Carl Levin, the veteran U.S. senator from Detroit who died July 29 at age 87, is commemorated Monday alongside Vernon Jordan, Walter Mondale, Colin Powell, bell hooks, Bob Dole, Ramsey Clark and other influential leaders whose loss "shook politics in 2021."
Politico magazine describes Levin as "an uncommon man with a common touch — someone who was able to bridge all sorts of tricky fault lines in Michigan."
At a time when city-versus-suburb and Metro-Detroit-versus-everybody-else were dividing lines in the state, Levin improbably rose directly from Detroit City Council president to U.S. Senate, defeating an incumbent Republican in 1978, a year in which Michiganders reelected Republican Gov. Bill Milliken with 57 percent of the vote.
He never served in the armed forces, but his mastery of the topic earned him the chairmanship of the Senate Armed Services Committee. He was Jewish in a state with a small Jewish population, and where antisemitism sometimes seeped into political campaigns.
The Detroit Central High School graduate became "a model for a rare species of Democrat: unassailably electable in a Midwestern swing state," deputy editor Zack Stanton writes:
The people of Michigan sent Carl Levin to the Senate for 36 years [1979-2015], making him the longest-serving senator in state history, and he held onto the seat thanks to a coalition that is hard to imagine today: Levin always carried both Wayne County ... and the overwhelming majority of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, a heavily white, culturally conservative, gun-owning portion of the state.
Levin outperformed Bill Clinton in 1996 and Barack Obama in 2008, and won in both the most urban and rural corners of the state. ...
He appealed to people because they could either see themselves in him or because they felt they could trust him, even if they might not always agree with him.