Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Series-Disabled Legend Jacob Javits

Jacob Koppel “Jack” Javits was born on 18 May, 1904 and died on 7 March, 1986. Jacob was an American politician who served as United States Senator from New York from 1957 to 1981. A liberal Republican, he was originally allied with Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller, fellow U.S. Senators Irving Ives and Kenneth Keating, and New York City Mayor John V. Lindsay.

Jacob Javits graduated from New York University and its law school in Manhattan. Jacob was admitted to the bar in 1927. During World War II, he was a lieutenant colonel in the United States Army.

Jacob was initially elected to New York’s 21st congressional district (since redistricted) in the United States House of Representatives during the heavily Republican year of 1946. Jacob was a member of the freshman class along with John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts and Richard M. Nixon of California. Jacob served from 1947 to 1954, then resigned his seat after his election as the New York Attorney General.

In 1956, he defeated Mayor of New York City Robert F. Wagner, Jr., in a U.S. Senate race to succeed the retiring incumbent Democratic Senator Herbert Lehman. Like Lehman, Jacob Javits was for a time the only Jew in the U.S. Senate.

A graduate of the New York University School of Law, Jacob Javits was generally considered a liberal Republican, and was supportive of labour unions and movements for civil rights. In 1964, Jacob Javits refused to support his party’s presidential nominee, his conservative colleague, Barry M. Goldwater of Arizona even though Barry Goldwater had said in 1962 that he would vote to re-elect Jacob Javits were Barry Goldwater a New York voter.

Senator Javits sponsored the 1st African-American Senate page in 1965 and the 1st female page in 1971. Jacob’s background, coupled with his liberal stands, enabled him to win the votes of many historically Democratic voters. Jacob was highly successful in all elections in which he was a candidate from 1946 to 1974.

Jacob Javits played a major role in legislation protecting pensioners, as well as in the passage of the War Powers Act; he led the effort to get the Javits-Wagner-O’Day Act passed. Jacob reached the position of Ranking Minority Member on the Committee on Foreign Relations while accruing greater seniority than any New York Senator before or since (as of 2007). Jacob was also one of the main forces behind the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act that by removing immigration quota that favoured Western European nations helped to make the U.S. a truly diverse and multicultural country.

Jacob Javits served until 1981; his 1979 diagnosis with amytrophic lateral sclerosis (also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease) led to a 1980 primary challenge by the comparatively lesser-known Long Island Republican county official Alfonse D’Amato. Alfonse D’Amato received 323,468 primary votes (55.7 percent) to Jacob Javits’ 257,433 (44.3 percent). Jacob Javits’ loss to Alfonse D’Amato stemmed from Jacob Javits’ continuing illness and his failure to adjust politically to the rightward movement of the GOP.

Following the primary defeat, Jacob Javits ran as the Liberal Party candidate in the general election, having split the Democratic base vote with United States Representative Elizabeth Holtzman of Brooklyn and giving Alfonse D’Amato a plurality victory.

Jacob Javits died of Lou Gehrig’s disease in West Palm Beach, Florida, at the age of 81. In addition to Marian, he was survived by 3 children, Joshua, Carla, and Joy.

Among those who attended the funeral were Governor Mario Cuomo, Mayor Ed Koch, former President Richard Nixon, Attorney General Edwin Meese, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Senator D’Amato, John Cardinal O’Connor, former Mayor Lindsay, former Governor Hugh Carey of New York, and former State Attorney General Louis Lefkowitz.

Also there were U.S. Representative Bella Abzug of Manhattan; then Senators Nancy Kassebaum Baker of Kansas, Bill Bradley of New Jersey, Lowell Weicker of Connecticut, and Gary Hart of Colorado; David Rockefeller, the banker; Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, publisher of The New York Times; Victor Gotbaum, the labour leader; Kurt Vonnegut, the writer, and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., the actor.


Jacob Javits received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1983.

New York’s Javits Center is named in his honour, as is a playground at the southwestern edge of Fort Tryon Park. The Jacob K. Javits Federal Building at 26 Federal Plaza in lower Manhattan’s Civic Center district, as well as a lecture hall on the campus of the State University of New York at Stony Brook on Long Island, are also named after him.

The United States Department of Education awards a number of Javits Fellowships to support graduate students in the humanities and social sciences.

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