Md. delegation offers speech bipartisan praise

WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON -- As yesterday's inaugural ceremonies were about to get under way, Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski stepped to the side of the platform where President Clinton would soon take the oath of office and gazed down at a quarter-million people spread out before her.

"Hi, everybody," she shouted, grinning, to no one in particular.


Then the Democrat from Baltimore, clad in a purple wool coat and red beret, pulled out a tiny camera and started snapping away.

She wasn't the only shooter in the official crowd. Other members of Congress were doing the same thing, looking very much like tourists on their first visit to Washington, including Sens. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, Dale Bumpers of Arkansas, John B. Breaux of Louisiana and House Republican Leader Robert H. Michel of Illinois.


Ms. Mikulski said while she enjoyed the inaugural address that followed her picture-taking, she was somewhat surprised by the brevity of the speech, given Mr. Clinton's reputation as a long-winded speaker.

"He's like me," she said later. "He likes to snack, he likes to stay up late and he likes to talk."

But if it was brief, she said, "it was also inspirational." The senator said she was especially pleased by Mr. Clinton's call to America's young people as well as his insistence on the importance of personal responsibility. It's time, she said, "to return to our roots and return to responsibility. Government can form a partnership with people who practice self-help."

Praise for Mr. Clinton's address from Maryland's representatives on Capitol Hill was bipartisan, as even Republican gave the new president at least a one-day honeymoon.

"He had a couple of good lines," said Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, a Republican. "I liked the part about nothing being wrong in America that couldn't be cured by what is right. He spoke well. . . . I just hope he lives up to it."

On the other hand, the Baltimore County congresswoman said, the poem recited by Maya Angelou, "was a little long. She lost me at about the fourth line."

Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes wasn't as surprised by the length of the speech but was just as pleased with its message.

"I thought it was excellent. He touched on the themes he sounded during the campaign -- opportunity and responsibility, and the challenges that government faces," said the Democrat from Baltimore.


Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin said the speech's length was "a pleasant surprise. It's cold out there. This wasn't a time for detail. It was a time to set the mood."

One Maryland legislator who did not attend was Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, who decided to stay home because his 19-year old son Kevin headed off to Parris Island yesterday for Marine Corps boot camp. Mr. Gilchrest, a Republican from Maryland's Eastern Shore, was hoping his son would call home yesterday morning, though he did not.

"I watched the speech on television," he said. "They didn't need me in Washington."

For Rep. Kweisi Mfume, the day wasn't special only because there was an inauguration, even of a fellow Democrat. Another high point was the chance to escort African National Congress President Nelson Mandela, whom he invited to the ceremony.