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Loyalty Leads to House...s Pick of Hoyer as New Majority Leader

By Kate Zernike


If you placed an order for a congressman, chances are you would get Steny Hoyer. There is the immovable silver hair and the gleaming smile, the assiduous courting of colleagues, supporters, and lobbyists, even the requisite life-changing encounter with John F. Kennedy.

In his early political career in Maryland, Hoyer was known as a machine politician. Here, he is “the members’ member.”

It is a label applied by his champions, who admire him as an institutionalist, as well as his detractors, who sneer at him as a pol. But both agreed on Thursday that this quality allowed him to become majority leader of the new Democratic-led House.

The biggest test of Hoyer’s political skills comes now, as he tries to lead a caucus under a new speaker, Nancy Pelosi, who has long been his rival in leadership and who strongly supported his opponent.

Hoyer, 67, has been running for some sort of political office since his 20s, when he worked alongside a young Nancy D’Alesandro — later Nancy Pelosi — for Daniel Brewster, a Democratic U.S. senator from Maryland. Hoyer later entered the state Senate, becoming at 35 the youngest Senate president in Maryland history.

During the past several election cycles, he has campaigned early for Democratic challengers, earning loyalty that ultimately paid off in the leadership election. Many freshmen lawmakers said they respected the stand his rival, Rep. John P. Murtha of Pennsylvania, had taken opposing the Iraq war, but that they had committed to Hoyer early, as he had to them.

“He was out for me before anyone thought I had a race,” said Chris Murphy, a Democrat who won a tough campaign in Connecticut.

Asked about him, Hoyer’s friends return repeatedly to the themes of hard work and a methodical nature.

“He looks the part, he speaks well, he’s got good presence, and obviously all of that helps, but in the end, it’s about whether people trust your judgment,” said Leon Panetta, who became friends with Hoyer while both served in Congress. “It’s not something you earn over a short period of time. He’s been around and he’s earned a reputation.”

Steny Hamilton Hoyer was born on June 14, 1939, in New York to a family of Danish origin — his name is the diminutive of his father’s, Steen.