Home News Joseph Lieberman dies; ex-senator was Al Gore’s running mate in 2000

Joseph Lieberman dies; ex-senator was Al Gore’s running mate in 2000


Former U.S. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, a former presidential candidate and longtime giant in Connecticut politics, died Wednesday following complications from a fall.

Lieberman, 82, died in New York City as his wife, Hadassah, and other family members were with him, according to a family statement that was released by longtime aide Dan Gerstein.

“Senator Lieberman’s love of God, his family, and America endured throughout his life in the public interest,” the family said.

Lieberman’s funeral is scheduled for Friday at Congregation Agudath Sholom in his hometown of Stamford. An additional memorial service will be announced at a later date.

Lieberman’s friends and former colleagues were stunned by the news Wednesday as word spread quickly among his former staff members and associates.

U.S. John McCain stands next to Joe Lieberman, his close friend, during a rally at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn.
U.S. John McCain stands next to Joe Lieberman, his close friend, during a rally at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn. Channi Anand, Associated Press

Lieberman had been in good spirits recently and had spoken to The Hartford Courant in an interview lasting about 30 minutes in late November.

He talked about being in Israel on October 7 – the day that Hamas terrorists burst across the border and started killing civilians in a surprising attack. Lieberman traveled to Israel on one of his many trips to visit family and friends, and he heard the sirens blaring.

“We were there that Saturday, October 7,” Lieberman told the Courant in an interview. “Oh, man, the sirens went off. Everybody went to the shelters and the safe rooms that they have in their houses. It seemed unreal, but as the day went on, it got painfully real.”

As the attacks continued, Lieberman was far enough away in Jerusalem, which is about 50 to 60 miles from the Gaza Strip.

“A couple of times we heard some booms,” Lieberman said. “But there were no missiles or bombs that fell on Jerusalem. The booms, we were told, were probably Iron Dome batteries that are placed around Jerusalem that probably were activated to shoot down some missiles that were coming in elsewhere. It’s a society that is, unfortunately, trained for moments like this, and they all did what they have to do.”

Long career in politics

At the end of his U.S. Senate career, Lieberman sat for a long interview with The Hartford Courant in his Washington, D.C. office.

“In the long term, probably the biggest contribution I’ve been able to make to the country and my state,” Lieberman said, was “all of the post 9/11 reform and reorganization of our government to deal with this unconventional challenge to our security, represented by Islamist terrorism — the Department of Homeland Security, which I co-sponsored; the 9/11 Commission, which McCain and I introduced and created; and then all of the 9/11 legislation, which reformed and reorganized the intelligence community in the most significant reform since the beginning of the Cold War in the late 1940s, that created the director of national intelligence and national counter-terrorism.”

Lieberman explained his unusual career path by saying that “the unimaginable happened in 2000” to launch an unpredictable series of events.

“Trust me, it was beyond unimaginable that I would be considered as a Republican vice presidential candidate and perhaps have the opportunity to take a unique place in history to have run for vice president on two different party tickets — and to have lost twice,” Lieberman said. “God saved me from that — or the Republican delegates saved me from that.”

Lieberman’s evolution over the years brought him a series of new friends and supporters, including former U.S. Sen. John McCain, President George W. Bush, and Fox News commentator Sean Hannity. It also brought him a small army of political enemies who coalesced around a previously unknown anti-war candidate named Ned Lamont to defeat Lieberman in the 2006 U.S. Senate primary.

But Lieberman says he was vindicated with his greatest political victory in November 2006, made possible by a coalition largely made up of Republicans and independents. That proved to be his final campaign in a career that is now closing after 40 years in public service, including 24 years in the U.S. Senate.

In Connecticut, many liberal Democrats increasingly soured on Lieberman’s hawkish stances on defense and his support of Republican views. He was at his peak when he made history as the first Jewish American on a major party ticket, but his later views on the war in Iraq prompted many Democrats to deride him as a controversial and divisive figure.

Lieberman supporters believe that it was the Democratic Party — more than Lieberman — that changed through the years, as evidenced by the party’s blistering opposition to the Iraq war.

Lieberman himself attributed the change to “a very unusual series of events in which I had different opportunities” involving “different times and different people and different relationships that I had,” including his close friendship with McCain.

The two senators are like brothers in a bond forged by more than 50 foreign trips together to hot spots such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. A McCain victory in 2008 also would have changed Lieberman’s life once again in the same way as the vice presidential decision by Gore.

“I guarantee you if I was elected president, he would have been Secretary of State,” McCain said of Lieberman in an interview with The Courant in his spacious Washington office. “I’ll bet you if a president nominated him to be the Secretary of State, the vote would be 100 to 0.”

At the other end of the spectrum, hard-core liberals and some true-blue Democrats said they regretted voting for Lieberman in his earlier days and said they would never do so again.

Despite the public clashes with friends, Lieberman always rebounded.

Even though Lieberman supported McCain over Democrat Barack Obama in 2008, it was Obama who stepped in and said Lieberman should remain as the chairman of the Senate homeland security committee at a time when some Democrats were still angry. Although Lieberman was the first Senate Democrat to publicly scold then-President Bill Clinton in a memorable speech on the Senate floor during the Monica Lewinsky scandal in 1998, it was Clinton who traveled to Waterbury eight years later to rally support for Lieberman when he was on the ropes in the bitter primary.

Clinton told the crowd that day that Lieberman was his longtime friend, and “I love him.”

Colleagues mourn Lieberman

As word spread quickly Wednesday, colleagues mourned Lieberman.

“Joe Lieberman was my friend for over 50 years,” said U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal. “On world and national stages, he helped to define and frame an era of history. He was a fierce advocate, a man of deep conscience and conviction, and a courageous leader who sought to bridge gaps and bring people together. He was dedicated to family and faith, and he was a role model of public service. He never ceased listening to both friends and adversaries. He leaves an enduring legacy as a fighter for consumers, environmental values, civil rights, and other great causes of our time and he was tireless in working for Connecticut no matter how far or high he went. Cynthia and I are with his family in heart and prayer at this difficult time.”

Lamont, who is now serving as governor, said, “While the senator and I had our political differences, he was a man of integrity and conviction, so our debate about the Iraq War was serious. I believe we agreed to disagree from a position of principal. When the race was over, we stayed in touch as friends in the best traditions of American democracy. He will be missed.”

Former Gov. Dannel Malloy said, “Joe and I shared Stamford roots, so we go way back. He spent much of his career fighting for people who didn’t, at the time, have a lot of politicians fighting for them. I knew him for a long time, liked him very much, and respected his civility and decency – even when we disagreed, which we sometimes did. The thing I’ll remember most about Joe was that he was a kind, down-to-earth person who never forgot where he came from, even when he made history as the first Jewish vice-presidential nominee of a major political party. Cathy and I send our deepest condolences to Hadassah, and the entire Lieberman family.”

Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz said, “Across decades – as a state senator, Connecticut attorney general, and U.S. senator – Joe Lieberman shaped policies that bettered the lives of residents in our state and across the nation. I greatly admired his dedication, and it was his book, The Power Broker, which inspired me to write my own biography of Governor Ella Grasso. Joe was there to impact critical policies during some of the most pivotal moments in our recent history, whether casting the deciding vote to pass the Affordable Care Act, landmark legislation that has provided more than 21 million Americans access to quality, affordable health care, or introducing the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010. In a post 9/11 era, Joe led legislation that led to the creation of the Department of Homeland Security – an effort that is still keeping us safe today.”

Christopher Keating can be reached at [email protected]

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