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Talking Pantyhose and Home Ports with Congress’ Youngest Member

October 17, 1990

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Rep. Susan Molinari would like to become so-ooo powerful that she could change women’s fashion.

No more high heels or pantyhose. Ever.

″When people make jokes about God being a woman, I say, ’I don’t think so, because then we wouldn’t have the babies or stockings,‴ she said. ″That was something a man did.″

She rolls down the top of one black suede boot to prove she’s a fashion rebel. ″I wear boots all the time so I can wear knee socks.″

Molinari has a way to go before Fashion Avenue takes its cue from her. But the New York Republican is becoming better-known around Capitol Hill, where she’s been since winning a special election in March.

Last month, just six months into her term, Molinari won her first big fight in Congress, defeating an amendment proposed by 21-term Rep. Charles Bennett, D-Fla.

Bennett, a powerful member of the House Armed Services Committee, proposed closing the Navy home port on Staten Island, N.Y. - the heart of Molinari’s district. The home port, which is about 90 percent complete, is opposed by New York Mayor David Dinkins and every member of the New York City congressional delegation except Molinari and Rep. Tom Manton, a Queens Democrat.

Closing the home port would be cheaper than opening it, Bennett argued.

But Molinari, who at 32 is the youngest member of Congress, stood boldly on the House floor and hit her fellow congressmen where they live.

″Your base could be next,″ she warned ominously.

The House voted 230 to 188 in favor of Molinari’s substitute amendment to save the base. She was ecstatic.

That evening, Guy Molinari offered a champagne toast to his daughter’s big feet, an admission that they were finally large enough to fill his shoes.

Susan Molinari, an only child, succeeded her father to Congress. She is only the second daughter in history to do so. (Winnifred Mason Huck, R-Ill., followed her father, William Mason Huck, R-Ill., when he died in 1921.)

After five terms in Congress, Guy Molinari retired last year to run, successfully, for Staten Island borough president.

To try for the House, Susan Molinari gave up a seat on the New York City Council that she had won in 1985. As the lone Republican in the 35-member body, she was minority leader from Day One and received such perks as a city car, extra staff and an office in City Hall.

But, she said during a recent interview, ″There was a certain level of frustration in being a member of the New York City Council.″

For example, she could never become chairwoman of a committee, and getting bills passed could be tough.

Plus, she said, ″some of the most important problems that are confronting my district are environmental problems, and those have to be handled on the federal level because of our proximity to New Jersey.″

Staten Island is downwind of New Jersey’s huge petrochemical industry and Molinari believes that’s why her constituents have such a high rate of respiratory ailments.

So while she’s now one of 435 and still in the minority to boot, Molinari feels it’s a lot easier to get things done in Congress than she had anticipated.

″I expected the place to be more arcane in terms of participation in committees and ability to get legislation passed, to speak on the floor,″ she said. ″In fact, I find it’s a pretty open institution. I find it less political than I ever expected it to be.″

Of course, Molinari came to Washington with many advantages her fellow freshmen lack.

″I have always received a lot of benefits both politically and personally having Guy Molinari as my father,″ she admitted. ″However, having a record of 6 1/2 years in the City Council, people did have something to judge.″

The fact that her father was New York state chairman of George Bush’s election committee in 1988 didn’t hurt, either. Bush appeared at a fund-raiser for Susan Molinari in February, partly to repay the debt to her father. The event pulled in about $150,000.

Susan Molinari said she hopes to continue some of the work her father started in Congress - and especially to see the home port open and running. But she said she disagrees with her father on some key issues, particularly those that define differences in gender and generation.

For one thing, she’s pro-choice while he’s anti-abortion.

″That’s something that pre-dates my political involvement,″ she said, admitting that the two of them don’t even discuss the issue anymore.

She said she also places a higher priority on the issues of day care and parental leave.

Molinari said she’s fitting pretty well into the Washington life, renting an apartment in nearby Alexandria, Va., and going home on weekends to campaign. Having just won her congressional seat, Molinari is up for re- election in November along with all other House members.

But she said it’s hard being apart from her husband, John Lucchesi, who runs a car service, and the rest of her family on Staten Island.

″There’s a certain loneliness that comes with being removed from them but when you get to go home - and not to sound, like gooey - but the night that you sleep in bed with your husband means more because you haven’t done it in five days.″

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