WASHINGTON — Rep. Tony Coelho (D-Merced) said farewell to Congress on Thursday with a speech on the House floor and a celebration.
"The generosity of my constituents and the good will of my colleagues have enabled me to serve for 25 years," he said, recounting his tenure first as a staffer and, for the last decade, as one of the most promising Democratic members of the House.
"Over that time, we made a difference and we made some changes. But now the winds of change blow anew," he said in a brief speech that evoked applause in the chamber and tears from some California colleagues.
Leaves on Birthday
Political friends sponsored a Capitol Hill bash to mark the occasion and Coelho's choice of a departure date, his 47th birthday.
Promoted in 1986 to the No. 3 party post of majority whip, Coelho helped Speaker Jim Wright of Texas maneuver legislation with such success in the 100th Congress that Republicans howled.
"You know, I play hard and I work hard," he said in an interview this week. "And I'm in the big leagues and . . . I knew all along the way that when you're doing that, if you make an error, it's not going to be like somebody on the back bench who made an error."
Coelho failed to report a $50,000 loan from a savings and loan whose chief executive had set him up in a junk bond deal financed by the loan. Coelho maintains that the deal was proper and that his only mistake had been an accounting oversight.
But the deal was exposed as Wright's position was collapsing, when Coelho could have moved up from his post as whip to the position of majority leader.
"I knew for the next two years the Republicans would try to embarrass my party using the mistake that had been made," he said. The issues he had worked on--including efforts on behalf of fellow epileptics--were too important, he said.
"So my ultimate political trick was to take away from them the very thing they wanted most, to use me," he said.
Coelho said he has not chosen a new career and will spend the next three months making some speeches for money and weighing plans for his future.