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Rhode Island Senator John H. Chafee Dies

By Kevin McCarty

Leaders of the nation’s cities added their tributes for Rhode Island Senator John H. Chafee, who died unexpectedly October 25, just two days after celebrating his 77th birthday.

Mayors from across the country reflected on his extensive career of public service, which included three terms as Rhode Island’s Governor, three years as Secretary of the Navy and nearly four terms as U.S. Senator. Conference President and Denver Mayor Wellington E. Webb said, “Every American has benefited from the legacy Senator Chafee has left us. His commitment to families and children has brought better health services and cleaner air and water to our cities. Senator Chafee will be impossible to replace in the U.S. Senate.”

Leading a Conference delegation of mayors to Florence, Italy, for meetings with Italian mayors, Providence Mayor Vincent A. Cianci, Jr. called for a moment of silence at a joint session of the “Cities 2000 Conference” to honor the passing of his state’s senior Senator. In describing the Senator’s legacy of service to the nation’s cities and mayors, Cianci said, “Senator Chafee, as a vital and vocal supporter of brownfields legislation, of the arts, of historic preservation, the environment, health and child care reform, was admired and respected by all mayors, regardless of party affiliation. The Italian mayors present shared with us a reverence for a good, honorable and humble public servant who fought for freedom and devoted his life to promoting a better quality of life across our nation.”

Conference Past President and Fort Wayne Mayor Paul Helmke spoke of the Senator’s bipartisan efforts. “As a state legislator, governor and senator, John Chafee always rose above partisanship and set an example for all public officials. His thoughtful approach to governance and genuine love of his country made him a true statesman.”

Helmke testified earlier this year on urban growth issues before Senator Chafee’s Environment and Public Works Committee. At that hearing, Helmke expressed the appreciation of the nation’s mayors for Chafee’s leadership on city issues, stating, “the mayors are going to miss you,” referencing Chafee’s announcement to retire from the Senate at the end of 2000. Also this year, Helmke, joined by Dayton Mayor Michael Turner, met with Senator Chafee to share with him the findings of the Conference’s Second Annual Brownfields Survey and to urge legislative action on brownfields and Superfund reform legislation.

Conference Past President and Knoxville Mayor Victor Ashe said, “With the passing of our friend John Chafee, I believe all public officials will have the burden of filling part of the void he leaves behind. Each of us will have to work harder to reach across partisan boundaries, to safeguard the public interest, and honor the principles that Senator Chafee upheld.”

During his 23-year tenure, which most recently included serving as chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and as the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, Chafee was effective at crafting bipartisan consensus on legislation in many areas of federal interest. In addition to an extensive record on environmental and health care issues, he worked with Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (NY) to fashion legislation that became the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA), and renewed last year as “TEA-21”, redirecting the nation’s surface transportation policy. Senator Chafee, who was also a longstanding champion of stronger federal gun safety laws, joined with President Clinton at a White House ceremony earlier this year to advocate for Congressional action on gun safety legislation.

Republican Governor Lincoln C. Almond must make an appointment to fill Chafee’s unexpired term. As reported in national press accounts, a leading candidate for this appointment is Warwick Mayor Lincoln Chafee, who has previously announced his candidacy to replace his father.

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