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Weicker, A Connecticut & U.S. Political Leader, Died Today; Served in House, Senate, And As Guv
Lowell P. Weicker, Jr., investigated Nixon on the Senate Watergate Committee and changed U.S. and Connecticut policies. He won two races as a Republican that my father and my uncle lost as Democrats.
Cross-posted from Facebook.
A major figure in Connecticut and national history is dead. Lowell Palmer Weicker, Jr., died today at age 92.
Watergate history buffs (that link goes to The Washington Post’s 50th anniversary anthology) will remember Senator Weicker, a Republican, serving on the Senate Watergate Committee investigating President Nixon prior to his resignation.
It was officially the Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities. It was led by two greats: the Chair, Sam Ervin, Democrat of North Carolina; and the Ranking Minority Member, Howard H. Baker, Jr., Republican of Tennessee.
Weicker was born in Paris on May 16, 1931, to American parents Lowell Weicker and Mary Hastings Bickford Weicker. His grandfather, Theodore Weicker, was a German immigrant who co-founded the E.R. Squibb & Sons pharmaceutical company in Brooklyn, N.Y., which has since become part of Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., which is still based in New York City.
Weicker elected to the Connecticut House of Representatives as a moderate northeastern Republican from Greenwich in 1962 — the same year my father, Jerry, ran for the state House from nearby Westport and lost as a Democrat. Dad could not convince Republicans to stop voting Republican for once. Weicker had no such issue with his campaign in Greenwich!
Weicker was elected First Selectman of Greenwich in 1963 and held both offices, as permitted by law.
In 1968, Weicker defeated a longtime Fairfield County Democrat, our family friend Donald J. Irwin, to become our local member of Congress. Don, who was going to sponsor me for Conscientious Objector Status from the Vietnam War Draft, left the House and returned to Norwalk. He was elected to two years as state treasurer and then four years as mayor of Norwalk.
Meanwhile, just on the other side of the Byram River state line separating Connecticut from New York State, another Davidoff, my Uncle Paul, lost a bid for Congress in that same year — 1968 — to another moderate Republican, U.S. House incumbent Ogden Rogers Reid. A man not unlike Lowell Weicker.
Neither Jerry nor Paul could convince Republicans in Westchester or Fairfield counties to vote Democratic! Now both counties vote reliably Democratic.
Lowell and Senator Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) both had sons with disabilities. They talked about this often and they co-sponsored the Americans With Disabilities Act, one of Weicker’s last acts before leaving the Senate. This is a 2009 oral history interview with Lowell Weicker about the Americans With Disabilities Act and his friendship with Ted Kennedy for the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate in Boston.
Following the Senate, Weicker taught for two years and then ran for governor as a fusion candidate on the independent “A Connecticut Party” ballot line. But, in an irony, A Connecticut Party later endorsed Lieberman for a Senate re-election run.
As governor, Weicker had a major impact in stabilizing and developing the disintegrating downtown Bridgeport, most notably turning the former Lafayette Plaza indoor shopping mall into Housatonic Community College.
Of two outbuildings, the Sears Auto Center became the headquarters of Connecticut State Police Troop G, which patrols the shoreline of Fairfield County as well as the entire Connecticut Turnpike (Interstate 95) between Greenwich and Branford. Troop G used to be headquartered in Westport in the building at the Post Road and Sherwood Island Connector now occupied by Walgreen’s. The other Lafayette Mall outbuilding was Gimbel’s department store, now the Margaret E. Morton Government Center, which serves as the Bridgeport City Hall Annex.
(Did Macy’s tell Gimbel’s? No!)
In minor other news, Weicker shook up Connecticut by imposing the state’s first income tax.
On May 14, 2016, as Republicans prepared to nominate Donald J. Trump for president, Weicker wrote an opposite-editorial opinion column for The Hartford Courant entitled, “Trump Signals Sunset of Republican Party.”
