By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers
Downriver public officials remember the late John Dingell Jr., who died Feb. 7, as the longest serving former U.S. congressman and a man of humor, integrity and commitment to his constituents.
Dingell, the former congressman who holds the record for the longest serving member of both houses of Congress, served in districts that were realigned twice in his almost 60 years, and from 1965 to 2003 represented all of Downriver.
Lincoln Park Mayor Thomas Karnes said Dingell was the ultimate professional, dedicated to those he served and always striving to “do the right thing and make things better.”
“If only one word could be used, it would be integrity,” Karnes said. “Over 50 years of service as a representative of the people, without a breath of scandal. A truly great man.”
Southgate Mayor Joseph Kuspa said Dingell avoided becoming a stereotypical politician.
“Thankfully, John was one of those unique individuals who remained a statesman throughout his entire career,” Kuspa said. “John Dingell was a true public servant, passionately serving our great nation and his constituency with honor and integrity.”
Allen Park Mayor William Matakas said during his closing remarks at the Feb. 12 Allen Park City Council meeting that while Dingell was willing to fight for a cause, he understood the separation of powers in the three parts of government.
“He still fought, and won, most of his battles,” Matakas said. “Believe me, he even fought the losing ones, and he fought them with dignity, tenacity and good humor. A remarkable man.”
Wyandotte Mayor Joseph Peterson said he will remember Dingell as a profound leader, true patriot and a loyal friend to not only his constituents Downriver, but to people across the country.
“His legislative contributions are far too numerous to count, and he always took care of the people Downriver,” Peterson said. “He began conversations with the words, ‘My friend, what can I do for you?’
“As I sat in church listening to his eulogy, it hit me that I will never hear those words again. They broke the mold when they made John Dingell.”
Taylor Mayor Rick Sollars said Dingell epitomized Downriver, and his fierce reputation of fighting for the working people will be remembered.
“John not only fought on the behalf of the working people Downriver, but he also fought to ensure that corporate America was held accountable through critical legislation, such as the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Medicare and the Affordable Care Act,” Sollars said. “Downriver is stronger and healthier because of John Dingell.”
Sollars said that Dingell was always ready to help workers and the automakers, as well as veterans.
“He never missed an opportunity to honor a veteran and discuss his experience in the military,” Sollars said.
After he was elected mayor of Taylor in 2013, Sollars said he was excited to connect with Dingell for their first “official” meeting. The two met at the Taylor Democratic Club, and after what Sollars characterized as a great meeting, he said he thanked “Congressman Dingell” for his hard work representing Taylor.
“He quickly said to me, ‘Mr. Mayor, please call me “John.” The people of Taylor and Downriver are my people,’” Sollars said. “There will never be another John Dingell. He was truly one of a kind.”
Trenton Mayor Kyle Stack said the knowledge Dingell possessed and shared was unique and valuable.
“We could never thank him enough for all he has done, but I know he loved doing it for us,” Stack said. “John Dingell was a genuine and dedicated person that helped not only the people in his district, but the people of Michigan and the United States.”
Riverview Mayor Andrew Swift concurred that Dingell was more than a congressional representative for Riverview.
“He was a friend and advocate to all of us who knew and worked with him,” Swift said. “His laser focus on the environment and its improvement paid off in spades over the years.”
State Rep. Darrin Camilleri (D-23rd District) said Dingell put people first, and fought for justice, jobs and healthcare, and for the land and water.
“He leaves a legacy of service in both his incredible legislative advances for working people, and the political and civic leaders who benefited from Congressman Dingell’s mentorship and kindness,” Camilleri said. “Working for Congressman Dingell was the start of my political career, and I think back on the formative lessons and values I learned from his leadership every day.”
Camilleri said Dingell said to always put people first, to “fight for what’s right.”
“I would not be where I am today if it were not for him and his example,” Camilleri said. “At this divided time in our country’s history, Congressman Dingell’s life is proof that public service remains a noble calling. Downriver will forever be thankful for him.”
District 4 Wayne County Commissioner Ilona Varga (D-Lincoln Park) said Dingell was down to earth, easy to talk to and compassionate.
“He got us,” Varga said. “He picked his battles, weighed the issues, and made sure he was on the correct side of the issue, and then fought like hell and was persistent.”
Varga said when she asked Dingell how he knew the “right side” of an issue, she said he smiled and said, “that is the hardest part.”
Dingell seemed to know the “right side” of environmental protections for which he fought, environmentalist and scholar John Hartig said.
As a Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research visiting scholar, University of Windsor Great Lakes science policy advisor and an International Associate for Great Lakes Research, Hartig is in unique position to understand the health of the Great Lakes.
“Today, the waters in the United States are cleaner, the birds, fish and other critters are safer, and all of us have beautiful national parks and national wildlife refuges where we can recreate, reflect and be inspired with a sense of wonder, all because of John Dingell,” Hartig said.
(Sue Suchyta can be reached at [email protected])