community would agree with. I strongly believe in the Man Upstairs. And I say just do the right thing yourself."

Bush, God and Spike Lee.

Franks, 38, works in the same maze of mahogany cubicles in the Longworth House Building that served as Bush's congressional office. The links are fundamental: Both are Yale men, Bush '48 and Franks '75, and both were captains of sports teams. Franks likes to point out, "I'm more conservative than George Bush." He has a full face, smooth like that of a model for a skin care product. When the 6-foot-1 ex-basketball player walks, he has a graceful lightness -- perhaps the result of his practicing jump shots as a teenager while wearing ankle weights.

In his first seven months in Washington, Franks has proved to be the conservative he advertised and has won over a few in his own party who didn't know what to expect. He's not part of "group-think," says Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), who has lined up as an admirer. Indeed, Franks, who is solidly pro-abortion rights, departs from Hyde on that issue.

More frequently, Franks has been the only dissenting voice in the black caucus -- he supports Clarence Thomas's nomination to the Supreme Court, he voted against the civil rights bill, he sided with the president on the Persian Gulf War and he approved lifting sanctions against South Africa. Franks's mere presence as a Republican official is a public recognition of how black politics is often played behind the scenes. Political diversity within the African American community is generations old; most blacks have grandparents or great-grandparents who were Republicans. And there has always been a cozy coexistence between black Democrats and black Republicans.

"We are showing our diversity. In a way we are being forced to," observes Thaddeus Garrett Jr., a Republican who has worked for Bush and the late Nelson Rockefeller. "At the Congressional Black Caucus dinner, I bet one third of those tables are bought by black Republicans because we are usually the businesspeople."

Still, as Franks's differences are acknowledged, a new protocol might be developing. Do you laugh or not with the lone black Republican? When he addressed the National Press Club Foundation dinner early this year, he described himself as "a minority of a minority within a minority that is a minority" and pledged to run the black conservative caucus as a "tight ship." The reaction to his attempts at self-deprecating humor was painfully tentative.

Do you put him on display? After all, he is the only federal elected official out of a small but vocal group of black conservatives and officeholders. "We have not paraded him all over the country," says B. Jay Cooper, the director of communications for the Republican National Committee. "We talked a little bit about it, about 30 seconds. There was quick agreement he didn't want that to happen, we didn't want that to happen. We want Gary in the Congress and in the party for a long time." Rep. Nancy Johnson (R-Conn.), a member of Franks's inner circle, feels his visibility is valuable, however. "It is important to show {that} responsible, able, successful blacks choose to be Republicans," she says. Having concurred with that, Franks points out he did speak at the Young Republicans' national convention a week or so ago. "Only when time allows," he says.

Finally, how do you run the Congressional Black Caucus, one of the most forceful groups pushing the progressive black agenda, with a new voice that is often at odds with yours and might influence others? Since January, the 25 Democrats in the group have called an occasional caucus to discuss some issues. "I have participated fully in the debates," Franks says, stressing that the times he has been excluded have been few. When it has happened, he says, "I have no problems with that. At one point they wanted to discuss derailing the Thomas nomination. They said they would take it up at another time."

The Young Minority None of this scrutiny and isolation is new to Franks.

At Sacred Heart High School in Waterbury, Franks, a Baptist, was elected president of the senior class of the Catholic school. There were three blacks among the 1,000 students. At Yale, which he attended mostly on scholarship, his friends remember there were 50 blacks in his freshman class of 1,000. Waterbury, the largest city in his district, has a black population of 5 percent, and the state's black voting population is 7.4 percent.

"Whenever my name appears on the ballot, I finished number one. You cannot tell me I can't get votes in a district or town that has a very small black population. You cannot tell me I can't get votes in predominantly black sections of cities. You cannot tell me I cannot get blue-collar votes, because I have done that. You cannot tell me I can't win the district, because I won the district when I ran for state comptroller," he says.

Yes, that's the indisputable track record. But the passion and smugness of his defense reflect more than those numbers. It resonates with the soul of the Richard Franks, who would turn off the television when his children were watching "Bewitched" instead of reading.

Recalls his son: "He would say, 'They got theirs, yours to get.' "

Youthful Struggles The household of Gary Franks's childhood rang with people and philosophy. The day-to-day words and examples gave him the backbone to deal with the insults and tokenism that came later.

"My father's belief was, the more you give the more you receive," says Franks. His father had only a sixth-grade education, could barely read or write and worked in a brass mill for 40 years; his mother, Jenary, was a dietary aide at Waterbury Hospital. They emphasized education for their six children, five of whom went on to earn advanced degrees, and shared their outlook, love and space with a number of relatives from North Carolina who lived with them.

