Jacob Javits (May 18, 1904 - March 7, 1986) was a New York politician. A Republican, he served as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from New York from 1947 to 1954, when he resigned his seat due to his election as the state's Attorney General. In 1956, he defeated New York City Mayor Robert Wagner Jr. (whose father Robert F. Wagner had served as a Senator from 1927 to 1949) in a U.S. Senate race. Javits assumed the seat of retiring incumbent Democratic Senator Herbert Lehman in 1957. Like Lehman, Javits was, for a time, the only Jew in the U.S. Senate. (He was despised by one Southern senator, James O. Eastland, who told him, "I don't like you - or your kind.")
A graduate of the New York University School of Law, Javits was generally considered a liberal Republican, and was supportive of labor unions and movements for civil rights. His background, coupled with his progressive stands, enabled him to win the votes of many normally Democratic Jewish New Yorkers and enjoy great electoral success for many years. Javits played a major role in legislation protecting pensioners, as well as in the passage of the War Powers Act. He reached the position of Ranking Minority Member on the Foreign Relations Committee while accruing greater seniority than any New York Senator before or since. While not personally popular among his colleagues, he was widely respected for his hard work and intelligence. It was a matter of some comment that Javits' wife Marion, who was active on the New York social scene, refused to move to Washington, a city she considered provincial.
Javits served until 1981; his 1979 diagnosis with generally fatal amytrophic lateral sclerosis (also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease) led to his 1980 defeat for renomination by Al D'Amato. Javits' loss to D'Amato, then an obscure figure, stemmed both from his illness and the fact that he did not adjust to the rightward movement of his party in the latter part of his career. Following the loss, Javits ran as the Liberal candidate in the general election, splitting the Democratic base vote with Congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman and giving D'Amato a plurality victory. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1983.
Javits lived until 1986. New York's Javits Center, opened in the same year, is named in his honor, as is the Jacob Javits Playground at the southwestern edge of Fort Tryon Park. The Jacob K. Javits Federal Building at 26 Federal Plaza in lower Manhattan's Civic Center district, as well as a lecture hall on the campus of the State University of New York at Stony Brook on Long Island, are also named after him. The U.S Department of Education also awards a number of Javits Fellowships to support graduate students in the humanities and social sciences.
Javits' name is mentioned in the Pavement song "AT&T."
Preceded by: James H. Torrens U.S. Representative, New York 21st District 1947-1954 Succeeded by: Herbert Zelenko Preceded by: Herbert H. Lehman U.S. Senator (Class 3) from New York 1957-1981 Succeeded by: Alfonse M. D'Amato