Jacob K. Javits, 81, Former Senator

Posted: March 08, 1986

Jacob K. Javits, 81, who became a formidable spokesman for liberal Republicanism during his 24 years as a U.S. senator from New York, died yesterday in West Palm Beach, Fla.

He had suffered since 1979 from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease, a disorder that slowly destroys the victim's muscle and nerve control. He died of respiratory arrest at Good Samaritan Hospital after being taken there earlier in the day, a nursing supervisor said.

Despite his illness, Mr. Javits had remained active and often appeared publicly on behalf of the rights of the handicapped.

"Life does not stop with terminal illness," he said in 1984. "Only the patient stops if he doesn't have the will to go forward with life until death overtakes him."

President Reagan praised Mr. Javits "for his intellect, for his integrity, for his dedication to the people of New York and the nation and for the sheer

joy he took in every day of his work.

"Jacob Javits remained to the end a man in love with life and . . . he will be deeply missed," the President said.

"Jacob Javits was a statesmen," New York Gov. Mario Cuomo said last night. "His career in the United States Senate helped set the direction of this nation. He earned our deepest respect and our love. But perhaps his greatest contribution to us was his demonstration of courage in refusing to surrender to his illness. He has taught us all a lesson in the value of life that will stay with us forever."

Renowned for his intellect and drive, Mr. Javits was a dominant figure in New York politics for three decades. He fought for the rights and needs of the poor and minorities. And he was almost without peer in the Senate in his grasp of U.S. foreign policy and world affairs.

"I am more than a senator. I am an institution," he once said.

That he was stricken with Lou Gehrig's disease late in his career was a cruel irony. He possessed enormous energy and was constantly on the move, his mind never at rest. Even the way he responded to the disease was profoundly Javits: In 1980, with his 76th birthday approaching, he declared himself capable of serving a fifth Senate term despite it.

When the voters rejected him in favor of Alphonse D'Amato, in his first electoral defeat, he became a spokesman for the disabled and raised research money to fight the disease that crippled him.

That stamina was typical of Mr. Javits' long career in politics. He could not bring himself to tell a joke or kiss a baby, but he was a vigorous campaigner who won elections by big margins even though he did not have a powerful political machine behind him.

"Javits doesn't need one," a fellow legislator once joked. "He is a machine."

Bald, with bulging eyes and a raspy voice, Mr. Javits won debates by force of logic and argument.

He was, however, much more than a speechmaker during his four terms in the House and four more in the Senate (for a total of 32 years in Congress). Although he was in the minority party, and thus never held a committee chairmanship, he succeeded in influencing some of the major social legislation in the postwar era, notably the various civil rights acts, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and Medicare.

He became the ranking minority member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and was recognized by his colleagues as a leading authority on foreign affairs. A Jew, he was perhaps the Senate's strongest supporter of Israel. He also was an early critic of the Vietnam War: "It is not our war, it is theirs," he said in a 1967 speech.

He was also a defender of foreign aid, a proponent of nuclear arms control and later, in 1973, the principal author of the War Powers Act, which was passed over the veto of President Richard M. Nixon. It requires a president to notify Congress when U.S. troops are being sent into combat abroad and requires their recall in 60 days unless Congress approves an extension.

"We know just as much (as presidents) and if we don't, we can find out. So let's not be bashful about asserting an equal authority that the Constitution intended," he said in 1984.

His career in public office began in 1945, with his election to the U.S. House of Representatives from a district on Manhattan's West Side.

Soon he was breaking with his Republican colleagues on major issues, such as the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act, which curbed the power of labor unions, and the communist-hunting work of the House Un-American Activities Committee. Later, in 1956, his liberalism and supposed past association with disloyal persons led the Senate Internal Security Committee to investigate him, but Mr. Javits easily defended himself.

"Javits is not the kind of legislator who gets along easily with clubhouse politicians," a writer in the New Yorker magazine observed after Mr. Javits had served for two terms. "He prefers dry martinis to straight bourbon and has spoken up on the floor of the House in favor of art, throwing in learned references to such esoteric figures as Rembrandt and Grandma Moses."

After just four years in the House, the writer noted, Mr. Javits had delivered speeches on 150 different themes, ranging from health conditions in Brazil to segregation in Washington schools and the Soviet threat to the Dardanelles.

Mr. Javits espoused a progressive brand of Republicanism, contending that the party should develop programs in health, housing, civil rights, labor and agriculture to appeal to the urban voter. The Republican Party, after all, he said, had begun with Lincoln as the party of "the free working man."

In 1964, he set forth his political views in a book titled, Order of Battle: A Republican's Call to Reason. Republicans, he wrote, should shed their defensiveness about being pro-business.

"There is nothing wicked about being the 'party of business,' " he wrote. " . . . Business, properly understood, is so central to every aspect of our civilization that Republicans should proudly announce that they are indeed 'the party of business.' "

Jacob Koppel Jacobs was born to Jewish immigrant parents on the Lower East Side of Manhattan - the urban equivalent, he said, of a log cabin.

His father, a janitor in a tenement, was a worker in the Tammany Hall political machine that ran New York City. Mr. Javits, however, had little time for Tammany. He became a follower of Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, the great Republican reformer and foe of machine politics.

After receiving his law degree from New York University in 1927, he joined his older brother, Ben, in law practice. They became specialists in bankruptcy and corporate reorganization - a busy field after the Great Crash of 1929.

In perhaps the one rash decision he made in his life, he got married before he turned 20 to a daughter of circus owner Alfred Ringling. The marriage did not last, and he was in his mid-40s before he married again. His wife, Marion Ann Borris, was an aspiring actress and 20 years his junior. They met through politics.

As a reward for party work, the New York City Republicans nominated him in 1945 for a congressional district on the West Side that had not elected a Republican since 1920. He won, in what became the first of a string of impressive electoral triumphs.

He whipped Franklin Delano Roosevelt Jr. for state attorney general in 1954, and served in Albany for two years before defeating Mayor Robert Wagner Jr. in the U.S. Senate race.

Six years later, he carried New York state by nearly a million votes. And he also carried New York City, something no Republican running solely on the Republican ticket had done since Calvin Coolidge in 1924.

Thereafter, he was considered unbeatable - until the race of 1980, in which his age and health problems made him an easy target for the attacks of D'Amato, a conservative from Long Island. D'Amato easily won the Republican nomination.

That should have ended Mr. Javits' political career. But New York City's Liberal Party had remained loyal to him, and he chose to use its nomination to make the general election a three-way race. The result was that Mr. Javits pulled enough votes away from the Democratic candidate, Brooklyn congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman, to ensure a narrow victory for D'Amato. Mr. Javits ran a distant third.

The defeat was costly for Mr. Javits in another way. Had he won, he would have become chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as a result of the Republicans' regaining control of the Senate that year.

Thereafter he turned to writing and lecturing, as well as speaking for the rights of the disabled.

Besides his wife, Marion, he is survived by two daughters, Joy and Carla, and a son, Joshua.

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