What began as a program surrounded by uncertainty throughout the past week ended with a standing ovation Saturday, as Congressman Chaka Fattah’s largely policy-intensive speech elicited strong positive reactions from the crowd in a packed Hoyt Auditorium.

“The most important part of working in Congress is actually trying to change the conditions we live in,” Fattah said. “Putting forth new legislative policy should be the focal point of any member of Congress.”

Fattah focused on how he has worked throughout his legislative career to accomplish that goal.

The program, “The Changing Face of Congress,” was “a way to integrate an important new book into different political science classes this semester,” Chair of the Political Science Department Gerald Gamm said. Citing Professor Richard Fenno’s most recent book, “Going Home: Black Representatives and their Constituents,” Gamm said. “Professor Fenno retired as a member of full-time faculty this fall, and this program was a way to recognize him.”

“We had a couple of last minute snags,” Gamm continued, speaking about scheduling for the event. “[Congresswoman] Stephanie Tubbs Jones had to cancel because her husband died suddenly.”

Having Fattah speak was not a given. “Congressman Fattah came through in the clutch just days after he and his wife had a baby,” Gamm said.

Following Fenno’s speech, Fattah was not short on praise for the retired professor. Fattah told the audience how integral Fenno’s books about Congress were to understanding the nature of representation, and recounted when he first heard of Fenno.

Fattah went on to attribute much of the national recognition he received for his educational efforts to “Going Home.”

“My work in Congress has been centered around education,” Fattah said.

He discussed his main legislative success, Gear Up, a program that sets up students from colleges and universities with students from low-income public middle schools to help them get into college.

“One of the ways I was able to achieve bipartisan support was by pointing out the cost-effectiveness of the program,” Fattah said, remarking on the cost to society of having one person in jail, and the cost of welfare programs.

He also said that Gear Up was passed while Republicans had a majority in the house, the same time as Newt Gingrich and other house members spoke openly about eliminating the Department of Education and leaving all public schooling to states.

“You should never write off achieving something because the circumstances at any given moment seem too daunting to overcome,” Fattah told the crowd.

When he finished speaking, Fattah received a standing ovation.

A student panel followed the speech.

“You could tell from hearing him speak that his aim in life is to get something done,” Fenno said at the panel. “That’s what this guy is all about.”

Farrell can be reached at nfarrell@campustimes.org.

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