Joyce Beatty: New Rep. is adept
WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Joyce Beatty had been a member of Congress for only about a month, but as Bishop Donald J. Washington of Columbus watched her work the room on a day in February, he felt as if he were seeing a veteran lawmaker in action.
“It was like she’d been there 40 years,” recalled the senior pastor at Mount Hermon Baptist Church, remembering the whirlwind day Beatty had brought him and nine other Columbus religious leaders to Washington to watch the dedication of the Rosa Parks statue in the Capitol’s Statuary Hall.
“It was, ‘Hi, Joyce! Hi, congresswoman!’ I was like, ‘ How did she know all these people so fast?’ ”
It’s been nearly three months since then, and in some ways Beatty is still getting to know Washington, D.C., still figuring out the quickest routes in the underground maze of Capitol Hill. And the walls of her Washington office are still mostly bare, yet to be littered with the tchotchkes that most lawmakers display.
But the Jefferson Township Democrat is determined not to be underestimated, and Beatty’s determination is a force in itself. This is, after all, a woman who nearly 13 years ago was told she might not walk again after suffering a stroke. Beatty had none of it: Within two months, she was on her feet.
Now, she’s similarly determined to forge strong working relationships with fellow members of the Central Ohio congressional delegation, build bridges between the region and Washington and make sure her area gets a fair shake from the federal government.
“They like to call me a freshman,” she told a group of professional black women who’d come to Capitol Hill earlier this month. “But since we make presidents in the great state of Ohio, and then I tell them I am an honorary member, a card-carrying member of your organization … I say: ‘Watch out. There is an upper-class freshman in the House.’ ”
A nine-year veteran of the Ohio House, including a stint as minority leader, Beatty, 63, is polished enough to know how to read a room. Her staff has given up on providing talking points — they send her facts and statistics instead. Her husband, Otto Beatty, said she is frequently up at 2 or 3 in the morning polishing her speeches. “People don’t realize how hard she works,” he said.
Beatty cuts a distinctive and effusive presence, said Curt Steiner, a Republican political strategist who worked with Beatty at Ohio State University. “When she walks into a room, she lights it up.”
Beatty has embraced two mantras during her first four months in office. First, she said she’d “ bring Washington to Columbus and bring Columbus to Washington.” Second, she talked about working cooperatively with the other party — something every politician talks about, but something Beatty almost reflexively mentions.
The first mantra played out during the ministers’ February trip to Washington. Beatty, using her connections, got them standing-room spots at the ceremony dedicating the statue of Parks and also helped arrange meetings with both U.S. senators from Ohio.
The second event occurred in April, when Ohio State President E. Gordon Gee and 20 senior staff members met with her in a Capitol Hill hearing room. The group sat, U-shaped, around a dais while Beatty talked to them at length about issues including Pell Grants and budget cuts.
Beatty worked for the university as senior vice president for outreach and engagement from 2008 until she resigned to run for Congress in January 2012. Gee characterized her transition to Congress as virtually seamless.“I think she was made to do this,” he said. “She anticipates what we need before we ask her.”
As for the bridge-building? Well, that’s going to take some doing. Beatty came to Congress during a particularly rancorous time, and philosophically she appears to be a loyal Democrat, voting with her party an overwhelming majority of the time.
But she has forged good working relationships with Reps. Pat Tiberi, R-Genoa Township, and Steve Stivers, R-Upper Arlington. During the State of the Union speech, she sat next to Stivers.
“We have different philosophies, different opinions, but we have a great personal relationship,” said Tiberi, noting that the old phrase “ you can disagree without being disagreeable defines our relationship.”
Steiner said Beatty and her fellow Columbus-area representatives are a force for the region.
“I think she wants the delegation to be as cohesive as possible,” he said. “She understands they will have different votes on different issues a large part of the time, but there are some things they can work on together.”
Beatty’s four months have brought some memorable moments.
She managed to snag an aisle seat for the State of the Union address in January, thanks in part to her connection to Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Marcia Fudge. When it was time to greet President Barack Obama, Beatty offered more than a handshake. Rep. Frederica Wilson of Florida had given the president a kiss on the cheek, leaving a bright lipstick mark. Beatty wiped it off, much as a mother would wipe a dirt mark off her son’s face.
“He said, ‘Joyce, get the lipstick off my face,’ ” she recalled. “We were cracking up. He said, ‘ You were my lifesaver.’ ”
Beatty is savoring the fact that she is making history as the first African-American woman to represent Central Ohio in the U.S. House, joining Fudge to mark the first time two African-Americans have served in the Ohio delegation, much less two black women.
“She is a breath of fresh air,” said Fudge, who was a mentor to Beatty throughout her campaign.
Fudge is particularly thrilled that Beatty serves a district that is just 28 percent minority, belying, Fudge said, the assumption that an African-American must run in a majority black district to win.
“She comes with a background that is so perfect for this job,” Fudge said. “She’s been the minority leader of the state House. She knows the legislation and how legislation should work.”
But Beatty also is proud of boundaries she’s broken unrelated to her race and gender. She had her stroke when she was 50. Then a state representative, Beatty had just been at a community luncheon and had returned to the office she shared with her husband. Something felt off — very off.
“Someone thought I was choking,” she said. Beatty was holding on to her left side. “I could feel something strange happening.” Finally, someone called 911.
“At that time I thought a stroke was only something that happened to people who were old,” she said. “I wasn’t overweight, I was very active, but it says to you listen to your body, understand your cholesterol and other things associated with it.”
While recovering, she made the decision: If they told her she had to do three speech therapies, she’d do six. If they asked her to do physical therapy for two hours, she did four or five instead. Husband Otto said she “never had a day where she just gave up.”
“When you say no to her, it’s like saying ‘sic ’em’ to a dog,’ ” Bishop Washington said.
Beatty left the hospital in a wheelchair. She graduated first to orthopedic shoes and ankle molded braces. Within a month of her stroke, she was back on her feet. About two weeks later, she was making public appearances.
“And now here I am in 2-inch heels,” Beatty said. “Not out of vanity, but to prove a point.”