Thursday, March 13, 2008

Howard Metzenbaum

I never lived in Cleveland or Ohio during the golden years of Howard Metzenbaum, the former United States Senator who died Wednesday at 90. Metzenbaum had moved to Florida for retirement, but even in Louisiana, I knew of him. He was a formidable force in Congress and was one of Ohio's most well-known and respected statesmen. He was a bit liberal for some, vociferous for many, but a true American to all. Metzenbaum was one of the last surviving 29 founding fathers of the Cleveland Jewish News and so I owe him a debt of personal gratitude for having instituted the newspaper that became my rock and the place of my journalistic rebirth following the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina. Metzenbaum's record as a businessman is as noteworthy as his upbringing in Cleveland was difficult. Hailing from meager beginnings, he worked his way through The Ohio State University in a variety of odd jobs. Later he attended Law School there and had graduated only a few years before he was elected to the state legislature. Metzenbaum converted a well-lit, well-staffed parking lot endeavor near Hopkins International Airport into APCOA (Airport Parking Corporation of America), the world's largest parking conglomerate. He also helped start up a rental car company that eventually became Avis, the "We're No. 2: We Try Harder" company that used its second place status as fodder for commercials. Metzenbaum's knack for business could have made him one of the world's wealthiest men, but he continually gave back to his community, his state and his nation. I was in Cleveland only a short time when Metzenbaum's former partner and schoolmate, Alva "Ted" Bonda, passed away. Bonda credited Metzenbaum with much of the early success he had enjoyed. Metzenbaum detested waste and was an opponent of pork barrel spending. He trimmed special projects from proposed legislation on a regular basis and was called "the conscience of the Senate" during his tenure. One published report suggests that the Senator saved taxpayers $10 billion in 1982 alone. After he left the Senate, he turned his attention to helping consumers when he became chairman of the Consumer Federation of America. Metzenbaum is survived by his wife of 61 years, Shirley, four daughters and nine grandchildren.

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