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Schroeder's New Primary Concern : Ex-Presidential Candidate Leads Crusade Boosting Family Issues Through Five States

February 26, 1988|BETTY CUNIBERTI | Times Staff Writer

She explained to the luncheon guests what it is like to be a woman in a man's Congress. To try to point out to former House Speaker Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill that his introductions of her were sexist, she once introduced him to a crowd the same way he had been introducing her.

"We've always wondered how he mixed career and marriage but he does a terrific job," Schroeder recalled for the crowd. "Of course the most important thing in Tip's life has been his four children, which I bet if you said, 'Real quick, give me their names and birth dates,' he would go absolutely bonkers."

This is the type of little barb that delights an audience but doesn't do much for Schroeder's relationships with her fellow politicians. Washington insiders say it's part of the reason Ferraro was chosen over Schroeder for the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 1984. Ferraro had forged strong ties with Democratic leadership while Schroeder seemed to have dedicated herself to tweaking their noses.

Her comment about O'Neill, she said, was not out of line.

"I don't think he'd even think that's a negative," Schroeder said later when asked about it. "He will also tell you that Millie (O'Neill's wife) raised them all (children) and didn't move to Washington until they were in their 30s. It's not a shot at him as much as at our society."

This, Schroeder said, is really at the root of the whole problem. She told the luncheon in Atlanta, "All these other countries talk about family issues while here we talk about them as women's issues or even lesser issues. And I think it's because politicians are probably the last group in America who have (predominantly) traditional marriages."

The big stumbling block to passing family legislation packages is not the money, Schroeder asserts. "It's pennies," she said. "The root of it is they still don't think it's necessary. They think if you're going to have a family you shouldn't have it until you can take care of it in the traditional manner."

As Schroeder crisscrossed the South only a few strangers in the airports recognized her. She could walk along holding Cailin's hand and buy her an ice cream cone without crowds gathering around. At an airport gate waiting area in Atlanta, Brazelton joined Cailin in performing somersaults on the floor while others in the group looked on, attracting no attention at all from others in the airport. It was a far cry from the run of the mill presidential campaign.

"Pat is not the consummate insider," said Schroeder's press secretary, Andrea Camp. When Camp asked Schroeder for three months maternity leave last year, Schroeder initially reacted like a lot of other employers would, with a gasp of concern. But Camp got the three months and Schroeder later told her, "I couldn't have left Scott when he was a baby."

Schroeder, Camp said, "may never be Speaker. She may never be President."

But she will not go unnoticed.

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