Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Blind elected officials

With today's resignation of Eliot Spitzer from the office of governor of New York, David Paterson becomes acting governor--the third African-American state governor since Reconstruction (after Deval Patrick and Douglas Wilder), AND the first *or second, see "stop the presses" below* blind state governor in US history.

I've made a list of some other political leaders who experience blindness, as a reference. Folks who do disability studies may be asked questions about this in the next few days--I figure it's good to have some handy details to share.

On the international scene, there's the UK's Gordon Brown--the current Prime Minister is partially blind from a rugby injury in his youth.

Here in the US, I know of two* blind Congressmen in US history:

Thomas D. Schall (1878-1935), blind from a 1907 electrical accident, served five consecutive terms in the House of representatives (1915-1925) and then was elected to two terms in the Senate (1925-1935).

Ira Clifton Copley (1864-1947), founder of the Copley Press newspaper publishing company; served six consecutive terms in the House of Representatives, 1910-1923; vision significantly impaired by childhood case of scarlet fever, and further affected by later episodes of snow blindness

This year, another may be added to the list, as Rabbi Dennis Shulman is running for office in New Jersey--he would also be the first rabbi elected to Congress.

Willie Brown, the recent mayor of San Francisco (1996-2004), has significant vision impairment from retinitis pigmentosa. Brown was also a state assemblyman for seventeen terms, and the longest-running Speaker of the California Assembly (1980-1995). Elsewhere in the US, Randy Meyer, mayor of Sheboygan Falls WI, has been blind since surviving cancer in early childhood. Some other blind mayors on the recent international scene: Apolinar Salcedo, mayor of Cali, Colombia; Richard Lees, mayor of Taunton, Somerset, England.

That's all I've got right now. Anyone have more to add? I've probably left out some important names...

*UPDATE: Yes, I sure did leave out some important names! In comments, Day in Washington quickly added Thomas P. Gore (1870-1949), who served in the Senate (1907-1921). (No close relation to Al Gore or his family, but TP Gore was the grandfather of Gore Vidal. Also, interestingly, Thomas P. Gore's given name at birth was Governor Thomas Pryor Gore--but he wasn't ever an actual governor.) Thanks Day! Keep them coming.

**SECOND UPDATE: H-Disability network members came up with a couple more: Joan Tucker suggested Senator Floyd Morris, who is the current Minister of State in Jamaica's Ministry of Labour and Social Security; and Roger Daniels suggested MP David Blunkett, a member of Tony Blair's cabinet. Thanks!

***THIRD UPDATE: Another couple from the H-Disability discussion thread: Harilyn Rousso asked if there were any blind women in elected office; so I searched a little further and found Anita Blair (b. 1916), who was elected to the Texas state legislature for one term (1953-55). She was blind from a car accident at age 20, and was the first person in El Paso to receive a guide dog (she even made a film about that, called "A Day with Fawn"). Blair's got a listing in Nancy Baker Jones and Ruthe Winegarten's Capitol Women: Texas Female Legislators, 1923-1999 (University of Texas Press 2000): 130-131. And there's a 1952 Time magazine article about her winning the Democratic nomination that year. But she sounds worth a research paper, at minimum, somebody? Cathy Kudlick also pointed to Henry Fawcett (1833-1884), a member of Parliament in the 1860s and 1870s, Postmaster General too (1880-1882), and husband of suffragist leader Millicent Fawcett.

****BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE! (3/13): The website Political Graveyard has a very comprehensive listing for "politicians with physical disabilities" (which, in their categories, includes blindness). More blind legislators there: Ellis Barkett Bodron (1923-1997), who spent more than thirty years in the Mississippi State legislature; Pennsylvania's Matthew Anthony Dunn (1886-1942) was in the House of Representatives, 1933-41; Nehemiah Hezekiah Earll (1787-1872--can't beat that name) served one term in Congress, 1839-41, representing New York; Robert D. Mahoney (b. 1921) served almost twenty years in the Michigan state house of representatives; T. Euclid Rains Sr. (c1921-2000) was in the Alabama state house of representatives (1979-91), but was also known as an avid beekeeper and Little League coach; and Mo Udall (1922-1998) was a professional basketball player and US Representative from Arizona (1961-91)--he had a glass eye from age 6.

*****STILL MORE! (3/14): Hernando de Soto Money (1839-1912) was a longtime US Representative from Mississippi (1875-85, 1893-97), and was appointed to the Senate in 1897 to fill a vacancy (he was elected in his own right in 1899, re-elected in 1905, and was at one point minority leader). His obituary in the New York Times noted that "He was long troubled with an affection of the eyes, which made him almost blind."

And while I'm here, Stephen Kuusisto wrote a fine, fine op-ed piece on Paterson for the New York Times today.

******STOP THE PRESSES! (3/15): Bob C. Riley of Arkansas (1924-1994) was acting governor of his state for eleven days in 1975, and was blind from a 1944 WWII injury. Eleven days -- covering the gap between Dale Bumpers becoming a Senator and David Pryor's swearing-in -- isn't exactly a governorship, but if this technicality is relevant to your needs, call Paterson the second blind governor in US history--but the first to have a substantial term to serve.


Day Al-Mohamed said...

Senator Thomas Gore

Day Al-Mohamed said...

Oops and Senator Thomas David Schall of Minnesota.

Penny L. Richards said...

Right, already got Schall in the list, but thanks so much for Gore!

Day Al-Mohamed said...

Sorry about that. :) I had remembered Schall as a Senator so completely overlooked when you had him listed when he was a Congressman. My bad.

Chris said...

Hi! Interesting blog!

Was searching around for disability related blogs as mine is too and found this! Thanks so much!


Rob at Kintropy said...

Thanks for the long list & updates! My kids are a bit sick of watching the Blue Team, as we call them, every Primary Election night, but maybe a couple of these success stories will renew their interest.

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