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Kaptur to be honored as longest-serving woman in House of Representatives

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    U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) speaks with a group of iron workers during an event at the National Museum of the Great Lakes, Monday in East Toledo.

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    U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) is embraced by Betty Sutton, Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, as Richard Cordray, Democratic candidate for Ohio governor, looks on, prior to an event at the National Museum of the Great Lakes, Monday in East Toledo.

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    U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Ohio), right, shakes hands with Shellie McKnight of Whitehouse, left, as Michael Gralbraith, Democratic candidate for the 5th District congressional seat, shakes hands with someone else, during an event at the National Museum of the Great Lakes, Monday in East Toledo.

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Toledo native Marcy Kaptur is set to break a nearly 60-year-old seniority record for a woman in the House of Representatives.

U.S. Rep. Kaptur, who on Sunday will become the longest-serving woman in the nearly 230-year history of the House, is being honored Wednesday in Washington.

After 35 years, two months, and 15 days, Miss Kaptur (D., Toledo) will break the record set by the late Edith Nourse Rogers, a Massachusetts Republican who was elected June 30, 1925, to succeed her late husband, Rep. John J. Rogers. The daughter of a wealthy textile executive, she represented a northeastern Massachusetts House district until her death in 1960.

Miss Kaptur, then a 36-year-old political novice, was sent to Washington on Jan. 3, 1983, to represent Ohio’s 9th Congressional district after a convincing defeat of incumbent Ed Weber, a Republican who had been swept into office as part of Ronald Reagan’s presidential landslide in 1980.

WATCH: Blade interview with Rep. Marcy Kaptur

An advocate for the working-class and fierce defender of keeping jobs on domestic soil, Miss Kaptur, 71, credits her constituents in Ohio for her successful run of 18 consecutive legislative terms.

“It is a great honor and it belongs to the people of our region who had confidence in a young woman from the working class of people who would go to Washington and represent them. I hope I have been able to do that,” she said.

Legislators, including the House Democratic leader, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.), and other dignitaries are scheduled to gather in the Lindy Claiborne Boggs Congressional Women’s Reading Room in the Rayburn Building for a ceremony to honor Miss Kaptur.

“Marcy is an icon and a trailblazer, and her relentless, principled leadership has encouraged countless young women to enter politics. We are all deeply grateful for the strong, powerful voice she has given to the hard-working Americans who have too often been left out and left behind in the 21st century economy,” Ms. Pelosi said.

Miss Kaptur is known for her tireless championing of the U.S. auto industry and manufacturing. She was, and still is, a staunch opponent to the North American Free Trade Agreement, which President George H.W. Bush negotiated and President Bill Clinton pushed through Congress in 1993 over the protests of many Democrats.

She has criticized the trade pact as a job killer that has lowered wages for workers in the United States.

Miss Kaptur sharply criticized NAFTA in the presence of President Clinton in August, 1996 before a pro-union crowd as he campaigned at the Toledo Jeep plant while he was traveling to the Democratic National Convention in Chicago for re-election to a second term.

“That is one of the greatest griefs of my service. That particular fight and, the resistance to incorporating in that agreement transition provisions, as Europe did when they transitioned Spain and Portugal into the European Union,” she said.

Miss Kaptur was appointed in 1990 to the powerful House Appropriations Committee. She also has served on the Budget; Banking, Finance, and Urban Affairs; Veterans Affairs, and Oversight and Government Reform committees.

She won funding support for many Toledo area projects, including the expansion of the Toledo Farmers’ Market, construction of the Veterans’ Glass City Skyway bridge, and hangar replacement and solar field installations at the 180th Fighter Wing near Swanton.

When the late Roger Durbin asked her in 1987 at a fish fry in Jerusalem Township why there wasn’t a memorial for Word War II veterans, Miss Kaptur took to heart his suggestion and introduced a bill in Congress to get it funded. The National World War II memorial in Washington was completed and opened in 2004, after Mr. Durbin, an Army veteran of the Battle of the Bulge, died in 2000 of pancreatic cancer.

“When I look at my service compared to the majority of people that have served, I do represent the slice of America that is not always represented in the Congress fully. I view my service as more fully representational of the country. I think I have added a dimension that is often missing and a voice that is often not heard,” Miss Kaptur said.

Miss Kaptur, the granddaughter of Polish immigrants, did volunteer work for the local Democratic Party during the early 1960s when she was a student at St. Ursula Academy. She left Toledo after graduation to attend the University of Wisconsin and returned home to be a planner in the Toledo Lucas County Plan Commission.

She received a masters degree in urban planning from the University of Michigan. She went to Washington to join the domestic policy staff of President Jimmy Carter from 1977 to 1980.

Jim Ruvolo, then chairman of the Lucas County Democratic Party, recruited Miss Kaptur to win back the 9th District Congressional seat in 1982. At the time, she was a doctoral student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She withdrew from the program in early 1982 after pondering Mr. Ruvolo’s proposal to run.

Mr. Ruvolo met Miss Kaptur 10 years earlier while she was working on George McGovern’s presidential campaign. He picked her over two better known Democratic elected officials to take on Mr. Weber, in part, because of the connections she had made in Washington. He said he knew she would be a good candidate.

“She proved to be a much better candidate than anybody expected. She had the ability to look everyone in the eye and talk personally to them. She really connected with folks,” he said.

Mr. Ruvolo said Miss Kaptur has remained steadfast to her blue-collar Catholic roots and retained the honesty and integrity she took with her to Washington more than 35 years ago.

“She is such a unique individual. For someone in elected office, she has never forgotten where she came from,” he said. “It is rare to see a elected person connect with people like she does. She listens, which is rare for some elected officials, and her response is always heart-felt when she gives answers to constituents.”

Contact Mark Reiter at: markreiter@theblade.com or 419-724-6199

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