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Joseph S. Clark

"Conversations With and About Mike"



The New York Times Archives

Obituary: Joseph S. Clark Is Dead at 88; Ex-Mayor and Reformist Senator: By Glenn Fowler, Jan. 16, 1990

Joseph S. Clark, a reform-minded politician who in 1951 became Philadelphia’s first Democratic Mayor in 67 years and who went on to serve two terms in the United States Senate, died Friday at his home in the Chestnut Hill section of Philadelphia. He was 88 years old and had been in declining health in recent years.

Mr. Clark, who was a member of a patrician family, practiced law in Philadelphia for about 25 years before becoming City Comptroller in 1949. His wealth and social prominence enabled him to remain politically independent from Democratic Party bosses.

But in 1968, when he ran for a third Senate term, a number of party leaders in western Pennsylvania whom he had characterized as ”sleazy” five years earlier did little work in his campaign, and he was defeated by Richard S. Schweiker, a Republican who later served as Secretary of Health and Human Services in the first Reagan Administration.

Critic of Senate Leadership

In Mr. Clark’s 12 years in the Senate, beginning in 1957, he was a relentless critic of the Senate leadership, which he derided as ”a self-perpetuating oligarchy.” One of his books was entitled ”Congress: The Sapless Branch.”

Mr. Clark was born on Oct. 21, 1901, the son of Kate Avery Clark and Joseph S. Clark Sr., a wealthy lawyer and tennis champion. The younger Mr. Clark attended the Chestnut Hill Academy and graduated from Middlesex School before going on to Harvard, where he received a bachelor’s degree. He later received a law degree from the University of Pennsylvania and began practicing law in Philadelphia in 1926.

Although he dabbled in politics in the 1930’s, he did not seriously consider entering public life until World War II. While serving as a lieutenant colonel with the Army Air Forces in India, he told an interviewer later, he saw some news pictures of William C. Bullitt, a former Ambassador who entered the Philadelphia mayoral race as a Democrat in 1943. ”

Clean Sweep’ of Corruption

A few years later he got his chance. With Richardson Dilworth and Walter Phillips, he headed a reform movement that sought to oust an entrenched Republican machine. Democratic Party bosses did not regard him as a serious candidate, but he persisted, Shouldering a broom to symbolize a ”clean sweep” of corruption, Mr. Clark won by a landslide, becoming the first Democrat to be elected Mayor of Philadelphia since 1884. As Mayor, he shunned political patronage and reached out to other cities to recruit administrators, who were resented by leaders of the Democratic machine as carpetbaggers.

In 1956 Mr. Clark was given the annual $10,000 Philadelphia Award for instituting good government in the city; he was the first politician to win the award since its creation in 1921.

A Reformist in the Senate

After replacing the city’s spoils system with a Civil Service-based merit system, he rode a tide of popularity to the Senate in the 1956 election. In Washington he continued in his reformist bent; among the legislation he sponsored were the Manpower Development and Training Act and the Area Redevelopment Act.

In his two Senate terms Mr. Clark rose to important committee posts, including Foreign Relations, despite his criticism of the Senate leadership. In 1963 he made a series of speeches attacking the century-old coalition that ran the Senate like a private club. He later published the speeches in a book, ”The Senate Establishment.”

After he lost his bid for a third Senate term in 1968, Mr. Clark served as president of World Federalists U.S.A. for three years.

He is survived by his wife, the former Iris Richey; a son and a daughter from previous marriages, Joseph S. Clark Jr. of New York City and Noel Miller of Washington, seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Editor’s Note: The Appendix for “Conversations With and About Mike” contains transcripts for the recorded audio and video clips. To view the Audio Transcripts go to this page >


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The purpose of this biography project is to make a fascinating man’s life and accomplishments come alive. Dr. Michael W. Kirst, while recognized in influential academic and policy circles, is generally unknown to those most actively engaged in American education in the trenches of the nation’s classrooms and local boardrooms, including teachers, principals, and school district leaders.

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Dick Jung first met Dr. Michael W. Kirst four decades ago. Mike, then Professor in the Schools of Education and Business, was completing his first year as President of California’s State Board of Education. During Jerry Brown’s first term as Governor, as Mike tacked between Palo Alto and Sacramento, Dick served as the Teaching Assistant for Mike’s Stanford “Politics of Education” course.

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