On eve of big party in his honor, Hoyer’s political plans remain unknown

Jun 22, 2023

A venerated political leader celebrates his 84th birthday.

A widower for over a quarter century, he’s about to get married.

His longtime chief of staff is leaving his office for another job.

And his extraordinary career is going to be toasted at a massive political gala that’s being headlined by the most powerful Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives, Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries.

If this was an ordinary political leader, all of these developments would suggest a valedictory, the winding down of a political life well lived, and a rolling, well-deserved send-off.

But U.S. Rep. Steny Hamilton Hoyer (D-5th) is no ordinary political leader.

The most senior Democrat in the House of Representatives, the longest-serving member of Congress in Maryland history, Hoyer is the Energizer Bunny of Free State politics. His vitality and zeal for public service outpaces politicians half his age.

So as Hoyer prepares to be the guest of honor at Thursday evening’s annual dinner for the Maryland Democratic Party, as he prepares for his wedding Saturday to Elaine Kamarck, a political thought leader in her own right, there’s rampant speculation about whether he will seek a 22nd full term in 2024, or if he’s finally ready to turn the keys to the 5th congressional district, which includes Southern Maryland, parts of Prince George’s County and a small piece of Anne Arundel County, over to someone else.

Even Hoyer’s closest friends, former staffers and longtime Capitol Hill denizens say they aren’t sure whether he’s running for reelection.

“I have less an idea of what he’s going to do than what I’m going to do — and I have no idea what I’m going to do,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-8th), who is contemplating a run for U.S. Senate and has promised to announce his decision early next month.

Hoyer’s office was not able to make the congressman available for an interview by Maryland Matters’ deadline Wednesday evening.

Hoyer’s political career, which began with his election to the state Senate in 1966, is legendary, and barely needs repeating. Until January, he was in the highest echelons of House leadership, and remains an important adviser to Jeffries (D-N.Y.), the new House minority leader who has tasked Hoyer with heading a newly-created Regional Leadership Council for House Democrats.

At home, Hoyer, along with retiring U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (D), whose political career also began in 1966, is the undeniable leader of Maryland’s congressional delegation. And he’s one of the prime cheerleaders for Democratic candidates and causes in the state. For some of his fellow elected officials, it’s inconceivable to even think of life without Hoyer.

“He’s running. He hasn’t told anybody he’s not running,” said state Del. Brian M. Crosby (D-St. Mary’s), one of just two Democrats, along with Hoyer, who represents a district in St. Mary’s.

Crosby called Hoyer the “ultimate professional,” consistently maintaining relationships with key agencies at various levels of government, such as the U.S. Department of Navy’s command of Naval Air Station Patuxent River in St. Mary’s, one of several important military installations in the 5th District. The others are Joint Base Andrews in Prince George’s County, Naval Support Facility Indian Head in Charles County and Fort Meade Army Base in Anne Arundel County.

“We have 11 military installations in Maryland. Hoyer has been one of the main driving reasons that we have 11 and they’re thriving,” Crosby said. “It’s not just military personnel and not just [Department of Defense] contractors. It’s restaurants. It’s stores. That all has a runoff effect. He’s [brought] that and it started in St. Mary’s.”

Still, should Hoyer ever choose to leave office, in this election cycle or in the not too distant future, a long roster of Democrats would line up to try to replace him — including, possibly, Crosby. Other potential candidates, according to a range of political professionals, include, in alphabetical order:

  • Bowie Mayor Tim Adams
  • Former Prince George’s County Councilmember Monique Anderson-Walker
  • Charles County Board of Commissioners President Reuben B. Collins II
  • State Sen. Arthur Ellis (Charles)
  • Prince George’s County Councilmember Calvin Hawkins
  • State Sen. Michael A. Jackson (Prince George’s)
  • Del. Jazz Lewis (Prince George’s)
  • Former state Sen. Douglas J.J. Peters (Prince George’s)
  • Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman
  • Former Del. Jay Walker (Prince George’s)
  • House Economic Matters Committee Chair C.T. Wilson (Charles)

Mckayla Wilkes, who challenged Hoyer in the 2020 and 2022 Democratic primaries, is trying again this cycle. While she’s still a heavy underdog in a race against Hoyer, the 19% of the vote she racked up against the incumbent in 2022 becomes a decent base to potentially build from in a multi-candidate open-seat primary.

Other candidates could also get into the race; if Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks (D) loses the 2024 election to replace Cardin in the Senate, an open-seat run in the 5th District in 2026 could be appealing for her, if Hoyer retires then.

Hoyer’s retirement could also lead to Maryland electing a third House member who is a person of color. While Reps. Glenn Ivey (D-4th) and Kweisi Mfume (D-7th) represent overwhelmingly Black districts, the population of the 5th District is split evenly between Black and white residents. But Black voters and other people of color make up the clear majority of the Democratic electorate.

Greenbelt City Councilmember Colin Byrd, who briefly challenged Hoyer in the 2022 cycle, when he was 27 years old, before pivoting to a long shot bid against U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D), said he would not run against Hoyer again now that Greenbelt has been moved into the 4th District.

While he praised Wilkes for articulating progressive positions on issues like education, criminal justice reform and poverty, Byrd predicted Hoyer would be tough to beat. Byrd said that from his own viewpoint, he’s “grown in maturity, wisdom, and clarity about how government and politics actually works in Maryland…and more mindful and appreciative of Congressman Hoyer’s work over the years.”

Byrd also noted Hoyer’s advantages in fundraising, tenure, established political connections in Southern Maryland and stature on Capitol Hill.

“These types of strengths are pretty tough obstacles for any potential challenger to overcome,” he said.

‘He wants to deliver the FBI headquarters to the state’

Hoyer is going through some life changes. He turned 84 last week, and he’s getting married to Kamarck, 72, a veteran of the Clinton administration and a senior fellow in the Governance Studies program as well as the director of the Center for Effective Public Management at the Brookings Institution, in a private ceremony Saturday that will be attended only by their immediate family.

Several friends and Capitol Hill veterans say Hoyer has a new “spring in his step” since his engagement to Kamarck.

Hoyer is also losing his chief of staff, Alexis Covey-Brandt, who is taking a yet-to-be-announced position in the administration of Gov. Wes Moore (D). Covey-Brandt has been Hoyer’s top aide for a dozen years and her career in his office began in 2003.

As for Thursday night’s Democratic gala, at a massive catering hall in Woodlawn, Democratic leaders insist it isn’t meant to usher Hoyer into retirement but is simply a chance to pay tribute to his unparalleled career at an opportune moment. In an email touting the event, Maryland Democratic Chair Yvette Lewis said it would “honor Rep. Steny Hoyer for his years of leadership.”

You could read more of this Maryland Matters article here.