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13-Term Ohio Congressman Charles Vanik, 94

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From News Services and Staff Reports
Saturday, September 1, 2007

Charles Vanik, 94, a former Democratic congressman from Cleveland who co-sponsored an effort to force the Soviet Union to allow more Jews to emigrate, died Aug. 30 at his home in Jupiter, Fla. No cause of death was reported.

A congressman from 1955 to 1981, Mr. Vanik in 1968 surrendered his House seat when his district became primarily black, making way for Louis Stokes to run for the position. Mr. Vanik then switched to a nearby district in Cleveland's eastern suburbs, where he defeated Frances Payne Bolton, a longtime Republican member of Congress.

Mr. Vanik, who was known for always wearing black suits and bow ties, did not seek a 14th term in 1980 because he disliked raising campaign funds and owing favors to donors. He had been reelected by spending no more than $2,000 to $3,000 per campaign.

"Rather than running around raising money and politicking, Vanik put his time and considerable brainpower to the ideas of legislation and policymaking," Washington Post reporter Ward Sinclair wrote in 1980. "The results of that are impressive. Vanik is seen universally as a four-square battler for the underdog, the working man and the middle-class taxpayer -- fairly left-wing views on the Ways and Means Committee. He loved to whack away at the tax-dodging corporations and the gentry who could win tax breaks in Congress."

His biggest impact came when he and then-Sen. Henry Jackson (D-Wash.) sponsored what became known as the Jackson-Vanik amendment in 1974. The amendment to the Trade Reform Bill tied the former Soviet Union's trade status to whether it freely allowed Jewish emigration.

Emigration of Soviet Jews increased in the years after it passed but slowed to a trickle in the 1980s and became a major source of friction between the two nations. In 1988, five years after Jackson's death, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev urged the amendment to be scrapped, saying, "Why should the dead hold onto the coattails of the living? I mean the Jackson-Vanik amendment. One of them is already physically dead. The other is politically dead."

The New York Times reported that Mr. Vanik countered: "Lenin has been dead for a long time, and they still live under his guidance." But he added that the amendment could be waived if Moscow continued making progress on emigration. Then-President George H.W. Bush waived the amendment in December 1990, a year before the Soviet Union collapsed.

The Jackson-Vanik amendment is still on the books.

In 2002, Michael McFaul, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, called it "one of the most successful foreign policy ideas initiated by Congress during the Cold War. The Jackson-Vanik amendment was a moral act. It explicitly linked the Soviet Union's trading status to levels of Jewish emigration."

A native of Cleveland, Mr. Vanik graduated from Western Reserve University and received a law degree from Western Reserve in 1936. He was on the City Council and in the Ohio legislature before serving in the Navy during World War II. He became a municipal judge after the war and first ran for Congress in 1954.

After he left Congress, he unsuccessfully ran for Ohio lieutenant governor. In 1985, he joined the Washington office of the Squire Sanders & Dempsey law firm, where he worked for more than 10 years while living in Arlington County. He moved to Florida several years ago.

Survivors include his wife, Betty Best Vanik of Jupiter; two children, John Vanik of Mayfield Heights, Ohio, and Phyllis Vanik of Jupiter; and two grandchildren.

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