Solarz was instrumental in helping create the political climate to rescue the endangered Ethiopian Jewish community in Ethiopia and Sudan in the early 1980's and 90's and is perhaps the person most responsible for bringing down Filipino dictator Ferdinand Marcos. After leaving Congress in 1993, Solarz remained very engaged on issues affecting vulnerable populations, perhaps most notably reflected in the key role he played in the development of the International Crisis Group.
On November 29, 2010, the world lost a true champion of human rights, democracy and the interests of vulnerable people, with the passing of former Representative Stephen J. Solarz. Rep. Solarz, who was 70 and suffered from esophageal cancer, passed away in Washington in the company of his family.
Rep. Solarz served in the House of Representatives for nine terms, beginning in 1975, and throughout those 18 years, was one of the most active members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Early in his tenure, he chaired the Subcommittee on African Affairs, and then moved to the Chair of the Subcommittee on Asian and Pacific Affairs, which he occupied through most of his Congressional career.
Solarz was instrumental in helping create the political climate to rescue the endangered Ethiopian Jewish community in Ethiopia and Sudan in the early 1980's and 90's. He was always supportive of the advocacy efforts of the American Association for Ethiopian Jews (AAEJ) and always available to counsel and assist activists. After leaving Congress in 1993, Solarz remained very engaged on issues affecting vulnerable populations, perhaps most notably reflected in the key role he played in the development of the International Crisis Group.
Solarz significantly influenced many of the major foreign policy issues of the 1980s and
1990s, and was a master at using all the instruments of Congressional power to promote positive change. He helped to shine bright lights on abuse of power in the Philippines and South Africa and effectively prodded his colleagues and several administrations to take action.
Most importantly, Solarz used his skills and energy to champion the rights of the most
vulnerable - victims of conflict, of abuse and of neglect, whether they were from Ethiopia, Burma, Mozambique, or Haiti. He defended the rights of refugees, and worked tirelessly to stem piracy in the Gulf of Thailand, rescue Vietnamese boat people, and safeguard the lives of displaced Africans, Central Americans, Poles, and many others. His persistent advocacy for the dispossessed and disenfranchised will forever be a model for those seeking to make the world a better place.
May his memory be a source of inspiration and strength to us all.
From the New York Observer:
Weiner Says Solarz Has Yet to Be Replaced
By Reid Pillifant • New York Observer
By the time Anthony Weiner was sworn in as a freshman congressman in 1999, Stephen Solarz had been gone from the House for six years, sent to early retirement by a stinging loss to Nydia Velazquez in the 1992 Democratic primary. Solarz was still around Washington, using his foreign policy clout as a lobbyist on behalf of Turkey and others. But to Weiner--who watched Solarz from Chuck Schumer's office, when the two were neighboring congressmen in the 1980s--no one has ever quite replaced him.
"We don't really have guys like him in Congress now, who kind of go off and do their own thing on foreign policy," Weiner told The Observer on Tuesday afternoon. Weiner was particularly amazed at the sheer volume Solarz traveled as a freshman member; in his first six months, Solarz had already been on an 18-day tour of the Middle East and met with a significant number of world leaders.
"Today, if someone even travels on one trip in their first six months, they're seen as somehow going Hollywood. This is a guy, he did more trips in his first six months than I did in my entire career," Weiner said.
Weiner lamented that foreign travel is "seen as a such bad thing to be doing these days" and that the system now seems to foster a more "microscopic evaluation of the body politic."
"Congressmen at their best develop expertise--it's kind of how the seniority system works," he said. "You find a committee, you develop an expertise on issues and then you wait for the world to come around. And if you're lucky, the world eventually comes around. They say, 'We need an arms control expert, Where's Sam Nunn?' 'We need someone on labor issues. Where's Hawkins?'"
Solarz, on the other hand, never waited for the world to come to him.
"The guy was truly a remarkable figure. He brought down Ferdinand Marcos," Weiner said, referring to Solarz's disclosures about the Phillipines' first family. "He became such an expert and so trusted by the people of the Phillipines, and also had the ability to work the press sufficiently well, that Ferdinand Marcos really fell in large measure because of Steve Solarz.”
He also said Solarz was "maybe as responsible as anyone in Congress" for the authorization of the first Gulf War. “He didn’t just vote yes, he led the support for it. And ultimately it’s probably why if he lost his re-election,” said Weiner, who doubted whether Solarz could have won in 1992, even if had he chosen to run in Ted Weiss's district, after his own district was carved up in redistricting. "He couldn’t win a primary being the pro-war guy in that district, although I’m sure he looked at it long and hard."
“He was not without his things," Weiner said. "His full-throated support of the Gulf War, a lot of people think that was more about politics, but I just think the guy was a very, very smart guy.”