The senior Franks preached: "Be proud of whatever you do, whether you are mopping floors or cleaning toilets. Or the head of the company." Indeed, Gary, the youngest child, nine years younger than anyone else, got a job cleaning toilets and mopping floors at a hospital when he was 16. Later, he was a rank below vice president at a Fortune 500 company.

When Gary was 9, his father moved the family to a single-family house in a predominantly white neighborhood. A cross was burned in the front yard, a neighbor's dog was shot on the lawn by someone claiming that it was a deer, and a dead opossum was wrapped in a bloody sheet and left in the mailbox. Enlightened New England. The last act brought in the FBI.

"Another black family had just moved in and we moved in and they {the neighbors} said, 'That's it,' " Franks recalls.

In high school, his idol was Dave Bing, the all-star guard for the Detroit Pistons and later the Washington Bullets. "Should I say Bill Bradley?" asks Franks, looking out the window of his office toward the Senate buildings and laughing.

Because he had been an all-state basketball player in high school, Franks took a certain reputation with him to Yale. But he didn't flaunt his star status. "Tim Kearns, who was on the Yale team and had played against Gary in high school, told us he had guarded Gary in a game and all he saw the whole night was the bottom of his sneakers," recalls Leroy Watkins, an attorney for the New York City schools and a Yale teammate. "We teased Gary about this and he said, 'I really didn't have a good game at all.' We went back to the news clips and he had had 48 points that night -- the team had won by 20 points. He had had this dream night and he downplayed it. ... He had tremendous ability but none of the attitude problem. He had an ego but he never abused that."

Though he was the captain of the freshman and varsity teams, some of his friends didn't think he received enough respect. "He wasn't treated fairly. ... He didn't receive as many minutes as he should. In the last game he scored 25 to 26 points, and he was capable of doing that most of the time," says Cleveland Mair, a Philadelphia businessman and a classmate. Franks says his own playing time was a "disappointment" but he didn't take umbrage. "Any athlete would love to play every minute. It bothered me that we lost so many games," he says.

But it is not the ups and downs of the basketball team or the honor of being invited to join Book and Snake, one of Yale's secret societies, that Franks describes as his awakening. He volunteered to teach in a local prison project. "I taught reading, and I am not sure why but my grades went up, everything went far better for me during that time," he says. He earned a bachelor's degree in sociology.

It was, he says, a fulfillment of his father's philosophy. So in 1990, when people were saying a black Republican really can't understand the hardships of race, when someone was writing "nigger" on his campaign signs and calling up whites and saying, " 'You aren't going to vote for this nigger, are you?' " he didn't want to hear about it.

The Independent Road It was in the early years of his professional life that Franks found Republicanism.

"I believe the Republican Party is one that would always talk about low taxes, about controlling spending and having a strong defense," he says. His first Republican vote was in 1976, for Gerald Ford.

After Yale, Franks worked in labor relations for 10 years at Continental Can Co., Chesebrough-Pond's Inc. and Cadbury Schweppes PLC. That experience helped shape his view on how affirmative action really worked. He has seen fair and open recruiting pushed aside for friendship and nepotism. He knows, he says, a quota when he sees one.

"I am a strong believer in programs, goals and objectives. ... The old network system did not include blacks, did not include women," he says. When he had to make hiring and promotion decisions, he says, he used an open system of competition. When he had to vote on the civil rights bill, he says, his opposition was based on his experience, his fear that companies might use a policy of forced quotas as an excuse to move out of communities. It was also based on his distaste for what he thought was the politicalization of the issue by the Democrats. "I question whether some Democrats truly want a civil rights bill or if they want a political issue," he says. Franks, who had announced his opposition to last year's bill in his campaign, was an early opponent of this year's version.

It was his independence that kept him in the public eye during his three two-year terms on the Board of Aldermen in Waterbury. When city officials were considering new schools to improve the racial balance, his Republican colleagues proposed remodeling a supermarket for a Hispanic neighborhood. "I said, 'Hell no; hell no.' You don't give them an old Pathmark, give them a brand-new school," says Franks. He describes another fight for across-the-board cuts in senior citizen centers instead of a proposal to target two programs. "One just happened to be a Hispanic center, one just happened to be a black center," he recalls, sarcastically.

When Franks was vice chairman of the zoning commission, he fought for rezoning notification. The policy change required that letters be sent to households where zoning was being revised, and that a sign be installed in the neighborhood. By coincidence, he stresses with a smile, he was not reelected president pro tem of the aldermen, and he was removed from the zoning commission. "He has some good gut political instincts," says Donald Schmidt, former executive director of the state GOP. "But also he is not one for compromise."

