If the National Republican Congressional Committee had gotten it's first choice for a candidate for Congress in 1980, perhaps Broward would have never sent E. Clay Shaw to Washington.
In 1980, national Republicans pursued state sen. Van Poole (now a lobbyist). Poole declined but said that he had another guy in mind: Fort Lauderdale Mayor E. Clay Shaw. Poole said he brought Shaw and the NRCC rep together for lunch and urged Shaw to run.
Ultimately Shaw beat Democrat Alan Becker of the politically influential Becker Poliakoff law firm and went on to have a 26 year in Congress.
“South Florida has lost a true gentleman -- someone who served people of South Florida with integrity and honor,” said Eric Eikenberg, Shaw's last chief of staff.
The legislative accomplishment Shaw was most proud of was welfare reform legislation which he authored in the 1980s and eventually saw passed in 1996 under President Bill Clinton.
“Clay Shaw was there from the beginning until the end. Bill Clinton signed welfare Aug. 22, 1996 Clay Shaw’s wedding anniversary,” Eikenberg said.
Shaw was proud of the fact that millions of Americans were no longer dependent on government and were working.
Shaw first drew attention for legislation about missing and exploited children after the kidnapping of Adam Walsh of Hollywood. He was also known as a relentless advocate for funding for the Everglades.
After working along with Democratic officials for decades, Shaw faced a tough challenge in 2006 when state legislator Ron Klein challenged him. It was a fierce battle and both sides brought in the big guns to help: Barack Obama, then a Senator, campaigned for Klein while President George Bush and Dick Cheney helped Shaw raise money.
The race divided Democratic officials in Broward -- and some including then County Commissioner Ilene Lieberman stayed neutral due to their strong working relationship with Shaw.
“He was extremely helpful to us with the airport expansion ....,” she said. “He is the reason we have the cell phone lot. It was his idea.”
Just like other residents in Broward, Shaw’s wife Emilie couldn’t just park curbside anymore after Sept. 11 at the airport. One day Shaw picked up the phone and called Lieberman and suggested a cell phone lot much like one he had seen elsewhere in the country. The lot opened in 2006 and remains heavily used today.
Though Shaw was seen as a very calm and nice man, “when it came to politics and campaigning he was as fierce as anyone you ever met,” Eikenberg recounted. “He was disappointed to leave Congress after the 2006 election but he was quickly able to look back at the totality of a career that spanned four U.S. presidents that captured so many accomplishments he was proud of.”
Here are some other comments by politicians who represent Broward:
* Broward County Mayor Kristin Jacobs: “My condolences to the family of Clay Shaw, one of South Florida’s most influential and respected leaders. When I was a brand-new commissioner, he invited me to participate in his semi-annual Washington DC Fly-In. He was the most gracious host, welcoming us in a non-partisan way. I learned so much from him about how to find common ground with others to get things done. He was a lovely person who cared deeply about Broward County and his caliber of public service will be sorely missed.”
* U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel D-West Palm Beach: “We have lost a great statesman for South Florida. I will always fondly remember Clay Shaw from my time as Mayor of West Palm Beach, as someone who you could work with in a bipartisan manner and as a true gentleman. My heart goes out to his family at this difficult time.”
* U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Miramar, “Words cannot express how deeply sorry I was to hear of the passing of my dear friend, Congressman Clay Shaw. He was an exemplary public servant and a man of vision. ... Clay was known for his tenacity in tackling big issues. As Chairman of the House Subcommittees on Trade, Social Security, and Human Resources, he dedicated himself to bettering the lives of all Americans and fought to improve our nation’s Social Security program. I feel truly blessed to have known him, and to have worked with him in so many ways to make our country stronger.
* Mitch Ceasar, longtime Broward Democratic chair: “I found him a true gentleman. That type of elected official is very few and far between these days.” When Bill Clinton won, his office reached out to Ceasar’s office to offer inauguration tickets for himself and other Democrats -- and continued to do that in later cycles. “He was of the old school. ... More civility.”
* Former state Sen. Jim Scott, Republican: “He kept a nice misdemeanor. None of this angry throwing mud at other people and parties, more of a professional approach.”