Lowell P. Weicker Jr., a liberal Republican who earned a national reputation for combative political independence — first as a junior U.S. senator during the Watergate hearings and then as a third-party governor of Connecticut — died Wednesday. He was 92 years old.
His family announced his death in a statement. The statement doesn’t say where he died or cite a cause.
Weicker was an obscure junior senator from Connecticut and a member of President Richard M. Nixon’s party in 1973 when he took a seat on the Senate Select Committee investigating the Watergate affair – the raid on the offices of the Democratic the opposition from a White House burglary team and the administration’s attempts to cover up the crime.
But after the televised committee hearings were over, he was notorious, demonized by some for the harshness of his attacks on Nixon but celebrated as a hero by others.
In one memorable moment, White House attorney John W. Dean was in the witness chair after revealing that Nixon had kept an « enemies list. » Mr. Weicker said, to enthusiastic applause:
“Let me clarify, because I must have my partisan moment: Republicans don’t hide; Republicans don’t go ahead and threaten; Republicans don’t go ahead and commit illegal acts; and, God knows, Republicans don’t see their fellow Americans as enemies to be harassed. »
He later wrote in his autobiography, “Maverick: A Life in Politics”: “As a politician, I was not hurt by Watergate. I was made of it.
For admirers of Mr. Weicker, the Watergate hearings revealed a man willing to challenge power, question authority and stand by his beliefs, whatever the cost. To critics of him, they’ve turned him into a contrarian with a robust ego who often goes against the grain for the sake of the fight itself.
Indeed, through a 30-year career in public life serving or representing Connecticut — as a state representative, as a Greenwich first grader (the equivalent of its mayor), as a term member of the U.S. House of Representatives, as a Senator of the United States for three terms and as governor for four years — Mr. Weicker, a massive presence at 6-foot-6, never looked happier than when he was in the middle of a good tiptoe slugfest.
In the Senate, where he served from 1971 to 1989, his best friend and mentor was Senator Jacob K. Javits of New York, another liberal Republican. His favorite enemy, through many battles in the 1970s and 1980s, was also a Republican, Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina.
Attempts by social conservatives like Mr. Helms to advance their agenda — whether through enactment of prayer legislation in public schools or restrictions on abortion rights — particularly infuriated Mr. Weicker, who saw the growing power of the Christian right in his party as a major threat to his future.
« No greater harm can be done than to combine the power of religion with the power of government, » he wrote in his autobiography. « History has proved it to us time and time again. »
Mr. Weicker’s politics—he usually sided with Democrats on social issues and Republicans on taxes and spending—always made him an outsider, and in 1990, two years after he lost his Senate seat to Joseph I. Lieberman, has moved away from two- party politics completely.
His political comeback, when he ran for governor of Connecticut, would transform him into what he said he always was: an independent. Founding a third party—his official name was the A Connecticut Party—he took office in 1991 at the height of a national recession that hadn’t spared his state. That year, he pushed for an income tax—long a taboo in Connecticut—even though he lacked the vote of a single member of his party in the state General Assembly.
« I sometimes saw myself as a maverick, » she wrote. “Independent, fearless”.
Lowell Palmer Weicker Jr. was born in Paris on May 16, 1931, the son of the CEO of the Squibb pharmaceutical company. a grandfather, Theodore Weicker, a German immigrant, he had founded the pharmaceutical company Merck & Company with George Merck and subsequently, with a partner, had bought Squibb & Sons.
Lowell Jr. attended the private Lawrenceville School in New Jersey and Yale University, graduating in 1953. After a two-year stint in the Army, he enrolled at the University of Virginia Law School and graduated in 1958. He served in the Army Reserve until 1964.
Though he grew up in privilege, in his later public life Mr. Weicker often took the side of the underdog. He credited some of his political views to his mother, Mary Hastings (Bickford) Weicker, a Democrat, but equally to his father, a Republican who he says taught him that having fortune and wealth was no excuse to despise those who he had neither. (His parents later divorced and his mother remarried.)
As an overweight teenager, Mr. Weicker said, he also learned early on that staying in place and punching back was probably his best strategy in life.
« A man must learn to do one of two things, » a school coach quoted as saying: run or fight. « One look at you and I suggest you learn how to fight, » the coach said. The lesson has stalled.
Along the way, Mr. Weicker became such a devoted opera spectator that he accepted parts with the Connecticut Opera.
He was elected to the Connecticut General Assembly in 1962 and was a Greenwich first selector before winning seats in the United States House in 1968 and in the Senate two years later.
With his national profile raised after the Watergate hearings, Mr. Weicker in March 1979 announced his candidacy for the 1980 Republican presidential nomination. But within two months, the campaign collapsed, after a poll in his state of originally had brought him third behind Ronald Reagan and former President Gerald R. Ford.
Mr. Weicker left public life in 1995 after one term as governor. In the same year she published her autobiography of him, written with Barry Sussman, who as editor of the Washington Post had helped direct the coverage of Watergate. Weicker subsequently served as founding president of the Trust for America’s Health, a non-profit group working on disease prevention, from 2001 to 2011.
He is survived by his wife, Claudia Weicker; his sons, Scot, Gray, Brian, Tre, and Sonny; two stepchildren, Mason and Andrew Ingram; 12 grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.
In the 2008 presidential election, Weicker endorsed Barack Obama, the Democratic nominee, while dismissing self-described Republican mavericks John McCain and Sarah Palin. You also supported President Obama in 2012, arguing that his Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, was too willing to change his positions to win favor with the far right.
In his book, Mr. Weicker admitted that idiosyncratic politics offered him few allies. When he left the Senate, he wrote, he was close to few people in either party.
To many voters at home, he may have come to seem almost too much the loner, fighting one-on-one battles. Mr. Lieberman accurately captured that image in a series of TV commercials that helped swing the election. They portrayed Mr. Weicker as a big awkward bear who came out of his cave only to roar at the world.
In a 2012 interview with Connecticut magazine, Weicker was asked which was harder: being a senator, being a governor, or being retired.
« I think he’s probably retired, » she said. “Sitting here and watching this world go by – and this world is having a hard time – and I can’t help it.”
Neil Vigdor contributed report.