Specter's 'grit' lauded at funeral - no malarkey

Posted: October 18, 2012

VICE PRESIDENT Joe Biden sees two types of political allies: the rare people who stick with you in tough times and the much larger crowd who "calculate their friendship" for ambition and walk away at the first sign of trouble.

U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter was a stick-with-you guy, Biden said Tuesday, eulogizing a man with whom he shaped a friendship over three decades in the U.S. Senate.

"Arlen reminds me of an old saying: 'A friend is someone who walks in when others walk out,' " Biden told more than 1,000 people at Har Zion Temple, in Penn Valley. "Arlen always walked in at moments that were of great consequence."

Biden had been scheduled to campaign in Colorado and Nevada Tuesday, two "toss-up" states in what he called a close election. He addressed his decision to skip that directly to Specter's widow, former Philadelphia City Councilwoman Joan Specter.

"I ask myself frequently, Joan - no malarkey, that's an Irish thing - 'What would Arlen do?' " Biden said. "Arlen wouldn't have thought about it. He would have been there for me."

Specter, 82, the longest-serving senator in Pennsylvania history, died Sunday after his third bout with cancer, diagnosed over the summer.

Former Gov. Ed Rendell, who got his first job from Specter when he was Philadelphia's District Attorney, said that he visited Specter at Magee Rehabilitation this summer and found him arguing with the staff because he wanted to walk for exercise instead of using a wheelchair they wanted him to.

Rendell, choking up, said he felt excited and sure that Specter would defeat cancer for a third time.

"There are some things that even the most robust human spirit can't conquer," Rendell said.

Specter was certainly robust. Speakers Tuesday repeatedly used the word "grit" to describe his tenacity in politics, government and on the squash court.

Rendell said that Specter was willing to take stands that hurt his political standing if he believed in the cause. He cited the controversial questioning of Anita Hill, in 1991, after she accused then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment. And, Rendell said, Specter knew that voting for a federal stimulus bill pushed by President Obama was "probably signing his own political death warrant."

Specter switched from Republican to Democrat two months after that February 2009 vote.

His bid in 2010 for a sixth term in the Senate was defeated by then-U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak, who lost the general election to former U.S. Rep. Pat Toomey.

Specter's son Shanin said his father would listen but pay "no heed" when he suggested caution in politics. Specter would stand with Senate colleagues when they were under siege for political or personal transgressions.

"He would tell them as he told many of us: 'Never let your face show how bad your ass is getting kicked,' " Specter said, drawing guffaws from the crowd.

Specter had a way of stealing any show he could. In 2008, a City Hall fire alarm sounded just after he wrapped up a Senate hearing being held there on mortgage foreclosures. Rather than evacuate, Specter found a soon-to-start mayoral news conference and took over the podium.

So, Specter would likely have approved of how his granddaughter, Sylvie, upstaged the politicians Tuesday by recounting his childhood stories of being the only Jewish family in the farming community of Russell, Kan.

"Through his stories of the hardships of peddling cantaloupes and the anti-Semitism he faced at an early age, he taught me that I could achieve anything through a hard-work ethic," she said. "He inspired and approved of my career goal of lawyer, then senator and then president."

Specter's friends and fans loved it, applauding her moxie.

As pallbearers pushed Specter's casket to the door, the music of Frank Sinatra's iconic song "My Way" filled the temple.

" And now the end is near. And so I face the final curtain. My friend I'll say it clear, I'll state my case of which I'm certain . . ."

Specter had done it his way.

Contact Chris Brennan at brennac@phillynews.com or 215-854-5973. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisBrennanDN. Read his blog at phillyclout.com.

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