Former US Sen. Joe Lieberman remembered as ‘mensch’ who bridged political divides

STAMFORD, Conn. (AP) — The late Joe Lieberman on Friday was remembered by political allies and even a former foe as a “mensch” who both bridged and defied partisan political divides, during a funeral service for the four-term U.S. senator.

Former Vice President Al Gore, who ran for president on a Democratic ticket with Lieberman in the disputed 2000 election, told mourners at the Stamford, Connecticut, synagogue that there is no English equivalent for the Yiddish term. But, he said, they could find its definition by looking at Lieberman, who passed away this week at 82.

“They find it in the way Joe Lieberman lived his life: friendship over anger, reconciliation as a form of grace,” Gore said. “We can learn from Joe Lieberman’s life some critical lessons about how we might heal the rancor in our nation today.”

A socially progressive foreign policy hawk, Lieberman was long known for his pragmatic, independent streak, which Gore noted sometimes “left him exposed to partisan anger from both sides.”

Gore, who said he first knew Lieberman as Connecticut’s attorney general in the 1980s, praised him for being “ready to reclaim friendships that had been seared by disagreements” — including their own after their political paths diverged following the 2000 loss.

Embodying Lieberman’s conciliatory powers, Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont delivered a stirring eulogy, despite the two having engaged in a contentious battle for the Democratic nomination for Lieberman’s Senate seat in 2006. The race drew national attention by focusing on Lieberman’s support for the war in Iraq. Lieberman lost the primary, but defeated Lamont as an independent.

Joking that they started on “an inauspicious note,” Lamont described Lieberman as a “bridge over troubled waters” amid “partisan sniping from both directions.”

Lamont noted that Lieberman loved Frank Sinatra songs, especially “My Way.” “He did it his way,” Lamont said. “He never quite fit in that Republican or Democratic box. I think maybe in an odd way I helped liberate him because when he beat me — he beat me pretty good, by the way — he won as an independent.”

Other top Connecticut Democrats, including Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, also spoke at the service, which was attended by Republican Maine U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, former Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy and former New Jersey U.S. Sen. Bill Bradley.

Blumenthal said Lieberman’s accomplishments included helping to form the Department of Homeland Security and championing civil rights, voting rights, women’s reproductive freedom and LGBTQ rights. “But the greatest accomplishment of his life was his marriage to Hadassah and their children and grandchildren,” Blumenthal said, addressing Lieberman’s widow before descending to join hands with her.

The service was held at Congregation Agudath Sholom, his hometown synagogue. Lieberman was a self-described observant Jew who followed the rules of the Jewish Sabbath from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.

While somber, Lieberman’s eulogists, family and friends shared hearty laughs, and celebrated his good humor. Lamont, for example, relayed stories from a former colleague about the challenges of finding kosher food on the campaign trail in Utah.

When Lieberman’s children spoke, the tears began to flow. Cousins dabbed tears as daughter Hani Lowenstein described his kindness to all, and his commitment to the Jewish principles of “tikkun olam,” which means repairing the damage in the world.

Lowenstein, who moved to Israel in 2018 with her family, said tearfully that she had prayed, “Please God, give my father many more years. Let him see all of my kids’ bar mitzvahs, their weddings, his great-grandchildren.” But she said God “had other plans.”

Lowenstein said her father would walk 5 miles (8 kilometers) in order to abide by the Jewish Sabbath’s prohibition on riding in a car. “You were literally someone who was sanctifying God’s name by everything you did,” she said, as his casket lay below her, draped in a black blanket with a white star of David.

Matthew Lieberman, the former senator’s son from his first marriage, said Lieberman “was a blessing for all of us” but “a solid slice of people” nevertheless developed a hate for him. His father never hated them back, he said.

“We’re not the Hatfields and McCoys here,” Matthew Lieberman said. “We’re Americans, we’re fellow citizens in the greatest country in the history of the world. We’re all humans and we’re all we’ve got.”

As Gore’s running mate, Joe Lieberman came tantalizingly close to winning the vice presidency in the contentious 2000 presidential contest that was decided by a 537-vote margin victory for George W. Bush over Gore in Florida after a drawn-out recount, legal challenges and a Supreme Court decision. Lieberman was the first Jewish candidate on a major party’s presidential ticket.

After losing the chance to serve as vice president with the Democrat Gore, Lieberman came close to becoming Republican John McCain’s running mate in 2008. However, conservatives balked at the idea of tapping Lieberman, who was known for supporting socially liberal causes while taking a hawkish stand on military and national security matters.

Over the last decade, Lieberman helped lead No Labels, a centrist third-party movement that has said it will offer as-yet-unnamed candidates for president and vice president this year. Some groups aligned with Democrats oppose the effort, fearing it will help presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump win the White House.

President Joe Biden on Thursday called Lieberman a friend, someone who was “principled, steadfast and unafraid to stand up for what he thought was right.”

“Joe believed in a shared purpose of serving something bigger than ourselves,” Biden, who served 20 years in the Senate with Lieberman, said in his statement. “He lived the values of his faith as he worked to repair the wounds of the world.”


Associated Press writer Susan Haigh contributed to this report.


This story has been corrected to show that Lieberman was Al Gore’s running mate in 2000, not 1980.

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