When Republicans convene in Cleveland this summer and bestow upon Donald Trump the nomination to be the party’s standard-bearer, they will complete their slow and steady descent into irrelevance. The party of Lincoln, once governed by ideals and principles that reflected prudent financial governance and social conscience, is no more.
Though aging, I can still recall a Republican Party that was truly national in scope represented by the likes of Nelson Rockefeller, Barry Goldwater, John Sherman Cooper, Howard Baker, Clifford Case, John Chaffee, Ed Brooke, Jacob Javits, Charles Percy, John Heinz, Alan Simpson … and, yes, yours truly. There were Republicans who represented big city constituencies as well as rural populations and there was respect within the caucus for the problems facing both.
Since the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Republican Party shifted focus from issues that affected people’s well-being to issues of philosophical purity. In so doing, it alienated women, blacks, Hispanics, the disabled and on and on. Ronald Reagan threatened so many programs for the disadvantaged, from health care, to education, to social services that whole swaths of Americans felt threatened. The moderate eastern Republican fell victim to Republican extremists from within, such as William F. Buckley, and the party started to disintegrate.
Nothing more clearly demonstrates the result of this self-inflicted isolation than the Republican Congress we have today. Gone is the party of fiscal conscience. The Bush Middle East wars put the lie to fiscal responsibility. Faced with a new president in 2008 and an economic crisis, the Republicans in Congress chose to “do nothing” and be “the party of no.”
And so, we have had unproductive gridlock. Republicans have squandered every opportunity to put forward positive solutions to the nation’s ills. For example, rather than urge yet another repeal of Obamacare, they could have fashioned repairs. Controlling majorities in both houses, they could have crafted their own immigration reform package, proposed realistic tax reform with middle-class relief and fashioned their own infrastructure legislation. Yet, they just continued to say “no” and do nothing.
And now, embracing a presidential candidate who has insulted and offended nearly every American, the GOP is reaping its just deserts. Congressional Republicans are faced with a Hobson’s choice: run with Trump or run on a record of “no.” It’s difficult to imagine how the party will come together to “make America the greatest” when it has wasted these last few years in a self-made wilderness.
The question in November is not whether Republicans will lose but how badly will they lose. Right now it looks like everything: House, Senate, presidency.
Lowell Weicker Jr. was governor of Connecticut from 1991 to 1995 and a U.S. senator from 1971 to 1988.
Awkward news flash: Trump won in 2016 but lost re-election in 2020.
Weicker filed an amicus brief on behalf of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in a notable case, Texas v. Pennsylvania, in the long dispute by Trump concerning the 2020 election. Biden won the election. He had served with Weicker in the Senate for 16 years before Weicker lost reëlection. But Trump is of course running again in 2024.
As for Weicker, having begun in Greenwich, Weicker retired to the other end of the state and lived for many years in the beautiful historic small town of Stonington.
The Connecticut Mirror late today carries a story on reaction to Weicker’s death. The story runs with this lovely photo taken January 9, 2019, by Pool Photographer Jessica Hill for the Associated Press during Ned Lamont’s inauguration as governor inside the William A. O’Neill Armory. I am filching this image, with credit. (Shh! Don’t tell!)
In the Twentieth Century, Connecticut gave the nation the political leadership of these people, all now deceased: Senator and Governor Weicker, Governor Wilbur Lucius Cross (D), State and National Democratic Chair John Moran Bailey (the link goes to an April 10, 1964, oral history interview for the JFK Library in Boston), first Jewish Connecticut Governor and U.S. Senator Abe Ribicoff (D), U.S. Representative and Diplomat Clare Boothe Luce (R) (the link goes to a 1986 oral history interview on the site of the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training); U.S. Representative Stew McKinney (R), and first woman Governor Ella Tambussi Grasso (D). Dayenu — It would have been enough. May they be remembered in the book of life.
Three political leaders, also deceased, grew up in Connecticut but made their marks elsewhere: U.S. Representative Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. (D-N.Y.), New York City and State Public Works Developer Robert Moses, and U.S. President George H.W. Bush (R).