Thursday, April 23, 2009

Who's Almost Who In Knickerbocker Village History: Jacob Javits

How does Javits qualify for this somewhat subjective distinction? Stanton Street is almost a mile from KV. However, "Jake" attended PS 20 on Rivington Street where my father and other KV fathers went to school. His neighbor in this building in 1910 was Benjamin Schumer, a young newly married immigrant of 23 who hailed from Austria. Could Benjamin be a relative of Morris, 28 in 1910, who also came from Austria. Morris lived just a few blocks away on East 3rd Street. Morris just happened to be the grandfather of Stuie and Mark Schumer. There weren't many Schumers at the time who lived on the LES
The son of Morris Javits, a janitor, and Ida Littman, Javits grew up in a teeming Lower East Side tenement, and when not in school he helped his mother hawk dry goods from a pushcart in the street. Javits graduated in 1920 from George Washington High School, where he was president of his class. He worked part-time at various jobs while attending night school at Columbia University, then in 1923 he enrolled in the New York University Law School, from which he earned his J.D. in 1926. He was admitted to the bar in June 1927 and joined his brother Benjamin Javits, who was nearly ten years older, as partner to form the Javits and Javits law firm. The Javits brothers specialized in bankruptcy and minority stockholder suits and became quite successful. In 1933 Javits married Marjorie Joan Ringling; they had no children and divorced in 1936. In 1947 he married Marian Ann Boris, with whom he had three children. Deemed too old for regular military service when World War II began, Javits was commissioned in early 1942 as an officer in the army's Chemical Warfare Department, where he served throughout the war, reaching the rank of lieutenant colonel.
In his youth Javits had watched his father work as a ward heeler for Tammany Hall and experienced firsthand the corruption and graft associated with that notorious political machine. Tammany's operations repulsed Javits so much that, despite his Jewish heritage, he forever rejected the city's Democratic party and in the early 1930s joined the Republican-Fusion party, which was supporting the mayoral campaigns of Fiorello H. La Guardia. After the war he became the chief researcher for Jonah Goldstein's unsuccessful 1945 bid for mayor on the Republican-Liberal-Fusion ticket. Javits's hard work in the Goldstein campaign showed his potential in the political arena and encouraged the small Manhattan Republican party to nominate him as their candidate for the Upper West Side's Twenty-first Congressional District (since redistricted) seat during the heavily Republican year of 1946. Although the Republicans had not held the seat since 1923, Javits campaigned energetically and won. He was a member of the freshman class along with John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts and Richard M. Nixon of California. He served from 1947 to 1954, then resigned his seat after his election as the New York Attorney General.
Throughout his career in Congress, in the House and later in the Senate, Javits was part of a small group of liberal Republicans who were often isolated ideologically from their mainstream Republican colleagues. Although he frequently differed with the more conservative members of his party, Javits always maintained that a healthy political party should tolerate diverse opinions among its members. He rejected the idea that either party should reflect only one point of view. Javits liked to think of himself as a political descendant of Theodore Roosevelt's Progressive Republicanism. He was strongly committed to social issues, believing that the federal government should have a role in improving the lives of Americans. Yet as a lawyer who had for years represented business clients, Javits also advocated a mixed economy in which business and government would cooperate to further the national welfare.
During his first two terms in the House, Javits often sided with the Harry Truman administration. For example, in 1947 he supported Truman's veto of the Taft-Hartley Bill, which he declared was antiunion. A strong opponent of discrimination, Javits also endorsed anti-poll tax legislation in 1947 and 1949, and in 1954 he unsuccessfully sought to have enacted a bill banning segregation in federally funded housing projects. Unhappy with the witch hunt atmosphere in Washington during the Cold War, he publicly opposed continuing appropriations for the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1948. Always a staunch supporter of Israel as a Jewish homeland, Javits served on the House Foreign Affairs Committee during all four of his terms and supported congressional funding for the Marshall Plan and all components of the Truman Doctrine.
In 1954 Javits left the House to run for New York State attorney general against a well-known and well-funded opponent, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Jr. Javits's vote-getting abilities carried the day, and he was the only Republican to win a statewide office that year. As attorney general, Javits continued to promote his liberal agenda, supporting such measures as antibias employment legislation and a health insurance program for state employees.
In 1956 Javits interrupted his service as attorney general to seek the Senate seat vacated by the retiring incumbent Democratic Senator Herbert Lehman. Like Lehman, Javits was for a time the only Jew in the U.S. Senate. His Democratic opponent was the popular mayor of New York, Robert F. Wagner. In the early stages of that campaign Javits vigorously and successfully denied charges that he had once sought support from members of the American Communist party during his 1946 race for Congress. He went on to defeat Wagner by nearly half a million votes. Upon taking office, Javits resumed his role as the most outspoken Republican liberal in Congress. For the next twenty-four years the Senate was Javits's home. His wife had no interest in living in Washington, D.C., a town she considered a boring backwater, so for over two decades Javits commuted between New York and Washington nearly every week to visit his "other" family and conduct local political business. During his first term he supported the limited 1957 Civil Rights Act, which was bitterly opposed by many of his southern colleagues. In foreign affairs he backed the Eisenhower Doctrine for the Middle East and also pressed for more foreign military and economic assistance.
Reelected easily in 1962, Javits actively supported Lyndon Johnson's civil rights measures and generally endorsed the Great Society programs. To promote his views on social legislation, he served on the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee for twenty years, most of that time as the second-ranking minority member. Javits initially backed Johnson during the early years of America's involvement in the Vietnam War, supporting, for example, the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in 1964. By the end of 1967, however, he was becoming disenchanted with the war's progress[1] and joined twenty-two other senators in calling for a peaceful solution to the conflict. By 1970 his rising opposition to the war led him to support the Cooper-Church Amendment, which barred funds for U.S. troops in Cambodia, and he also voted to repeal the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. Increasingly concerned about the erosion of congressional authority in foreign affairs, Javits sponsored the 1973 War Powers Act, which limited to sixty days a president's ability to send American armed forces into combat without congressional approval. Despite his unhappiness with President Richard Nixon over the Vietnam War, Javits was slow to join the anti-Nixon forces during the Watergate scandal of 1973-1974. Until almost the very end of the affair, Javits's position reflected his legal training: Nixon was innocent until proven guilty, and the best way to determine guilt or innocence was by legal due process. Javits's position was not popular among his constituency, and his reelection in 1974 over Ramsey Clark was by fewer than 400,000 votes, a third of his 1968 margin of victory. During his last term Javits shifted his interests more and more to world affairs, especially the crises in the Middle East. Working with President Jimmy Carter, he journeyed to Israel and Egypt to facilitate discussions that led to the 1978 Camp David Agreement.

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