William W. Scranton, Pa. governor who challenged Goldwater

William W. Scranton
William W. Scranton
Posted: July 31, 2013

William W. Scranton, 96, the patrician Republican who served as governor of Pennsylvania and sought in 1964 to wrest his party's presidential nomination from Sen. Barry M. Goldwater, died Sunday, July 28, of a cerebral hemorrhage at a retirement community in Montecito, Calif.

He was the father of former Lt. Gov. William Scranton 3d and scion of a long line of Scrantons who built a fortune in the Northeastern Pennsylvania city upon which they bestowed their name.

Politics for him was an act of service, a duty rather than a passion. He served presidents in various capacities. But to many observers, his distaste for seeking power kept him from attaining more influential positions that he could have won, possibly even the White House.

Gov. Scranton carried his wealth humbly. Though he was heir to a fortune worth millions of dollars, he wore suits bought at Sears and Robert Hall. His resumé, someone once noted, listed memberships in many civic organizations but none in social clubs.

"I wasn't personally ambitious for power," he reflected once.

Indeed, he had little use for running for public office. Late in his term as governor, he declared with Shermanesque finality that he never would seek office - any office - again.

Except for hints he dropped that he would agree to be President Gerald R. Ford's running mate in 1976, he kept that promise, but it was despite the urgings of his Republican backers. He had all the requisite credentials to be the Republicans' answer to the Kennedys: intellectual ability, handsome looks, great wealth, unblemished character, a picture-book family.

It was in the early 1960s that Gov. Scranton basked in the national spotlight, as he was wooed by moderate and liberal Republicans appalled at the prospect of a Goldwater candidacy.

Though his bid to wrest the nomination from the Arizona senator was a flop, he became a hero to Republican liberals who believed the party was abandoning its Lincolnian heritage by caving in on such fundamentals as civil rights to appease the right.

Gov. Scranton campaigned for Goldwater during the election, but after his defeat he was an outspoken foe of right-wing influence on the Republican Party.

Ten years after his bid for the nomination, Gov. Scranton said in an interview with The Inquirer that he had known he could not win. "I ran primarily out of concern for the future of the party," he said. "Republicans were being portrayed as a white-supremacy party and that really threw me off - it was so contrary to the party's record. I was disturbed about what was happening to the party."

William Warren Scranton was born July 19, 1917, to Worthington and Marion Margery Scranton, the latter known as "the Duchess" in Pennsylvania Republican circles. She served as a GOP national committeewoman from 1928 to 1953, and in the early 1940s was the party's national vice chairman. By the time he was 9, young Bill Scranton was counting vote totals on election nights.

By 1960, Pennsylvania Republicans were talking him up for Congress. He declined to run until they convinced him that the nomination was his for the asking. Though the district was overwhelmingly Democratic and went for John F. Kennedy for president, he won by 16,000 votes.

In Congress, he voted with the Kennedy administration about half the time, compiling a record that was neither conservative nor liberal. Before his term was over, he was being pushed for governor.

His Democratic opponent, former Philadelphia Mayor Richardson Dilworth, conducted a savage campaign, calling his rival a "Little Lord Fauntleroy from the coal fields." The Republican, who put his personal wealth at $8 million, proved an able campaigner, and defeated Dilworth by nearly 500,000 votes.

As governor, he pressed for $49 million in new programs and battled to shore up the state's faltering economy. To finance the programs and deal with a deficit, he pushed through an increase in the state's sales tax, from four cents to five (excepting food and clothing). He also expanded state aid to education and greatly increased the number of employees covered by the civil service system. He also managed a reform of the unemployment compensation program, cut the number of state cars, and insisted that employees come to work at 8:30 a.m.

After leaving office, Gov. Scranton served on commissions under President Richard M. Nixon and succeeded Daniel Patrick Moynihan as ambassador to the United Nations under Ford.

In addition to his son, he is survived by his wife, Mary; a daughter, Susan Scranton Dawson; and sons Joseph C. and Peter K.

Information on funeral services was not available Monday.

This article contains information from the Scranton Times-Tribune and the Associated Press.

comments powered by Disqus