20 years later
Herald Poltical Writer
TWENTY years ago, the brief yet memorable tenure of Marc Lincoln Marks came to an end in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Marks, then a Hermitage Republican, pulled off one of the biggest political upsets in northwestern Pennsylvania history in 1976 when he knocked off a six-term representative, Erie Democrat Joseph P. Vigorito, to secure the 24th District seat in Washington.
The congressional win, one of a few ever by a Mercer County resident, launched a career that garnered Marks nationwide attention on a couple of occasions, although by its close in January 1983 even Marks was referring to it as an "undistinguished" career.
Since leaving public office that year, Marks, a Farrell High School graduate and the son of Mr. and Mrs. Ben H. Marks, has remained mostly out of the public spotlight. And although he turned 76 in February, Marks still works and has no immediate plans to retire.
He lives in Chevy Chase, Md., with his wife Jane within 10 minutes' drive of their three daughters, Leslie, Patricia Ann and Mari, as well as four granddaughters.
"It's the best thing that ever happened to me and to Jane," Marks said of having his family so close by. "We see them almost every day and interfere in their lives quite a bit."
Marks was kind enough to allow The Herald to interfere in his life for a couple of hours recently. Following are parts of our phone conversation:
Jeff Greenburg: "In November 1972, you filed a $475,000 lawsuit against the City of Sharon and its police department for taping a phone conversation you had with an incarcerated client. That case remained in the courts until January 1975 and kept your name in the papers for three years, as well as earning you two appearances on NBC's Today Show. Is it possible this case either directly or indirectly aided you, specifically regarding the issue of name recognition, when you ran for Congress in 1976?"
Marc Lincoln Marks: "The bugging case had a great effect on my life. ... I was invited to make an appearance on the Today Show and while I was there it caused a lot of publicity. Then when the case ended and we were awarded a verdict, which was sustained by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, I was invited back. And on that occasion, someone on the show said to me, 'If you're really concerned about the issue of privacy, you ought to go to Washington.'
"Well, I had always had it in the back of my mind to enter politics, but my father had opposed that. So when he was alive I set that aside, but he passed away in 1969. So after the taping incident occurred, I came home and told my partners, who were former Judge Herman Rodgers, Anthony Perfilio and William D. Irwin, that I was going to run for Congress.
"Quite frankly, they thought I was going the wrong way. They thought I was crazy, nuts to even be thinking about it. How would a white-haired Jewish Republican who had not been involved in national politics and had never run for public office have a chance? They tried to dissuade me, but because of my ego, which had been bolstered by the appearance on the Today Show, I paid no attention to them and decided to run."
JG: "Run you did, with the campaign slogan 'We must do better.' You were considered a major underdog to the six-term incumbent Vigorito, an Erie Democrat. Not since Carroll D. Kearns, who served in the U.S. House from 1947-63 and who lived in Farrell when he was first elected, had Mercer or Crawford county fielded a successful candidate. You won 100,725 to 79,558 and carried all three counties, although registered Democrats outnumbered Republicans by more than 30,000 in the district.
"In what became The Herald's No. 1 story of 1976, your victory was one of only eight nationwide that unseated a Democrat in Congress. What do you remember about that election night?"
MLM: "I was sitting at my home on McDowell Avenue when the returns came in. Mark Harroff (a campaign strategist Marks had hired from the Washington firm of Smith and Harroff) was at the headquarters in downtown Sharon. When he began to get numbers from Erie, he kept calling me. And I said, 'Mark you're not being funny.' But he said, 'It's true, it's true.' "
JG: "To what did you attribute your surprising success, especially nearly matching Vigorito vote for vote in his own backyard?"
MLM: "We attributed it to a number of things: No. 1, the labor support we had, and No. 2, because of the strategy Bill Campbell (then Mercer County's Republican Party chairman) and Smith and Harroff laid out; I went door to door to thousands of homes. It taught me a lesson that there's nothing like meeting your constituents and hopeful voters face to face. And we did a huge amount of that. We took busloads of people from Sharon and would go to all sorts of places in Crawford and Erie counties."
JG: "What impact, if any, did your family have?"
MLM: "There's no way of describing how effective and important my family was, because my wife, Jane, and our three daughters, Leslie, Trish and Marilyn, accompanied me often on trips throughout the district. People liked to see my family and my family liked to meet people, who could tell immediately they were sincere."
JG: "You were sworn into the U.S. House of Representatives on Jan. 3, 1977. I imagine it was a pretty memorable day."
MLM: "You were allowed to bring your children on the floor on the opening day and I brought my youngest, Mari. And she was ecstatic and just loved it. People would come over to congratulate me and spend more time talking to her. My wife and the other girls were in the gallery.
"One of the nice happenings that day -- and we had a lot of Sharon people come down -- was being invited into the Speaker's office, Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill. New members were all invited in and he sat with you and talked with you and had his picture taken with you. That started a friendship that lasted many years. My mother-in-law, Ruth London, came up for the swearing in and he invited both Ruth and my family in at the same time and they all had their picture taken with him."
