‘Bigger than life.' Former Gov. Lowell Weicker passes away

On Wednesday morning, Connecticut’s former governor and U.S. senator – who took on everyone from Richard Nixon to Donald Trump – died at the age of 92.

John Craven

Jun 28, 2023, 5:16 PM

Updated 335 days ago


Lowell Weicker wasn't just a political giant. At 6 foot, 6 inches tall, he towered over almost any crowd. On Wednesday morning, Connecticut’s former governor and U.S. senator – who took on everyone from Richard Nixon to Donald Trump – died at the age of 92.
Gov. Ned Lamont called Weicker a mentor.
“He was a man who was bigger than life – always was, and always will be in my book,” he said. “He took the lead on a lot of issues before they were really big in the public consciousness.”
Weicker’s last public appearance was at Lamont’s first inauguration in 2019.
The two men shared much in common. Both came from Greenwich, were heirs to family fortunes, and both are a rarity in modern politics – centrists willing to buck their own parties.
“Partisanship doesn't play very well these days,” Weicker told News 12 Connecticut in 2010. “People want their problems solved.”
Weicker was a feisty politician who never backed down from a fight. In 1973, as a freshman senator, he was the first major Republican to demand President Richard Nixon’s resignation.
“What I admired about him was the political courage that he had,” said Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz.
Weicker even briefly ran for president in 1980. After 20 years in Congress, the Republican lost his Senate seat to Democrat Joe Lieberman in 1988.
Two years later, in 1990, Weicker left the GOP and was elected governor on the independent “A Connecticut Party” ticket. He only served one term.
Weicker’s final break with Republicans came in 2016, when the party picked Donald Trump to run for president. In a blistering Hartford Courant editorial, Weicker wrote: “When Republicans convene in Cleveland this summer and bestow upon Donald Trump the nomination to be the party’s standard-bearer, they will complete their slow and steady descent into irrelevance.”
Despite the withering criticism, some GOP leaders praised Weicker on Wednesday.
“Outspoken. Independent. Principled,” said state Sen. Kevin Kelly (R-Stratford), the top Republican in the Connecticut Senate. “Lowell Weicker embodied these qualities and had a deep appreciation for the state and the people of Connecticut.”
His hometown state senator also lauded Weicker.
“Lowell Weicker and Greenwich will forever be synonymous,” said state Sen. Ryan Fazio (R-Greenwich). “He was a leader who constantly challenged the status quo. He didn’t want to win any popularity contests. He was an independent-minded activist who stood up for what he believed in. He strove to make reforms despite intense political and public criticism.”
As governor, Weicker achieved several major accomplishments, including Connecticut’s original assault weapons ban and launching the state’s two tribal casinos.
But for most people, Weicker’s legacy will always be the deeply controversial state income tax, which he muscled through in 1991 amid record-setting budget deficits.
Duby McDowell covered that battle as a political reporter for WFSB-TV in Hartford.
“It was a wild ride to cover Lowell Weicker,” she said Wednesday.
But McDowell said Weicker’s legacy goes far beyond the income tax.
“He was a fiscal conservative for the most part, but he was a pretty progressive person,” she said. “When many politicians were running away from the issue of AIDS, Lowell Weicker really did what he could to try to get funding for AIDS patients and AIDS research.”
Praise flooded in following news of Weicker’s passing, particularly from Democrats.
Former Gov. Dannel Malloy:
“Lowell Weicker was the type of public servant all of us who’ve held office aspire to be: tough and compassionate at the same time, principled, and never afraid to take tough stances on difficult political and public policy issues.  He had a long, storied career, during which he did many great things for Connecticut, and for the country.  Cathy and I send our deepest condolences to Claudia and the entire Weicker family.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal:
"Lowell Weicker was always larger than life — fearless and relentless in fighting for what he believed right, and in serving people. As an elected official, he was a model of courage in standing up and speaking out... for conviction and conscience, even if others disagreed."
Sen. Chris Murphy:
“Lowell Weicker will go down as one of the most consequential leaders in Connecticut history, and I'm heartbroken that he's gone. He modeled a kind of public service that feels extinct today. He put his convictions and the best interests of the country ahead of party or political gain. He had a north star - what he felt was right - and he took many political risks and made many political enemies to pursue that objective. His legacy is too long to recite, but his championing of disability rights, reproductive choice, gay rights, environmental and ocean protection, foreign aid, and AIDS research stand out. Many will remember him for his courageous decision, as a brand-new Republican Senator, to call for President Nixon's resignation. But his real achievements are the legions of bipartisan bills that he wrote and passed, including the Americans with Disabilities Act.”
Connecticut Senate President Martin Looney (D-New Haven):
"Lowell Weicker was a champion for what needed to be done even when it was unpopular. During his four years as governor, I served my last term in House and first term in the Senate. I'll never forget when I met with him then to advocate for state funding to renovate the New Haven Coliseum and talking through all the complications and issues that needed to be addressed at the venue. Governor Weicker at the end just looked at me and said, 'You should blow that place up.' That meeting was indicative of his blunt, straightforward, and humorous style that he brought as governor and for years after as an elder statesman in Connecticut. I am saddened that he has passed, and my prayers are with his family and friends."
Connecticut Democratic Party chair Nancy DiNardo:
"Lowell Weicker was a giant in state and national politics. He was unafraid to challenge the status quo, even when held by his own party. He was the first Republican to call for Richard Nixon’s resignation during the Watergate affair; he saw Donald Trump for who he was decades ago; and he was unafraid to press for an overhaul of Connecticut’s tax laws when the state faced the largest deficit in the nation. Lowell Weicker was a public servant whose like we will not soon see again. His voice will be greatly missed." 
Lamont ordered flags across the state to be flown at half-staff. Funeral arrangements and public memorial details have not been announced yet.

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