The nation has lost its first potential black speaker of the House of Representatives and Maryland, in turn, may have gained its first shot at the post. The resignation of Rep. William H. Gray III of Pennsylvania as House majority whip, the third-ranking position in the Democratic leadership, gives Rep. Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland's Fifth District, now chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, an opportunity to move up one more step.
Mr. Hoyer has launched an all-out campaign for this advancement in an uphill fight against Rep. David E. Bonior of Michigan, the chief deputy whip. Yesterday the Maryland congressman picked up important support in the large California delegation from Rep. Vic Fazio, himself once considered a possible candidate, and from Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the daughter of the late Mayor Thomas D'Alesandro Jr. of Baltimore.
As a member of the House Appropriations Committee, Mr. Hoyer has long been regarded as the most effective member of the Maryland delegation in looking after the state's economic interests. Simultaneously, he has played an insider role in House leadership affairs almost from the moment he arrived on Capitol Hill ten years ago. The combination of both positions has widened his influence, a factor that would be in Maryland's interest if he can move closer to the speakership.
Mr. Gray's resignation to become president of the United Negro College Fund leaves the Congressional Black Caucus without a member who is on the short list of blacks with potential for national office. While Mr. Gray has not ruled out using his new post as a platform for his political ambitions, he may first have to put to rest speculation that he is leaving the House because of a federal investigation of alleged payroll padding in his congressional office, this despite Attorney General Richard Thornburgh's assertions that he is not personally a target of the probe.
Although Messrs. Gray, Hoyer and Bonior all have liberal voting records, the two new aspirants for the whipship have not displayed Mr. Gray's ability to work with conservatives in fashioning consensus positions. Mr. Bonior has long been in the forefront in opposing Reagan-Bush foreign policy in Central America. Mr. Hoyer is regarded as an unflinching loyalist to the party line of Speaker Thomas Foley and Majority Leader Richard Gephardt. As a result, there could be a challenge from the moderate-conservative ranks of the party.
For national reasons, we regret Mr. Gray's departure from the House. For parochial Maryland reasons, we hope Mr. Hoyer can succeed him. Only once in the history of the country has a Marylander (George Dent) been speaker of the House, and that was on a pro tempore basis for only two days, one in 1797 and the other in 1798.