By the time Anthony Weiner was sworn in as a freshman congressman in 1999, Stephen Solarz had been gone from the House for six years, sent to early retirement by a stinging loss to Nydia Velazquez in the 1992 Democratic primary. Solarz was still around Washington, using his foreign policy clout as a lobbyist on behalf of Turkey and others. But to Weiner–who watched Solarz from Chuck Schumer’s office, when the two were neighboring congressmen in the 1980s–no one has ever quite replaced him.
“We don’t really have guys like him in Congress now, who kind of go off and do their own thing on foreign policy,” Weiner told The Observer on Tuesday afternoon. Weiner was particularly amazed at the sheer volume Solarz traveled as a freshman member; in his first six months, Solarz had already been on an 18-day tour of the Middle East and met with a significant number of world leaders.
“Today, if someone even travels on one trip in their first six months, they’re seen as somehow going Hollywood. This is a guy, he did more trips in his first six months than I did in my entire career,” Weiner said.
Weiner lamented that foreign travel is “seen as a such bad thing to be doing these days” and that the system now seems to foster a more “microscopic evaluation of the body politic.”
“Congressmen at their best develop expertise–it’s kind of how the seniority system works,” he said. “You find a committee, you develop an expertise on issues and then you wait for the world to come around. And if you’re lucky, the world eventually comes around. They say, ‘We need an arms control expert, Where’s Sam Nunn?’ ‘We need someone on labor issues. Where’s Hawkins?’”
Solarz, on the other hand, never waited for the world to come to him.
“The guy was truly a remarkable figure. He brought down Ferdinand Marcos,” Weiner said, referring to Solarz’s disclosures about the Phillipines’ first family. “He became such an expert and so trusted by the people of the Phillipines, and also had the ability to work the press sufficiently well, that Ferdinand Marcos really fell in large measure because of Steve Solarz.”
He also said Solarz was “maybe as responsible as anyone in Congress” for the authorization of the first Gulf War. “He didn’t just vote yes, he led the support for it. And ultimately it’s probably why if he lost his re-election,” said Weiner, who doubted whether Solarz could have won in 1992, even if had he chosen to run in Ted Weiss’s district, after his own district was carved up in redistricting. “He couldn’t win a primary being the pro-war guy in that district, although I’m sure he looked at it long and hard.”
“He was not without his things,” Weiner said. “His full-throated support of the Gulf War, a lot of people think that was more about politics, but I just think the guy was a very, very smart guy.”