VANIK, CHARLES ALBERT (7 April 1913-30 August 2007), served as a Democratic congressman for 26 years. Born in Cleveland, to Charles Albert and Stella (Kuasnicka) Vanik Sr., Charles Albert Vanik Jr.'s father and grandfather were both butchers. As a boy, Charles delivered meat to his father's customers. Vanik graduated from Western Reserve University in 1933 and earned his law degree in 1936. Entering politics, Vanik served on the Cleveland city council from 1938 to 1939, and the Ohio State Senate from 1940 to 1942. Vanik enlisted in the United States Navy Reserve as an ensign in 1942, and saw action in both the Atlantic and Pacific theatres. He married Betty Best, a Navy nurse, and had two children, Phyllis and John. Discharged as a lieutenant in December 1945, he returned to Cleveland and was elected municipal court judge in 1947 and 1949.
Vanik defeated long-time Congressman ROBERT CROSSER in the Democratic Primary in 1954 and would represent Ohio's 21st congressional district from 1955 to 1969. Of Czech background, Vanik's constituents were largely of an Eastern European background. In 1968, after the state legislature created a large African-American majority in his district, Vanik surrendered his House seat in a move designed to allow Louis Stokes to run in the primarily black district. Vanik then defeated FRANCES PAYNE BOLTON, a longtime Republican for her seat in the largely-white, suburban 22nd district. Vanik held the seat until his retirement in 1981.
Known for wearing black suits and bowties as a member of Congress, Vanik served on the House Ways and Means Committee and chairman of its trade subcommittee. Vanik established a liberal record as a fighter for the working man and the middle class taxpayer while advocating Medicare and Social Security reforms. He lashed out at corporation tax loopholes, and released lists of corporations he claimed had not paid their share of taxes. Vanik also endorsed environmental issues, and fought for the cleanup of Lake Erie. Vanik, however, is best known for the Jackson-Vanik amendment to the Trade Act of 1974. The amendment, sponsored by Vanik, and Senator Henry Jackson, denied normal trade relations to certain nations with non-market economies that restricted emigration. Jewish leaders would praise the amendment as significant in allowing thousands of Jews to leave the Soviet Union.
Tired of raising campaign funds and a critic of the role of special interests in politics, Vanik declined to seek reelection in 1980. In 1982, Vanik returned to politics in a failed effort to receive the Democratic nomination for lieutenant-governor. In 1985, he joined the Washington office of the SQUIRE, SANDERS & DEMPSEY law firm, where he worked for ten years on trade issues related to Eastern Europe. Vanik died at his home in Jupiter, Florida, on August 30, 2007.
Henry Franklin Tribe
Ohio University Southern