Moritz College of Law The Ohio State University
This Month @ Moritz

The Honorable Howard M. Metzenbaum '41 is Special Guest at Upcoming Cleveland-Area Alumni Gathering

Senator Metzenbaum"My folks had no money at all," Sen. Metzenbaum says. "I worked my way through college. Any way I could scrounge a buck, I did." Before his career turned to law, politics and advocacy, Sen. Metzenbaum cut his teeth as a traveling salesman selling razor blades, pencils by the dozen, and breath fresheners to put himself through college. Money was so tight, he committed what some might view as the ultimate OSU sin -- he scalped football tickets. "I did it legally. I registered with the government to do it," he said.

Being a salesman financed his longer-term goal of becoming a lawyer. "I think I always had the desire to be a lawyer," Sen. Metzenbaum says. "It gave me the chance to be an advocate for the people and issues of concern." He started practicing in Cleveland after being admitted to the Ohio Bar in 1941, but it was not long before he made the move to politics.

"I had a concern about the state we lived in, the country we lived in, the world we lived in," he said. "I wanted to have an impact." He was first elected to office in 1943, when, at the age of 25, he became one of the youngest members ever of the Ohio House of Representatives. He served there from 1943 to 1947 and immediately followed that with four years in the Ohio Senate.

After leaving the Senate, he returned to private practice and pursued entrepreneurial ventures, namely the creation of a suburban newspaper chain, now called Sun Newspapers, in Cleveland. Together with Ted Bonda, he formed the Airport Parking Corporation of America – now called Standard Parking Corporation. It is one of the largest parking lot companies in the country. He was also a co-owner of the Cleveland Indians.

The 1970s brought a return to politics. He lost the race for United States Senate in 1970 to Robert Taft, father of Ohio's current governor. In 1974, he was appointed to a U.S. Senate seat after William B. Saxbe '45 left the Senate to become U.S. Attorney General. Senator Metzenbaum served for one year. He failed to be renominated for that seat, but was elected to Ohio's other senate seat in 1976. Sen. Metzenbaum served three terms, running from late 1976 to early 1995.

During his Senate tenure, Sen. Metzenbaum was able to fulfill many of his aspirations of being an advocate of the people. He authored 29 bills that became law. "I was part of so many bills," he said. "The Food Labeling Bill and the Brady Bill were two of them. I just wanted to help people." The Food Labeling bill mandated the listing of nutritional information such as calories and fat levels on products. The Brady Bill placed controls on the sale of firearms. Other bills Sen. Metzenbaum says he is proud of include one that created the Cuyahoga Valley National Park and the Multiethnic Placement Act, which helped quell discrimination in the adoption process.

Hon. Metzenbaum
Hon. Howard M. Metzenbaum '41 receives an honorary OSU Doctor of Laws Degree in 1993. He is flanked by Robert M. Duncan '52 (left) and then OSU President E. Gordon Gee (right)

Among his many admirers is the Hon. David Katz '57, United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio. "I met (Sen. Metzenbaum) in the late 1960s and quickly discovered his keen mind and deep commitment to the democratic process," says Judge Katz. "Over the ensuing years, I came to know him as an extremely successful businessman, knowledgeable concerning the issues of the laboring people of this country and dedicated to improving their lot. My observation of him is as a dedicated member of the senate and a consummate political figure."

James J. Brudney, Newton D. Baker/Baker and Hostetler Chair in Law, came to know the Senator when they both worked in Washington, DC. As Chief Counsel and Staff Director of the Senate Subcommittee on Labor, Professor Brudney worked closely with the Senator. He says, "Senator Metzenbaum is relentless in his defense of consumer interests, poor people, the environment. He is committed and had limitless energy. His word is his bond. He stood up and made tough choices, tough votes. He wasn't always the most loved senator, but he was very respected and he deserved that respect."

The Howard M. Metzenbaum U.S. Courthouse
The Howard M. Metzenbaum U.S. Courthouse in Cleveland, Ohio – renamed in honor of the Senator in 1997

Sen. Metzenbaum now serves as the chairman of the Consumer Federation of America, a consumer advocacy organization dedicated to advancing pro-consumer policies at the federal and state government levels. "I appear before congressional committees on behalf of the organization," he says. However, his current work is not limited to the Consumer Federation. He also is on the boards of Public Citizen, another consumer advocacy group, and the National Peace Garden. He is chairman of the Friends of the Rabin Medical Center in Israel and is active with the American Antitrust Institute.

"I'm still very happily married with four wonderful daughters who all are activists," he said. "The wonderful thing about America is that you could be someone like me, who came from no money, and be a success," he said. "It probably was my good looks," he adds with a laugh. "I have had a wonderful life as a public official. I try to make an impact. I try to speak out. I try to be an advocate for the people. I think I've done a reasonable job of it." Few would argue.