METZENBAUM, HOWARD MORTON (4 June 1917 – 12 March 2008), a staunchly liberal U.S. Senator during an era of conservative political ascendency associated with the presidency of Ronald Reagan. Born in Cleveland to Anna and Charles Metzenbaum, Howard balanced school work with business by fetching his neighbors’ groceries for tips. After graduating from Glenville High School, Metzenbaum attended The Ohio State University, where he would earn both bachelors (1939) and law degree (1941). Metzenbaum was able to pay his way through college by selling flowers outside of Ohio Stadium and along High Street, the University’s main thoroughfare. He would use his time off school in the summers to travel the state selling personal hygiene goods.
Although he received his law degree in 1941, Metzenbaum found his Jewish faith prevented potential law firms from hiring him. Facing bitter anti-Semitism, Metzenbaum returned to Cleveland and found employment representing more open minded labor union. Metzenbaum represented and filed tax returns for the Communications Workers of America and the International Association of Machinists before entering politics in 1943 by winning a seat in the Ohio House as a Democrat. Metzenbaum married Shirley Turoff on August 8, 1946. Metzenbaum used his success to catapult him into the Ohio Senate in 1947, but left politics in 1950 to pursue wealth in private enterprise.
Metzenbaum and lifelong friend Alva T. (Ted) Bonda founded Airport Parking Company of America (APCOA) in 1949. In 1951 they secured a contract to operate at CLEVELAND-HOPKINS INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, inaugurating the airport parking industry. Metzenbaum earned his fortune through APCOA, eventually selling the business to International Telephone & Telegraph (ITT) in 1966. His business success allowed Mezenbaum to settle in the Shaker Heights suburban community with his wife. Shirley gave birth to four daughters during these years: Barbara, Susan, Shelley, and Amy.
The world of politics, however, always beckoned. In 1958, Metzenbaum earned political capital as the campaign manager for Stephen M. Young’s successful challenge to Republican Senator and former Vice-Presidential candidate (1944) John Bricker. Metzenbaum returned as Young’s campaign manager, successfully earning his candidate re-election in 1964. When Young announced he would not seek a third term, Metzenbaum readied his own candidacy for the 1970 election. Metzenbaum, however, faced a stiff challenge in the Democratic primary when astronaut John H. Glenn, Jr. announced his desire to seek the office as a Democrat. Although he narrowly defeated Glenn in the primary (49%-51%), Metzenbaum lost the general election to Republican candidate Robert Taft, Jr., heir to the Taft political family.
Undaunted, Metzenbaum returned to private business in Cleveland, where he and David Skylar purchased the suburban Cleveland chainSUN NEWSPAPERS. Fate handed Metzenbaum a US Senate seat in 1974, when Ohio’s Democratic Governor, Jack Gilligan, appointed Metzenbaum to fill the seat vacated by Senator William B. Saxbe, who had accepted Richard Nixon’s offer to serve as US Attorney General. The turn of events proved a mixed blessing, for Metzenbaum was forced to immediately defend the expiring seat in the 1974 Democratic primary. Again he faced John Glenn, but after a grueling campaign that lead to a permanent rift between the two men Glenn prevailed and went on to win the general election.
Two years later Metzenbaum successfully challenged Robert Taft in a rematch of the close 1970 campaign, winning the general election. Although three decades removed from his first stint in politics, Metzenbaum championed issues familiar to aging New Deal Democrats. Metzenbaum played a prominent role in the passage of legislation requiring advance notice of plant closing, known as the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, various gun control laws, pension protection, safety standards for infant formula, and nutrition labels on food products. Metzenbaum’s staunchly liberal agenda attracted the ire of Republicans and even some fellow Democrats, but his fierce opposition to conservative legislation earned him a reputation as “Senator No.”
Metzenbaum was a master of the filibuster, often employing it to disrupt legislation he dubbed “Christmas tree bills,” decorated with pet projects or corporate loopholes. When his filibusters failed, Metzenbaum invented a new stalling tactic. When a two week filibuster against a bill to lift price controls on natural gas was broken, Metzenbaum loaded the bill with hundreds of amendments and demanded a roll-call vote on each one, effectively killing the legislation. Metzenbaum’s tactics earned him both respect and scorn from his colleagues on the Hill. While Senator Bob Dole referred to Metzenbaum as “the commissioner,” Senator Ted Stevens called him a “pain in the ass.”
Metzenbaum also attempted to bring a measure of culture to Washington, D.C. during his years in the Senate. His office was decorated with modern art and he often held mixers there where artists such as painter Robert Rauschenberg and folk singer Mary Travis were guests of honor for assembled lawmakers, lobbyists, and reporters. His frayed relationship with John Glenn soon thawed, too, when in 1983 Metzenbaum endorsed Glenn in his unsuccessful run for the Presidency. Glenn returned the favor, publicly defending Metzenbaum after Cleveland Mayor George Voinovich accused the Senator of being soft on child pornography during the 1988 election.
Metzenbaum continued to endure anti-Semitic remarks throughout his career. Metzenbaum?s fierce opposition to newly-elected President Regan’s nominees raised tensions on the Capital. Senator Ernest Hollings of South Carolina called Metzenbaum the “senator from B’nai Brith” on the Senate floor during the 1981 session, an astonishing insult in the otherwise sober , chamber. This and other events pushed Metzenbaum to advocate for anti-discrimination policy, such as the Howard M. Metzenbaum Multiethnic Placement Act of 1994, which prohibits federally-funded adoption agencies from delaying or denying child placement on the grounds of race or ethnicity.
Metzenbaum announced he would not seek a fourth term, making way for a run by his son-in-law, Joel Hyatt, who lost the general election to Republican Mike DeWine. Metzenbaum remained active during his retirement from elected office, serving as a part-time president of the non-profit Consumer Federation of America. He also served as a board member of the American Cancer Society, Northern Ohio Children’s Performing Music Foundation, Inc., and acted as a fellow at Brandeis University. He also spent much of his retirement with his family playing tennis, swimming, and travelling. He and his wife Shirley celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary in 2006, before his health began to decline.
He died at his family home in Aventury, Florida, on March 12, 2008. He was interred in Mayfield Cemetery in Cleveland Heights, Ohio.
Diemer, Tom, Fighting the Unbeatable Foe: Howard Metzenbaum of Ohio, the Washington Years (Kent: Kent State University Press, 2008)
Last Modified: 24 Jul 2012 10:40:15 AM