Tags: lee iacocca | obituary | chrysler | senate | pennsylvania

Late Lee Iacocca Declined a US Senate Seat

Lee Iacocca smiles as he poses with a car unveiled at a show
Lee Iacocca – Oct. 15, 1924-July 2, 2019 (Damian Dovarganes/AP)

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Thursday, 04 July 2019 07:47 PM Current | Bio | Archive

As the nation mourned Lee Iacocca, there was much to recall about the ebullient Chrysler chairman who died Tuesday at age 94.

Little recalled, however, is Iacocca — himself the subject of widespread calls to run for president — actually declined appointment to the U.S. Senate in 1991.

Cigar-chewing, ever-upbeat "Lido" [that was his real first name] Iacocca, of course, symbolized a never-say-die spirit in many ways that was, well, all-American.

At the helm of a tremulous Chrysler Corporation in the 1970's, the son of Italian immigrants oversaw his company's successful repayment of a $1.5 billion federal bailout. Iacocca became a national figure by personally pitching Chrysler in TV commercials still remembered for his closing line: "If you can find a better car, buy it!"

Long before Donald Trump and Ross Perot, lifelong Democrat Iacocca was embraced as a potential presidential candidate by people who wanted a no-nonsense businessman in the White House. He later revealed in his memoirs, he seriously considered a presidential bid in 1988 and had even picked out a slogan: "I Like 'I'." (Iacocca finally said "no" to a campaign.)

Three years later, Iacocca had something even firmer than a possibility of winning a nomination or election. Sen. John Heinz, R-Pa., was killed in a plane crash in April 1991.

After a period of mourning, Democratic Gov. Bob Casey began the process of appointing a successor to Heinz. Within days, the governor's office got word to reporters that would soon make headlines nationwide: Gov. Casey wanted to "make a statement" with the appointment and hoped to name Lee Iacocca (a friend and, like Casey, a practicing Roman Catholic).

There was the matter of Iacocca and his family living in suburban Detroit (Oakland County) for several decades. But the residency issue never amounted to much. Lido was born and raised in Allentown and most Pennsylvanians proudly claimed him as one of their own.

But it was not to be. Amid several reports Gov. Casey had offered the appointment to Iacocca, the retired Chrysler boss issued a statement he did not want the Senate seat. 

(Casey continued his plan to "make a statement" by naming a national figure to the Senate.  He offered the appointment to retired U.S. Marine Corps Gen. Thomas Kelly, famed as the Pentagon spokesman during Operation Desert Storm. Kelly declined the offer, as did four more predictable Democratic politicians. The governor finally tapped Harris Wofford, president of Bryn Mawr College, and he went on to win a special election in the fall of 1991 for the remainder of Heinz's term).

"Sen. Lee Iacocca, D-Pa.?"

One has to wonder what he would have been like in office, how he would have dealt with issues such as the federal deficit, or whether he would have been bored with the Senate and quickly left.

No one knows what an Iacocca Senate stint would have been like, but it seems a safe bet to say, like everything else he did in his career, he would have made it very interesting and exciting.

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.

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The late Lee Iacocca declined appointment to the U.S. Senate in 1991, Newsmax's John Gizzi reminisces.
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Thursday, 04 July 2019 07:47 PM
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