The East Falls Historical Society organized a presentation about former Sen. Arlen Specter’s career and policies on March 4 at the Arlen Specter Center for Public Service at Philadelphia University and Thomas Jefferson University’s historic Roxboro House. Evan Laine, director of both the Jefferson Law and Society program and the Arlen Specter Center, gave the night’s presentation, titled “Policy over Power.”
As guests arrived, Laine gave a tour of the house. This focused mainly in the office where the walls are covered with framed photographs of moments from Specter’s career, including meetings with important figures. Other items include the signed resolution for former President Bill Clinton’s impeachment and a small sculpture that reads: “Hands that picked cotton, now pick public officials.”
Most of the people in attendance were members of the East Falls Historical Society. Joan Specter, Specter’s wife, and the senator’s former aides also attended.
Laine began his presentation talking about Specter’s career and causes he supported, such as stem cell research. He emphasized Specter’s willingness to do what was right for his constituents instead of favoring his party or his own interests.
For instance, when former President Barack Obama proposed a nearly $750 billion stimulus package in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, congressional Republicans were reluctant to approve it because of party differences, but Specter knew that if the government didn’t take action the situation would worsen.
“So he made the decision, Arlen Specter, against his party, who very clearly said, ‘We do not want to help Obama in any way. No matter what,’” Laine said.
Specter then convinced two other senators to vote to stop a filibuster on the bill.
“Arlen Specter put his career on the line,” Laine said. “I owe him. The country owes him.”
Laine tries to carry on Specter’s ideals of bipartisanship and cooperation as the director of the Arlen Specter Center for Public Service, he said. The Center, in collaboration with the University of Pittsburgh, works to preserve and provide access to Specter’s historic archive. It also hosts events like round tables where students and faculty can discuss controversial topics they may disagree on while still having a civil conversation, according to Laine.
“It was probably the force of his personality, his intellect, his interest, being in the right place at the right time, being a leader,” Laine said. “He always was involved in the most important issues of the time, and not only involved but often being the most important person involved.”
To further this point, Laine showed a framed political cartoon titled “Senator Specter’s Comfort Zone,” where he balanced between two cliffs representing the Republican and Democratic parties.
David Breiner, the vice president of the East Falls Historical Society, came up with the idea for the event. Breiner wants the EFHS to host events on a variety of topics.
“Right now, we are having a political crisis at the national level, and it seemed like the story he [Laine] was going to tell would show us that there are ways for people to solve problems,” Breiner said. “And maybe more people need to hear that.”
According to Breiner, EFHS usually hosts events about East Falls architecture, so a lecture about a local politician was a welcome change. Breiner felt the career of Specter would also be a great fit for the EFHS because Specter was a resident of East Falls, and because his bipartisanship is an important contrast to today’s political climate.
“If we don’t talk about our history, we don’t know it,” Laine said. “And I think, for me, as I stated in the beginning of the talk, that Specter believes in a certain way of doing political business that’s not being done. And I do this because I hope that if I say this, people will think about it and they’ll talk.”
According to Laine, Specter believed that talking to people was a good way to get results, even if they had different views. He thought attacking people with different ideals would result in nothing, and it would prevent a productive conversation. Throughout his career, Specter spoke to people like Yasser Arafat, former chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, and former Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein.
“He accomplished things in these conversations, even with people he didn’t like, because he believed in that type of diplomacy,” Laine said.
Joe Fafara, whose daughter is a student of Laine’s at Jefferson, enjoys attending this kind of event because it gives him a chance to socialize and learn new things.
“I was pleased with the event and feel that I came away with a better understanding of the senator’s decisions and career,” he said.
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