JG: "It didn't take long for you to leap into the national spotlight when in July 1977 it was learned that both President Carter and former President Ford called you within a 24-hour period, asking for your support on the natural gas deregulation issue before your Commerce Committee. Your vote proved crucial as Carter's proposal passed by a 22-21 margin. That had to be some pretty heady times for a freshman member, especially getting calls from two presidents."
MLM: "On the advice of some of my staff, I didn't immediately indicate how I was going to vote. ... Republicans were mostly in favor of it and Democrats weren't, so I found myself in an awkward position. Then I got a nice call from former President Ford. He gave me his position, and -- this is the kind of man he was -- he said to me, 'Vote your conscience, but this is what I think and I wanted you to know that.'
"The next morning, the day of the vote, we knew it was going to be close and pressures from my Republican colleagues were great. That morning I got a call from President Carter and I had not had the privilege to speak with him before. He said to me right off the bat, 'I want you to vote your conscience, but I want to tell you how strongly I feel about this. But whatever you do I want you to know I hope we can work with you in the future.' And he left it at that. He mentioned one other thing. He knew I had a daughter about the same age as his and said, 'Someday I hope they can get together.' "
"So I went in and voted my conscience and that was the one-vote difference. And I was never sorry about it, although I'm sure there were political ramifications for me on my side of the aisle."
JG: "The ramifications for you and your family regarding your burgeoning relationship with Carter and his family were the exact opposite, I would guess."
MLM: "Not long after that vote, my daughter Mari was invited to the White House to play with his daughter Amy and they became best friends. And his daughter spent as much time at our place as Mari spent at the White House and Camp David. They were very good and close friends and keep in touch even today. Mrs. Carter, who was just a wonderful person, befriended my wife. But the girls were really fun. ... On one of those occasions, Mari came home from a weekend with the Carters and we were trying to pump her for information. She told us they ended up sleeping with the Carters one night because they were scared after watching a movie."
JG: "Less than two years later, you had a brief flirtation with a run for the U.S. Senate, announcing your candidacy on April 25, 1979. But less than eight months later, on Dec. 7, 1979, you announced your withdrawal from the race, citing money, support, time and competition as factors for dropping out. What motivated you to get in the race in the first place and then back out so quickly?"
MLM: "I looked at the Senate because Dick Schweikert had been the senior Pennsylvania senator and decided to retire. I thought it would be very wonderful to be in the Senate, which has a six-year term and all the trappings of a real great position. So I began to go around the state, especially in the eastern part of the state, to try to get the nomination. ... But quite frankly I didn't get the response from the Republican leadership I needed and that made me believe I couldn't get the nomination. In fact, others I went to were very lukewarm towards my candidacy. It was becoming more obvious I wouldn't be able to get the nomination, so I withdrew."
JG: "In 1980, perhaps in part because of your Senate bid, you defeated Erie Democrat David C. DiCarlo by only 53 votes, which at the time made you one of a handful of congressman in the history of the nation to win an election by less than 100 votes. A little more than a year after being sworn in for your third term, however, you abruptly announced you would not be seeking a fourth term, citing back problems. What happened?"
MLM: "I had a bad back for some time and had been at Bethesda. I felt I could not go through two more elections, primary and general, and handle the strain. I had the good fortune to realize I couldn't handle it."
JG: "Then what served perhaps as a perfect coup de grace to your political career came less than a month after that announcement.
"You had publicly issued support and praise for President Reagan's economic plan and had previously voted for most of Reagan's economic and tax programs. But in March, you flip-flopped on Reaganomics, saying his economic programs were a 'murderous mandate' that were guided by a man who 'lacks the compassion necessary to be president.' You ended up being featured in the Washington Post, New York Times, Boston Globe and on ABC television where you were interviewed by none other than Phil Donahue.
"Interestingly, one of your more vocal critics at the time was a man by the name of Trent Lott, then the House minority whip who later became embroiled in a much bigger controversy of his own."
MLM: "I had for some time been concerned about unemployment and the loss of jobs in the steel industry in our area, which had been going downhill. I had advised legislative people in the Reagan White House that I thought something had to be done and had to be done quickly. ... So I gave my speech and I was glad I gave it because it said what needed to be said. It got a lot of national publicity because it's not often a member of the House would chastise a president from his own party.
"But looking back, I maybe could have toned it down. For my own sake I might very well have toned it down -- to have been critical but not so pointedly critical -- but as I get older, I am pleased I said it because it needed to be said."
JG: "As your career came to a close in the wake of this highly public event about eight months later, you also were a bit critical of your own Washington tenure, telling the Washington Post it was 'undistinguished,' adding, 'When I came, I expected I could change the world and I found out pretty damn quickly I couldn't. As I look back on it, I don't think I left a fingerprint, let alone a thumbprint.'
"Twenty years later, would you assess your congressional career in a similar manner?"
MLM: "At the time I said I believed it. I did come to Washington like I guess Mr. Smith did in hopes to really make a difference. And I did find it was very difficult to make any significant difference. I was always disappointed. Looking back now 20-some years later, and because I have people on both sides of the aisle remember and come up to me and say thank you, then maybe I did make a dent, maybe I did a little good. ...
"It's been a wonderful experience. I was a smalltown lawyer and I was very fortunate. I met people and became a part of things that few people in this world have a chance to do."
Jeff Greenburg is The Herald's political writer. You can e-mail him at
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