In 1986 Franks ran for state comptroller and personally paid for his television commercials and 200,000 pieces of direct mail. The campaign cost $124,714, according to the state records. He ended up with more votes than any other Republican on the slate. "Most people think black politicians can't walk, talk and chew gum at the same time. He was running against that perception. Once the television commercials started playing, once he started talking, it became clear he had an opinion based on sound judgment," says Schmidt.

A few months before the start of his congressional campaign, Franks married Donna Williams, who worked for a New York real estate company. She has a 7-year-old daughter, Azia, and the couple have a newborn, Jessica Lynn.

The big guns of the Republicans, including George and Barbara Bush, campaigned for Franks last fall. Three members of the Republican National Committee staff worked on his campaign. "It was a little unusual, but we were involved in three major races with black candidates. That's what Lee {Atwater} wanted to do, that is what the president told him to do -- to stop giving lip service. We should recruit, which we didn't do in Gary's case, and support by raising money and giving staff training," says RNC communications director Cooper, a native of Waterbury.

The campaign was not trouble-free.

Franks's race against former congressman and television anchor Toby Moffett was highly charged with accusations that Franks had been programmed by the RNC and was a slumlord. He refused to answer those accusations or to release his financial forms. "I was not going to play to the dictates of my opponent. He was trying to get control of the race. I was not going to jump when he said so. I was not going to run when he said run," says Franks, who was then earning his living from real estate investments. Franks became the first black Republican in the House in nearly 60 years, with 52 percent of the vote.

Despite the visibility and name recognition, he still had to fight the assumption that since he was black, he must be a Democrat. Black Republicans are a faction that is often maligned and periodically drops out of sight, although the GOP has controlled 19 of the past 23 years of presidential politics. The liberal and moderate wing of this minuscule unit has been largely out of any power loop for 12 years. In the Reagan years, most of the conservative black Republicans found themselves lightning rods for discussions of affirmative action but not inside players.

Yet with the nomination of one of the architects of the black neoconservative philosophy to the Supreme Court, that viewpoint may finally be attaining wider attention.

Of the 435 black politicians in state legislatures, only three are Republicans; only two black Republicans have been elected statewide. "There is still virtually no black Republican political presence," says David Bositis, senior research associate at the Joint Center for Economic and Political Studies. But those who are making a mark are getting elected from overwhelmingly white districts.

Still, black Republicans do not speak with one voice on any issue. In the debates over last year's civil rights bill, Franks not only separated himself from the black Democrats and the House leadership but from some of his fellow black Republicans -- Louis Sullivan, Constance Newman and Arthur Fletcher.

A Different Dimension When Franks sits downs with his colleagues -- to lobby an administration official or to draft a policy statement -- he doesn't take the back-seat posture of a new player.

Nancy Johnson recalls a recent discussion with Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney. Johnson asked Cheney to hear their request that the second Seawolf submarine be built at the Electric Boat shipyard in Groton, Conn. Franks, who is a member of the Armed Services Committee, talked about how the Defense Department would save money because this particular shipyard already had the necessary equipment and expertise.

"Frankly, Cheney was surprised at how well prepared he was. It is not just the knowledge but the presentation," Johnson says. The arguments got Cheney's attention, the Office of Management and Budget reviewed the budget arguments, and the shipyard won the $614 million contract. Because of the decision, the Navy is being sued by the city of Newport News, Va., and others who accuse it of unfair bidding practices.

Just Franks's existence as an independent and conservative black politician has brought a range of reactions from his black colleagues, and some adjustment to the traditional workings of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Rep. Mike Epsy (D-Miss.) says maybe the liberal juggernaut needs to be shaken up. "I don't think anyone should expect we have monolithic viewpoints as we grow and develop and become more diverse. Next year we will have eight or more new members and most of them from the South and most of them will not have predominantly black constituents," says Espy, who voted with Franks against the Brady gun control bill and for a bill to allow public housing tenants to buy their own buildings.

Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District's delegate, says success for a national black agenda is going to take more input from black Republicans. "I think it is a shame that Republican policies for more than 10 years had the effect of chasing blacks out of the party and therefore reducing our leverage," she says. Norton likes Franks and only wishes that "he comes to feel free enough from national Republican politics to express himself freely."

"He has added a new dimension," says Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), who is bothered by Franks's conservative stands, "but I don't think he has been able to influence the mindset."

With all due respect, Franks says, "obviously I bring a different view. That is what any congressman does. That is why we give speeches. That is why we are here."