Rep. Ted Weiss, the longtime Democratic congressman representing Manhattan’s heavily Jewish Upper West Side, died Monday morning of heart failure.
Weiss, who was also the candidate of the Liberal Party, died just one day before he was to run in the primary election for a ninth term in Congress and three days before his 65th birthday.
Weiss, who had a history of heart problems and had undergone bypass surgery twice, in 1984 and 1986, was admitted to the hospital last Thursday complaining that he was not feeling well, said Nathan Moss, a spokesman in the congressman’s Manhattan office.
A former member of the New York City Council, Weiss was first elected to Congress in 1976, succeeding former Rep. Bella Abzug in the 17th District, which included Manhattan’s traditionally liberal Upper West Side, a largely Jewish area.
The district was redrawn and renumbered the 8th District for the upcoming Congress. Weiss’ name remained on the ballot. Although redistricting has endangered the political futures of many veteran members of Congress, Weiss had been considered a shoo-in.
Weiss’ supporters urged voters to cast their ballots for him in the Democratic primary to prevent the victory of his only opponent, Arthur Block, a member of the fringe New Alliance Party.
If Block does not receive a majority of votes on Tuesday, the Democratic Party county chairmen of Brooklyn and Manhattan – parts of both counties were included in Weiss’ district – will choose a candidate to run in Weiss’ place in the general election.
Weiss was known as one of Congress’ most liberal members. He was given a 100 percent rating by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Council on Foreign Relations. He served on several House committees, including Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs, Foreign Affairs, and Government Operations, as well as the Select Committee on Children, Youth and Families.
In 1983, he was one of eight congressmen who called for President Reagan’s impeachment for invading the island of Granada.
Born in Gava, Hungary, Weiss came to America in 1938 with his mother and sister. His Hungarian Jewish origins colored much of his life.
He was a member of the World Federation of Hungarian Jews and was often a speaker at its annual Martyrs Memorial held at the Park East Synagogue in Manhattan.
Rabbi Arthur Schneier, senior rabbi of Park East, who is scheduled to speak at Weiss’ funeral, said the congressman was “a very caring, compassionate, humble human being who was imbued with a sense of justice and never forgot the scars of the Holocaust and responded accordingly in his work on behalf of Soviet Jewry and Eastern European Jews.”
Weiss was also a member of the Emanuel Foundation for Hungarian Culture and a member of its International Tribute Committee for Holocaust Victims.
“Ted Weiss helped us to put up the memorial for Holocaust victims in Budapest,” said Andor Weiss, executive vice president of the foundation and not a relative. “He was always working in our behalf.”
Weiss got involved in various issues of interest to Jews and Israel.
In 1984, he sharply criticized the State Department for granting a visa to the mayor of an Austrian resort who was identified as a former sergeant of the Gestapo infantry brigade responsible for the murder of Jews and other civilians.
Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, called Weiss “a champion in promoting America’s democratic values and a consistent supporter of issues of concern to American Jews, including the security of Israel.”
Weiss was also an advocate for the rights of Soviet Jews to emigrate and for human rights in the former Soviet Union.
He was a member of the Congressional Coalition for Soviet Jewry and “was in the forefront of political leaders concerned with freedom of emigration and the guarantees of religious and cultural rights for Jews,” said Shoshana Cardin, chairman of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry. “He will be remembered for his concern for prisoners of conscience Natan Sharansky and Josef Begun, among others, his direct involvement in many refusenik cases and his steadfast and unswerving commitment to human rights.”