Former Rep. Joseph D. Early, a Massachusetts Democratic who was ousted from his seat on the tails of a House banking scandal known colloquially as “Rubbergate,” died Thursday, a family spokesperson confirmed. He was 79.
Early, a New Deal Democrat who strongly believed in federal spending on education, health care and social services, represented Massachusetts’ 3rd district for 18 years.
He was elected in 1974 in a Democratic wave following the Watergate scandal, and served until 1992, when he was defeated due to a banking scandal that included more than 400 Members.
The scandal found that House Members were able to overdraw their House checking accounts without being penalized by the House bank. Early was one of 22 Members singled out by the House Ethics Committee over the scandal, but he was eventually cleared of any criminal wrongdoing.
Although a scandal led to his defeat, Early kept a low profile for most of his time in Congress and was previously listed on Roll Call’s list of 10 most obscure Members of Congress.
He held his first press conference in 1990, 16 years after being elected, to voice his concern over a foreign company taking over a Worcester-based business, Norton Co., along with the entire Massachusetts delegation
“Most of you don’t know who I am,” he told the press assembled at the conference.
His low profile kept him safely in his seat for many years; he was only challenged by a Republican opponent three times in eight re-election bids.
He prided himself on not acting like a Massachusetts politician, saying he cared more about his stance on the issues than falling in line with his House colleagues. That steadfastness to his convictions — including his anti-abortion views and skepticism of foreign aid — led him to deviate often from the desires of then-Speaker Tip O’Neill (Mass.).
Early was born in Worcester, Mass., on Jan. 31, 1933, and stayed in the area for most of his life. He became a basketball star in the 1950s at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester.
Prior to his time in Congress, Early was a teacher and a basketball coach before being elected to the Massachusetts House in 1963, where he served until he was sworn in to his position in Congress.
He spent his time in Congress fighting for greater access to health care and grants that would assist the poor, while at the same time voting against increases in foreign aid.
Rep. Jim McGovern (D), who holds the seat that was once Early’s, mourned his death.
“Joe Early was an incredible public servant who fought tirelessly for working people,” McGovern said in a statement. “From championing economic development to his advocacy for medical research, Joe Early was a man who truly made a difference. Our community, our commonwealth and our country are better because of him. Lisa and I extend our deepest sympathy to Marilyn and to the entire Early family.”