Last week, Connecticut pols and pundits were beside themselves trying to explain the Nutmeg State's Republican Senate primary in which a long-shot candidate with Donald Trump's last-minute endorsement upset the long-presumed favorite for nomination — handily.
Up came the name, almost inevitably, of Ed Marcus, onetime Senate majority leader and Democratic state chairman who died at age 94 three months earlier (May 5).
Even Connecticut GOP National Committeeman John Frey agreed that Marcus — shrewd, Machiavellian, and a born political survivor — could have figured out how a Trumpster could overcome the more moderate Republican who had the endorsement of the state GOP convention.
A moderate Democrat in the mold of early political heroes John Kennedy and Sen. Henry (Scoop) Jackson, Marcus could see his party moving to the left and in later years eagerly embraced more liberal presidential candidates such as John Kerry in 2004 and Barack Obama in '08.
"Ed was a true politician who knew how to work both sides of the aisle to accomplish his goals," Democrat former state House Speaker Rich Balducci told Newsmax.
Beaten in bids for the U.S. Senate and for a state senate seat by a 27-year-old newcomer named Joe Lieberman, Marcus nonetheless stayed active. He won the state Democrat chairmanship at age 64 and remained at the party helm for 10 years. Marcus also practiced law and lobbying right up to his death a month before what would have been his 95th birthday.
The son of a Manhattan society physician, Edward L. Marcus was a star student and athlete at Poly Prep Day School in New York. Having graduated Yale University — excelling at academics, football, baseball and basketball — and its law school. He settled in New Haven and opened his own law firm.
But a growing passion for politics consumed the young Marcus and, after knocking on every door in his ward, he won a seat on the New Haven Board of Aldermen in 1951. Working closely with reform Democrat Mayor Richard Lee, Marcus became majority leader of the Board.
With his Paul Newman-like good looks, his radio resonant voice, and his ability to remember those who did things for him, he was a natural for higher office.
In 1958, he won a seat in the state senate and quickly became its majority leader. In that capacity, Marcus found himself increasingly at odds with then-Democrat Gov. John Dempsey and Connecticut's all-powerful Democratic Chairman John Bailey (who doubled as Democratic National Committee chair under Presidents Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson).
"Marcus successfully challenged Bailey's control over legislative patronage," wrote Hartford Courant columnist Kevin Rennie, "The contentious move … allowed the legislature to become a professional and equal branch of government."
Marcus then declared for the U.S. Senate nomination — a surprise move, considering he had fought his party's leadership and now wanted something big from them. He lost the nomination at the state convention but got enough delegates (20%) to qualify for a primary.
"Tough. Very tough!" blared Marcus's radio spots, "But so are the problems."
Marcus was also tough with opponent Joseph Duffey, chairman of the liberal Americans for Democratic Action who had two years before been quoted by British journalists describing himself as a "Marxist-Leninist."
Marcus hit that hard, despite the authors and Duffey insisting the remark was in jest. Duffey won the primary and lost in November to Republican Lowell P. Weicker.
Marcus then tried to reclaim his state senate seat, but he faced problems.
"I went to see Chairman Bailey and said I wanted to run for Eddie's senate seat," Lieberman told Newsmax, "He chewed on that cigar of his and smiled and said 'That's interesting.' I was only 27 and there were probably 10 better-known guys who could have run. But they were afraid Eddie would play rough and get revenge on them."
Bailey covertly helped Lieberman. Yale University's anti-Vietnam War contingent flooded his campaign with volunteers, knowing well that Marcus had supported the pro-war party platform at the stormy 1968 Democratic National Convention. Among the eager volunteers were Yale Law students Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham, and they helped Lieberman eke out a 240-vote win.
Lieberman would go on to become U.S. senator and the Democrat nominee for vice president in 2000. He also wrote a much-praised biography of old benefactor Bailey entitled, accurately, "The Power Broker."
In later years, Marcus would remind listeners how Bill and Hillary helped finish him — and he reminded the Clintons when he visited the White House as Democratic chairman of Connecticut.
Out of office, Marcus tried to organize Connecticut Democrats for Washington state's Scoop Jackson for president in 1972 and '76. But he and other moderates realized that Jackson's hawkish foreign policy stance and support of the Vietnam War would not sell with Democrats whose new rules favored left-of-center candidates such as George McGovern in '72.
As chairman of Connecticut Democrats, Marcus issued roughly 300 news releases and public letters slamming Republican Gov. John Rowland for ethical lapses. In 2004, Rowland was forced to resign amid corruption charges that sent him to prison.
Marcus' critics, however, loved to note that he also wrote a letter on behalf of Bridgeport's Democrat Mayor Joe Ganim calling him "someone with a great future ahead of him," and Ganim went to prison.
During a discussion with Newsmax in 2014, Marcus made no secret he was a nonobservant Jew, and, in fact, a story circulated in his senate district that on a high Jewish holy day, then-Sen. Marcus was spotted in his convertible dressed for a tennis match.
"You can say that, when it comes to religion, I'm nothing," he told Newsmax. "I just try to always do what's right. That's enough, isn't it?"
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
© 2022 Newsmax. All rights reserved.