- The Washington Times - Friday, March 14, 2008


Former Sen. Howard Metzenbaum, an Ohio Democrat who was a feisty self-made millionaire before he began a long career fighting big business in the Senate, died Wednesday night at his home near Fort Lauderdale, Fla., said Joel Johnson, his former chief of staff. He was 90.

No cause of death was given.

During 18 years on Capitol Hill, until his retirement in 1995, Mr. Metzenbaum came to be known as “Senator No” and “Headline Howard” for his abilities to block legislation and gain publicity for himself.

He was a cantankerous firebrand who didn’t need a microphone to hold a full auditorium spellbound while dropping rhetorical bombs on big oil companies, the insurance industry, savings and loans, and the National Rifle Association, just to name a few favorite targets.

Unabashedly liberal, the former labor lawyer and union lobbyist considered himself a champion of workers and was a driving force behind the law requiring 60-day notice of plant closings.

When other liberals shied away from that label, Mr. Metzenbaum embraced it, winning re-election in 1988 from Ohio voters who chose Republicans for governor and president, and by wider margins than either George V. Voinovich or George H.W. Bush.

That victory produced his third, final and most productive term in the Senate. In 1995, he started a new career as consumer advocate, heading the Consumer Federation of America.

Born June 4, 1917, Mr. Metzenbaum grew up a child of poverty and prejudice on Cleveland’s east side. He was 10 years old when he got his first job, delivering groceries in exchange for tips.

Mr. Metzenbaum made his first big money when he and a partner got the idea for a well-lighted, 24-hour-staffed parking lot at Cleveland Hopkins Airport. The enterprise expanded to Cincinnati and San Juan, Puerto Rico, and became APCOA, the world’s largest parking lot company.

His former partner, Ted Bonda, maintained that Mr. Metzenbaum would have ended up among the world’s richest men if he had stayed in business. Mr. Bonda and Mr. Metzenbaum started one of the country’s first car-rental agencies, now Avis.

Mr. Metzenbaum entered politics right out of law school and spent eight years in the Ohio General Assembly. At one point, he thought he was in line to become the state Senate’s majority leader, but his reputation as an extreme liberal, or anti-Semitist, or both, changed five crucial votes.

A Cleveland bank once refused to put him on its board, so Mr. Metzenbaum and a partner became the largest shareholders. He also was proud of leading the fight to open two Cleveland country clubs to minorities.

A political miscalculation led to his defeat by John Glenn in a ferocious 1974 Senate primary.

Mr. Metzenbaum had been contrasting his business background with Mr. Glenn’s military and astronaut credentials, saying his opponent had “never worked for a living.”

Mr. Glenn’s reply came to be known as the “Gold Star Mothers” speech. He told Mr. Metzenbaum to go to a veterans hospital and “look those men with mangled bodies in the eyes and tell them they didn’t hold a job. You go with me to any Gold Star mother and you look her in the eye and tell her that her son did not hold a job.”

Mr. Metzenbaum won Ohio’s other Senate seat in 1976, but he and Mr. Glenn didn’t speak until the two made peace when Mr. Glenn needed help with his presidential campaign in 1984.

Mr. Metzenbaum is survived by his wife, Shirley, and four daughters.

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