WASHINGTON: Arlen Specter, who in 30 years representing Pennsylvania in the Senate offended Republicans and Democrats in almost equal measures with maverick votes and a frank cockiness that finally ended his career in politics, died Sunday at his home in Philadelphia. He was 82.
His death was confirmed by his former campaign manager, Chris Nicholas.
Specter, who had a number of major illnesses in recent years, including non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, was a hard-driving former prosecutor described even by some admirers as sarcastic, rough-hewn, demanding and abrasive. But he stood well above many of his Senate colleagues in his combination of intelligence and effectiveness.
His career in public life began as an influential young investigator of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and essentially ended with a crucial vote for President Barack Obama’s economic stimulus plan. His biggest mark, however, was made on nominations to the U.S. Supreme Court as a member and briefly chairman of the Senate’s Judiciary Committee.
He provided the coup de grace that finally killed the nomination of his own party’s conservative darling, Robert Bork, in 1987 and, in penance, wielded the sword that won narrow confirmation for conservative hero Clarence Thomas in 1991 by attacking the credibility of Thomas’ accuser, law professor Anita Hill.
Specter won no lasting gratitude from either liberals or conservatives in the process, and he especially alienated women with his attacks on Hill. His lurching from side to side, from vote to vote, from primary to general elections, and the increasing conservatism of his adopted Republican Party, finally caught up with him in 2010.
After yet another “betrayal” of Republicans on the 2009 stimulus plan, he was forced to make the most dramatic leap in a career that was full of them. But this time he did not make it across the chasm.
Facing defeat in the 2010 Republican primary election, Specter surprised the nation by announcing in April 2009 that he was switching parties — for a second time. (In 1965 he switched from Democrat to Republican after winning election as Philadelphia district attorney on the Republican ticket in an end-run around the city’s Democratic machine.)
His Senate change delivered a veto-proof majority there to Obama, but not for long. Pennsylvania Democrats, many of whom had voted against him for years, refused to accept his final conversion, particularly after he said in his characteristically frank way that “my change in party will enable me to get re-elected.” He avoided the Republican primary but lost the Democratic primary.
Specter was born Feb. 12, 1930, in Wichita, Kan., the son of a peddler and junkyard owner, and raised in the only Jewish family in Russell, Kan. After graduating Phi Beta Kappa from Penn in 1951 with a bachelor’s degree in international relations, he served in the Air Force. In 1953, he married the former Joan Levy. She survives him, along with their two sons and four grandchildren.