Specter remembered as centrist, 'the ultimate politician'

October 14, 2012|By JENNIFER FITCH |
  • Former U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter visited Letterkenny Army Depot in Chambersburg, Pa., in June 2009. Specter died Sunday at the age of 82.
File photo

WAYNESBORO, Pa. — Former U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, who died Sunday, could be a polarizing figure, but he spoke to the point and often elicited laughs with his quips.

Specter represented Pennsylvania in the Senate for three decades. He lost a re-election bid after switching from the Republican to the Democratic party in 2009.

L. Michael Ross, president of the Franklin County Area Development Corp., said Specter tried to visit each of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties every year or two years. Ross described Specter as a key player in helping Letterkenny Army Depot in Chambersburg, Pa., through the Base Realignment and Closure Commission process in 2005.

“He fought hard to bring mission work into the depot, and we were able to use his influence very effectively,” Ross said.

In his last few visits to Franklin County, Pa., while in office, Specter hosted town hall meetings and toured Letterkenny Army Depot.

Specter’s August 2007 town hall meeting had a few tense moments, such as when he sparred with a woman regarding illegal immigrants. He always was quick with a joke, though, and made a crack about the room full of microphones that afternoon.

Less than three months after announcing he was switching parties, Specter met with Democratic leaders in Franklin County to shore up support.

“I feel very comfortable as a Democrat,” Specter said at the time, saying he voted independently. “I don’t have to look over my right shoulder anymore.”

Franklin County Commissioner Bob Ziobrowski, a Democrat, was one of the people who sat down with Specter in that 2009 visit.

“Arlen Specter was one of the last of a rare breed, a moderate in the Senate,” Ziobrowski said. “Either as a Republican or a Democrat, he always was looking for a centrist position and to move the ball forward.”

Ross said Specter’s change in party affiliation irritated some Franklin County leaders, but the senator continued to support economic and transportation-related initiatives.

“I think on the whole, Arlen Specter was good for Pennsylvania and, in Franklin County, especially good to the depot,” Ross said.

Chambersburg (Pa.) Mayor Pete Lagiovane met with Specter twice after the senator changed parties. He described Specter as “tremendously knowledgeable” and the “ultimate politician.”

“He was very serious about running as a Democrat,” Lagiovane said, saying Specter invited Pennsylvania mayors to Washington, D.C., and asked them for re-election help.

The Associated Press quoted former Gov. Ed Rendell, a Democrat, as saying Specter did more for the people of Pennsylvania than anyone “with the possible exception of Benjamin Franklin.”

Rendell called Specter “a mentor, colleague and a political institution.” Rendell served as an assistant prosecutor when Specter was Philadelphia’s district attorney.

Specter died of complications associated with non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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