Members: Valenti One of a Kind

Posted April 27, 2007 at 5:47pm

When Democratic leaders were trying to woo Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) back to the House after she left the chamber in 1998 to run unsuccessfully for governor of California, she decided to visit her friend, Motion Picture Association of America President Jack Valenti, for advice.

“Janie,” he said, as Harman relayed it, “you are just like me. You need to be in the action. Do it.”

As her title attests, Harman took his advice and returned to the House in 2001 after a two-year hiatus.

Valenti, a confidant of President Lyndon Johnson and legendary former lobbyist who represented the movie industry for almost four decades, died at his Washington, D.C., home Thursday at age 85 after suffering a stroke. Members of Congress on Friday remembered the man as a unique character who was always there to provide advice and lighten up the room.

“I knew Jack for 35 years,” Harman said in an interview, noting that she was with Valenti the day before he died. “When you were his friend there were no limits to the warmth and affection.”

No matter the setting or his age, Harman said Valenti was the “most enthusiastic, youngest person in the room always.” She also noted that there was “no one out there [in the entertainment industry] he didn’t touch.”

Calling him “a very good friend of mine,” Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.) remembered Valenti as a man who “truly made a difference” and was always there to provide advice.

When things were going bad, Towns said, Valenti had a “natural flair for saying the right thing at the right time … to put things back on track.”

Expressing shock that Valenti is actually gone and calling it a “great personal loss,” Rep. David Dreier (R-Calif.) said that Valenti “transcended politics.” Dreier said it was fitting that Valenti’s favorite movie was “A Man for All Seasons,” because the title accurately reflected what Valenti represented.

Dreier also expressed gratitude for the many lessons that Valenti imparted from his days in the Johnson administration, such as his belief that you should return all Congressional calls before the day is out, “from the herd bull to the lowliest freshman.”

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) too remembered Valenti fondly, calling him “an incredible force” in a statement.

“Jack Valenti was a great friend and an inspiration to everyone lucky enough to know him,” said the Congressman, whose district includes West Hollywood.

In a statement, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called Valenti a “true patriot who served our country with distinction as a brave fighter pilot in World War II and as a public servant during the Johnson administration.” She also commended him for being “a strong advocate for our economy … as head of the Motion Picture Association of America.”

“As an Italian American, I take special pride in the life, leadership and legacy of Jack Valenti,” Pelosi said. “His brilliant career was marked by excellence, humanity and humor.”

Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), whose father served in the Senate while Valenti was working in the Johnson White House, also praised the late lobbyist.

“My memory of Jack will be of his unequaled loyalty, leadership and service,” Dodd said in a statement, “combined with his razor-sharp wit and occasional streak of rebellion. I will miss Jack very much, but feel a deep gratitude for the chance to know him well.”

As of press time Friday no plans had been made on Capitol Hill to formally commemorate Valenti’s life and work.

But summing up Valenti’s life and the impact he had, Harman said that he was simply one of a kind.

“No one will ever replace Jack Valenti,” she said. “Ever.”