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Hanging With the Big Boys : Politics: Freshman representative Majorie Margolies-Mezvinsky plays rough when she has to in a tough district.


WASHINGTON — Rep. Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky arrived at her office for an interview carrying a carton of eggs.

Apologizing for being late, she explained that she had stopped by a congressional "omelet do" in hopes of getting a fast lunch, but the cooking had just ended. "So they gave me a dozen eggs instead."

As the freshman Democrat who cast the vote that saved the first Clinton budget, Margolies-Mezvinsky is not about to refuse a contribution.

Elected in 1992 by a scant 1,300 votes in a wealthy suburban Philadelphia district that is 2-to-1 registered Republican, she is running hard to persuade constituents that, despite breaking her promise not to increase taxes when she voted for that budget, she deserves a second term.

"I will always, always have a very, very tough district," she said during the interview, conducted literally on the run as she sprinted between her office and the House floor. "There are certain people who will never vote for me, and the budget vote gave them a real platform."

Media-savvy from a prior career as a television reporter, Margolies-Mezvinsky has crafted a platform of her own.

Aided by a former Washington Post researcher, Barbara Feinman, she has written a book about her experiences and those of 23 other women first sent to the House of Representatives in 1992, the so-called Year of the Woman.

The book, "A Woman's Place: The Freshmen Women Who Changed the Face of Congress" (Crown, 1994) is full of anecdotes about chauvinist slings and arrows in an institution that, despite a rise in female representation from 29 to 48, is still 90% male.

For example, while congressmen invariably refer to each other as "my distinguished colleague" from such and such a state, they often call women members by their first names, she wrote.

When Rep. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) publicly called Margolies-Mezvinsky "that three M girl," she was irked not so much by the shorthand for her tongue-twisting moniker--her own campaign T-shirts say "MMM"--as by the noun.

"Referring to me at age 51 as a 'girl' is inaccurate, demeaning and pathetically behind the times," she wrote.

The slight pales next to one experienced by another freshman.

During a debate over the Hyde amendment restricting the use of federal funds for abortions, veteran Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.) told Rep. Corinne Brown (D-Fla.) to "shut up" when she objected to his request to speak.

The Hyde amendment easily passed.

"Getting here is only half the magic act; the task at hand is to carve out our own place," Margolies-Mezvinsky wrote.

For the time being, her task is to remain in place.

Recalling her climactic Aug. 5 action, she wrote: "I knew at the time that changing my vote at the 11th hour may have been tantamount to political suicide. . . . (But) the vote would resolve itself into one simple question: Was my political future more important than the agenda that the President had laid out for America?"


Political opponents, not surprisingly, view her choice in less heroic terms.

"If you want someone who's gonna lie to you, reelect Marjorie," said Frank Bartle, GOP chairman of Pennsylvania's Montgomery County, most of which is within Margolies-Mezvinsky's 13th Congressional District along the famed Philadelphia Main Line.

The district, which before her election had not sent a Democrat to Congress since 1916, is one of only three in the nation where more people had their taxes raised by the Clinton budget than had them cut.

"She went from having no record to having the worst record you could possibly have in this district," Bartle said.

Ironically, Margolies-Mezvinsky's extreme political vulnerability may actually prove to be her salvation.

Feeling both grateful and guilty about putting a freshman Democrat from a historically Republican district in such a predicament, her supporters have been pulling out their checkbooks.

According to the Federal Election Commission, Margolies-Mezvinsky led the 110 House freshmen in contributions last year, both from individuals and political action committees, and ranked seventh in fund raising for all House members, just behind Speaker Thomas S. Foley (D-Wash.)

In addition to $520,000 raised in 1993, she has attracted $154,000 in the first quarter of this year, said her campaign manager, Amy Walter. Half of that money also came from PACs, Walter said.

In the interview, Margolies-Mezvinsky defended accepting PAC money despite running as a "reform candidate."

"I was one of 11 Democrats who voted to eliminate PACs, but I have a very difficult district. I have to be very aggressive with fund-raising and will be within the rules," she said.

Walter said contributions came from labor unions, insurance companies, pharmaceutical firms and feminist organizations.

The latter are among her staunchest supporters, not surprising given her backing of abortion rights and greater funding for women's health.

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