R. Peter Straus | Media leader, 89

Posted: August 10, 2012

R. Peter Straus, 89, a New York media executive who served as director of the Voice of America in the late 1970s and who earlier led a court battle that resulted in the reapportionment of many state legislatures, died Monday of a heart ailment at his home in New York City.

Mr. Straus, whose grandfather was a principal owner of Macy's department store, was born into a wealthy, politically active family. Throughout his life, he combined public service with a successful career in business.

In 1964, he was a campaign manager for Robert F. Kennedy's successful run for the U.S. Senate from New York. During the administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson, he was an administrator in the U.S. Agency for International Development, in charge of African affairs.

Under President Jimmy Carter, Mr. Straus served as VOA director from 1977 to 1979.

Through his second marriage, he was also the stepfather of Monica Lewinsky, the White House intern with whom President Bill Clinton admitted having a relationship.

In the late 1940s, Mr. Straus joined WMCA-AM, a family-run radio station in New York. For decades, the station would be the base of his business operations and his advocacy in the public sphere.

With its energetic rock-and-roll disc jockeys, it became one of New York's most popular stations in the late 1950s.

Soon after becoming station president in 1959, he began broadcasting editorials, a relatively rare practice. He often discussed what he considered unfair apportionment of New York's legislature, contending the districts left the urban areas vastly underrepresented.

In 1961, Mr. Straus and his station filed suit, WMCA v. Simon, that reached the U.S. Supreme Court. It ruled in 1964 that New York's apportionment system was unconstitutional. The ruling was later applied to many states. - Washington Post

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