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Stratton: A Career Devoted to Strengthening Defense With PM-Stratton Retires

July 19, 1988

WASHINGTON (AP) _ New York Democratic Rep. Samuel S. Stratton devoted his 30-year congressional career to working for a stronger defense, but it wasn’t until a Republican administration came into power that he saw his hawkish philosophy return to political vogue.

″I think that a lot of the difficulties that we have today on the subject of defense (are) primarily a matter of a generation gap,″ he once said. ″Those of us who ... watched the rise of Hitler recognize that military power is something that is very necessary to protect a free society. Costly and dangerous, but absolutely necessary.″

Stratton strongly backed the Vietnam War and believed the United States should have made a firmer commitment there. After the war, when defense became politically unpopular, Stratton stuck to his guns, going so far as to become the only Yankee among the ″boll weevils,″ a group of Southern Democrats in Congress pushing for stronger defense.

″I’ve found in the last couple of terms that whenever I’m trying to get support on a particular measure, like not withdrawing troops from Korea or providing a more active response to the hostage situation, it was usually the Southerners who would line up in support,″ Stratton said in 1980.

Stratton’s position got a boost with the 1980 election of President Reagan as federal spending shifted toward military buildup after years of what the New York Democrat considered overemphasis on social spending.

Stratton’s son-in-law announced Monday that the 71-year-old congressman, a long-time asthma sufferer, won’t seek a 16th term. The family spokesman, Roger Mott, cited Stratton’s health.

Throughout his career, Stratton has favored most proposed increases in defense spending and new weapons systems, including the B1 bomber, MX missile and neutron bomb. He was a leading congressional opponent of a nuclear freeze proposal and has been wary of arms control agreements.

But he considers himself a middle-of-the-road Democrat, and has voted for such ″liberal″ causes as a national minimum welfare payment, against an anti-busing amendment to the Constitution and, more recently, for economic sanctions against the South African government.

″The liberals think I’m too conservative and the conservatives think I’m too liberal,″ he once said.

But Stratton’s defense positions have overshadowed his other work in Congress. Perhaps Stratton’s biggest disappointment was in never achieving his ambition to be chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

In 1984, the Democratic Caucus voted out the armed services committee’s elderly chairman, Rep. Melvin Price, D-Ill., but chose the much younger and less senior Rep. Les Aspin, D-Wis., over Stratton, who was then the second- ranking Democrat.

In 1986, Stratton was among those who opposed Aspin as the caucus voted not to make him chairman again. However, Aspin won the chair back in 1987, and Stratton had to content himself with heading the subcommittee on procurement and military nuclear systems.

Because of his role in procurement, Stratton was among those congressmen recently rumored to be targets of the ongoing Pentagon probe. He has not been charged with any crime, however, and has denied any involvement in the investigation.

Stratton was born in 1916 in Yonkers, N.Y. He attended school in Rochester and Schenectady, N.Y., and graduated from the University of Rochester. He holds masters degrees from Haverford College and Harvard University.

He was commissioned as an ensign in the Naval Reserve in 1942, and served in the South Pacific during World War II as a naval combat intelligence officer on the staff of Gen. Douglas MacArthur. He was twice awarded the Bronze Star and retired from the Naval Reserve at the rank of captain.

A former mayor of Schenectady, Stratton was first elected to Congress in 1958. He was the first Democrat since 1916 to be sent to Congress from what was then New York’s 32nd Congressional District. Despite several redistrictings by the Republicans to force him out, Stratton has returned to Congress with ease every two years from what is now the 23rd Congressional District. He has been dean of the New York delegation since 1978.

As Schenectady mayor in the 1950s, Stratton fulfilled a campaign promise to clean up the city by leading a police raid on a gambling den in the shadow of City Hall. He also sparked an investigation that led to the resignation of the police chief. But because the pay from his official post was small, Stratton supplemented his income by becoming an announcer and newscaster for several local radio and television stations. He also appeared on TV as the character ″Sagebrush Sam,″ who dressed as a cowboy and played harmonica.

In 1962, Stratton attempted to shift his focus to statewide politics, seeking the gubernatorial nomination. But party leaders gave the nod to then- U.S. Attorney Robert Morgenthau.

In 1964, Stratton thought he had a better shot at U.S. senator, but his effort was thwarted when Robert F. Kennedy entered the fray.

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