Rosa DeLauro: Fueled by People and the Hustle of Congress

in Connecticut, Fall 2001 Newswire, Jill Weinberg
December 13th, 2001

By Jill Weinberg

WASHINGTON – At 10:28 a.m. the northwest corridor of the Rayburn House Office Building is quiet except for the muffled sounds of CNN playing on televisions in Congressional offices–the quiet before the storm.

A moment later, the sounds of high heels hitting the ground intensify like hail on a tin roof. Press Secretary Ashley Westbrook holds her clipboard tightly to her body as she hustles down the dimly lit hallway, trying to keep up with the bustling pace of Connecticut Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-3rd). DeLauro’s speed escalates like a steaming locomotive while she constantly adjusts the magenta scarf around her neck that drapes down the back of her green suit jacket. The pounding of her high heels stops once she steps onto the carpet in her congressional office, but she keeps moving at full speed into her office. After two hours at the Capitol, running from meeting-to-meeting, she finally collapses into her seat.

DeLauro whirls around the Capitol every day with the same vigor and intensity that attracts as much attention as her array of bright scarves, large necklaces, and flowing skirts. In 1998 and 2000, DeLauro was recognized as the House of Representative’s top “Workhorse” by Washingtonian magazine.

DeLauro said that her work on Capitol Hill isn’t as hectic as people think. “People sometimes view that you’re running about in downtown Washington. Most of the activities are right in these buildings or in the surrounding area. So you do most of your time here,” she said. DeLauro’s political roots began at home in Wooster Square, an Italian neighborhood in New Haven. Her father Ted was an Alderman and known for his hard work that earned him the nickname the “Mayor of Wooster Square” Her mother, Luisa, is today the most senior member of the New Haven Board of Alderman.

“I just knew I wanted to be engaged in politics some day, and I’ve worked to get where I am today,” she said. “People ask me if this job has met my expectations, and I tell them it’s exceeded my expectations,” DeLauro said.

Prior to her election to Congress, DeLauro was a community organizer in President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “War on Poverty” program and later served as executive assistant to the mayor of New Haven. She also was the executive director of Emily’s List, a national organization committed to increasing the representation of women in politics.

She also married into politics: her husband Stanley Greenberg is a prominent Democratic pollster. Her political work on Capitol Hill included working for seven years as Sen. Christopher Dodd’s (D-CT) chief of staff from 1981-’87.

Dodd described his former chief of staff as “a tenacious fighter with a heart of gold” who has always been known to be a hard-worker. “I often joke that Rosa didn’t work for me, I worked for her,” he said.

She was elected to the 102nd Congress on November 6, 1990 and has established herself as one of the highest-ranking women in the Democratic Party as well as the House of Representatives. In 1999, DeLauro ran for the Democratic Caucus chairmanship but was defeated by Martin Frost of Texas by 11 votes.

After the election, Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt created a new position for her as assistant to the Democratic leader, which not only established an increasing leadership role for democratic women, but also made her the fifth-highest Democrat in the House of Representatives and the highest-ranking Democratic woman. DeLauro’s duties included oversight of policy, communications, serving as a liaison to freshman congressmen, and holding a seat on the Steering Committee, which assigns Democratic members to committees. She was re-elected in 2000.

“What I’ve tried to do is try to have members actively participate in the caucus,” DeLauro said. “I’ve boosted communications, made outreach groups and get members booked onto television shows, so they can have the members engaged and put in the public eye.”

DeLauro’s schedule became busier after she decided to run for Democratic Caucus chairman in October, after Rep. Martin Frost (D-TX) stepped down from the position earlier that month. She would be running against Rep. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), who currently serves as the Democratic Caucus vice chairman. Both candidates decided to run after Rep. Nancy Pelosi won the election as House minority whip, making her the highest- ranking woman in the House of Representatives for a woman in either party.

Rep. Nita M. Lowey (D-NY), who serves on the Appropriations Committee with DeLauro, says that her enthusiasm in Congress makes her a role model for women who are interested in politics. “Rosa is a dear friend and a dedicated colleague. Rosa is a leader in Congress and truly stands out for her strong commitment to Democratic ideals. Young girls and even many women in the House look to her as someone that we want to become,” she said. “I don’t know how she does it day in and day out.”

Although DeLauro works 12-hour days that she admits can be overwhelming, she says, “the people here on Capitol Hill, the political energy, and the people who come down from the district give me energy. People get me through the day.”

“My day ends around 8-9 p.m., and when I get home, I just want to sit for a few minutes on the couch and chill out. I might go out to dinner if my husband or friends are in town, but sometimes I’ll go home and open up a can of Progresso soup. Then, I’ll start to look at what I need to do for the next day,” DeLauro said.