Dignitaries laud Specter at his funeral

Posted: October 16, 2012

A governor, an ex-governor. Senators, House members. Judges, commissioners, council members. Even the vice president of the United States.

Nancy Goldberg watched them pass by her Penn Valley property across the street from Har Zion Temple, a large synagogue atop Hollow Road Hill up from the Schuylkill Expressway in Lower Merion.

After letting a couple of TV trucks park in her driveway, Goldberg walked out of the house and stood with a phalanx of video and print camera crews waiting to see who was among the dignitaries arriving for the funeral Tuesday morning of former U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter.

Specter, who died Sunday of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma at age 82, might have enjoyed the spectacle. As Goldberg noted, "I've lived here 20 years, and I've never seen anything like it. It was like being in a movie with all the media. It was surreal."

She thought for a second and said, "I'm glad it wasn't a crime or anything like that."

On a beautiful autumn day, with the hardwood leaves beginning to turn orange in an upscale Main Line suburb, about 1,000 people streamed into the cavernous sanctuary of Har Zion, a modernist building with tall stained-glass windows.

Specter's casket, draped by an American flag, also had his squash racket sitting on top. His son Shanin, standing in a receiving line with his mother, Joan, brother Steven, and other immediate family, gave a soft smile while showing it to several of the people in dark suits and dresses who were standing in line. Specter, he said, had handed down the love of the game to all of them.

Former Sen. Christopher Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat, said he had driven up from Washington, where he now lives, to pay his respects to a man who joined the Senate the same day he did (Jan. 3, 1981) and left it on the same day he did (Jan. 3, 2011).

Among the many tributes made to Specter, one that was overlooked concerned his commitment to children, Dodd said. The two senators, one Democrat and one Republican, formed a "children's caucus" to address child sexual abuse, the need for after-school programs, and children's nutrition.

"He was my cosponsor on the Family and Medical Leave Act," Dodd said. "More than 150 million people have taken advantage of that."

Although several current and former U.S. senators were on hand for the funeral, Dodd said there might have been more "if it wasn't 20 days before the election and the Senate wasn't out of session."

Vice President Biden, a longtime Specter friend who often rode with him on Amtrak trips to and from Washington, had changed plans that called for him to be on a campaign trip to Colorado and Nevada. He looked down at Specter's family from the speaker's platform and said it gave him peace to think that one of his granddaughters was a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania with one of Specter's granddaughters.

Among other federal officials on hand was Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, a Philadelphia Democrat who worked with Specter in Washington, could recall way back when Specter was district attorney of Philadelphia. He recalled that Specter was tireless in working with his parents, Falaka and David Fattah, to curb "gang wars" in the city in the 1960s.

Gov. Corbett, speaking after the funeral from inside the synagogue, said it was Specter, along with longtime Republican National Committeewoman Elsie Hillman of Pittsburgh, who exerted influence to have him named the U.S. attorney for Western Pennsylvania in 1989.

He remembered Specter's no-nonsense approach to politics.

"You knew where you stood with him," Corbett said. "You knew whether he agreed with you or didn't agree with you. He didn't give you a line of bull. He was honest and forthright."

Mayor Nutter, who worked with Specter to bring federal largesse to Philadelphia, said he was moved by the funeral, which he called "perfect."

As Nutter spoke from the back of the sanctuary, strains of a Frank Sinatra song, one of the senator's favorites, continued over the P.A. system.

Said Nutter: "Sen. Specter really did do it his way."

Contact Tom Infield at 610-313-8205 or tinfield@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @tinfield.

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