Bob Edgar, the liberal Pennsylvania Democrat who spent his 12 years in Congress crusading against “pork barrel” legislation and fighting for better mental-health care for veterans, died suddenly Tuesday morning, according to the advocacy organization Common Cause, where Edgar served as president and CEO. He was 69.
Edgar, who was swept into Congress as one of the Watergate Babies in 1974, built his brand in the House by defying party leadership and foiling publicly funded highway and dam projects that he saw as wasteful.
From his spot on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Edgar pushed for mental-health support for veterans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder and readjustment issues after the Vietnam War.
Although he represented a traditionally Republican district in the Philadelphia suburbs, Edgar got himself re-elected by small margins five consecutive times, likely because of his appeal to working-class voters.
His time in Congress ended in 1987, after he unsuccessfully ran against Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter, then a Republican, in the state’s 1986 Senate race.
Edgar won a competitive Democratic primary to challenge Specter that year, but he could not match Specter’s fundraising prowess and lost to Specter in the general election by 13 points.
The loss heightened Edgar’s frustration with money in politics and led him to fight for campaign finance changes.
In 2007, he became president and CEO of Common Cause, a liberal group that fights for transparency and accountability in government by supporting issues such as campaign finance changes.
“We are deeply saddened and shaken today by the passing of Bob Edgar,” Common Cause Board Chairman Robert Reich said in a release announcing Edgar’s death. “Bob will be remembered for his decency, kindness, compassion and humor. His deep commitment to social justice and strengthening our democracy is his greatest gift to Common Cause and the nation.”
Edgar was born in Philadelphia on May 29, 1943, and grew up in a middle-class family in Springfield, Pa.
After graduating from Lycoming College in Williamsport, Pa., Edgar went to Drew University in New Jersey, where he became an ordained minister and received a master’s of divinity.
After leaving Congress, Edgar became president of the Claremont School of Theology in Claremont, Calif., where he served for 10 years.
Edgar is survived by his wife, Merle, and sons Andrew, David and Rob.