Stephen Solarz, a Jewish former nine-term Democratic congressman from New York, died yesterday at 70. He notably fought a Carter administration sale of fighter jets to Saudi Arabia; criticized Reagan administration policy in Lebanon; and demonstrated that Filipino dictator Ferdinand Marcos was misusing foreign aid. His obituary quotes Paul Wolfowitz praising his understanding “that idealism and realism actually go together.”
In Capital, Steve Kornacki tells the fascinating story of how Solarz is somewhat responsible for one of the most powerful American Jewish politicans today, his protégé-turned-adversary Chuck Schumer (now New York’s senior senator and the third-ranking member of the Senate). In Solarz, whose Brooklyn district bordered his own, Schumer saw one path—gain a high inside-the-Beltway profile through prestigious globetrotting and pontificating—and himself chose the other—work quietly on constituent-friendly policies and steadily rise through the party leadership.
To Solarz, Schumer would become an insufficiently grateful upstart—the kid who’d grown too big for his britches. To Schumer, Solarz would come to serve as an object lesson in all of the wrong choices a politician can make. When the rivalry came to an abrupt and stunning end back in 1992, it was Schumer who got the last laugh—and Solarz, then barely into his 50s, who was frozen out of the game for the rest of his life.