Sen. Alan Cranston of California, who ended a 24-year U.S. Senate career in 1993 under the cloud of the savings and loan industry scandal, has died. He was 86.
Cranston died at his home in the Los Altos hills around 11:30 a.m. today, according to his daughter in law, Colette Cranston. His son, Kim, found him slumped over a sink, she said, and paramedics were not able to revive him.
She said the cause of death was not immediately known. She said over the past year Cranston had spells when he found it difficult to maintain his balance and that recently he has been taking antibiotics.
Campaigned For Nuke Control
After his retirement from the Senate, Cranston, who had been a Democratic contender for president in 1984, largely dropped out of public view. But he continued to champion the cause of nuclear arms control which had been the centerpiece of his political career for five decades.
In 1996, he became chairman of the Gorbachev Foundation USA, a San Francisco-based think tank founded by former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev to promote world peace and nuclear disarmament.
“Sen. Cranston’s life-long dedication to peace in the world and nuclear arms reduction have been inspirational to me,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer, who took over Cranston’s seat in 1992. “My heart goes out to his family.”
Withdrew Amid Scandal
Cranston’s announcement in 1990 that he would not seek a fifth Senate term cited only his recent diagnosis of prostate cancer.
But his public approval rating among California voters at that time had plunged to a record low due to the savings and loan scandal and Cranston’s relationship with Lincoln Savings & Loan President Charles Keating, who had just been indicted on securities fraud charges which would send Keating to prison for nearly five years until his convictions were overturned.
A later Senate Ethics Committee investigation would lead to formal reprimand of Cranston and lesser sanctions against four other senators, known with Cranston as “the Keating Five,” for intervening with federal regulators on behalf of Keating.
Cranston, who received nearly $1.2 million in political funds from Keating, initially insisted that he had been “politically stupid” but ethically correct to intervene with federal agencies on Keating’s behalf.
Ultimately, Cranston agreed to a finding that he had “engaged in an impermissible pattern of conduct in which fund raising and official activities were substantially linked in connection with Mr. Keating and Lincoln.”
But while Cranston accepted the verdict of improper conduct, he remained defiant up to his final response to the reprimand on the Senate floor in 1991, declaring that his actions “were not fundamentally different from the actions of many other senators.”
Those remarks left a cloud over the relations between the former majority whip and No. 2 Senate Democrat with colleagues who complained that Cranston had smeared every member of the Senate with his grudging acceptance of the reprimand.
While Cranston later reported full recovery from the cancer he cited in his decision not to seek re-election in 1992, his reputation as a lifelong champion of liberal activism and progressive reform never recovered from the savings and loan scandal.
Cranston remained unapologetic about the Keating affair after he left Senate.
“I don’t feel any need for redemption,” he said in a 1996 interview. “I’m satisfied with what I did in the Senate. I don’t look back. I look forward.”
‘Peace, … the Environment and Justice’
In a reflective 1985 speech, Cranston said he originally ran for the Senate “because there I can work on the issues of war and peace, and the environment, and justice, and opportunity.”
The Senate, he said, is “where I kept the commitment I made in my 1968 campaign and get us out of the tragic war in Vietnam; where one act of mine helped keep us out of war in Angola … one step I took, followed by many more, did much to prevent war in Angola, … where I’m doing the utmost to dispel the threat of nuclear war that hangs over our children, darkening their days and filling their nights with fear.”
A former foreign correspondent, Cranston served two terms as California state controller and was elected to the U.S. Senate on his second try in 1968.
Lost First Senate Bid
In his first Senate bid in 1964, the lean, sparse-haired state official lost a primary battle to the more glamorous Pierre Salinger, who had become a national figure as President Kennedy’s press secretary.
Salinger lost to the actor George Murphy in the general election. Four years later, California Democrats chose Cranston as their nominee and he defeated Max Rafferty, a conservative state school superintendent who had upset the moderate incumbent, Thomas Kuchel, in the Republican primary.
Cranston, whose Washington experience went back to a lobbying stint for an anti-discrimination group in 1939, learned the ropes of the Senate quickly and was chosen in 1977 as assistant majority leader, or whip.
Ran For President
In 1983, at the age of 68, Cranston announced his candidacy for president, declaring that his age would be an advantage because, he said, the American people “want wisdom, maturity, proven capability” in the White House.
Cranston, a principal sponsor of a Senate resolution calling for a mutual and verifiable freeze of U.S. and Soviet nuclear arsenals, announced that ending the arms race would be the “paramount goal” of his campaign.
But Cranston’s campaign never attracted significant support, and he withdrew from the race for the Democratic nomination, later won by Walter Mondale, after placing fifth in the Iowa caucuses and seventh in the New Hampshire primary.
Early in his Senate career, Cranston earned a reputation for uncanny skill in determining how senators would vote on an issue.
He “runs around with a pencil and a computer—which is his mind—and keeps a complete record on everyone’s past voting record, future voting record, and apparently even their innermost thoughts,” an admiring Sen. Dale McGee, D-Wyo., once said.
Native of California
Cranston was born into a prosperous family in Palo Alto, Calif., on June 19, 1914, and he originally planned on a career in journalism.
After graduation from Stanford University in 1936, he landed a job with International News Service, reporting from London, Rome and Ethiopia.
Although he left journalism in 1938, Cranston maintained his interest in the profession. In 1973, at the height of the Watergate exposures that drove President Nixon from office, he introduced legislation to guarantee newsmen the right to keep their informants confidential.
After resigning from International News Service, Cranston edited the first unexpurgated English translation of Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” to be published in the United States. Hitler successfully sued for copyright violation, and for decades later Cranston’s resume proudly included the fact that he had been sued by the German dictator.
In 1939, Cranston became a lobbyist for the Common Council for American unity, an organization opposing discrimination against the foreign born.
Authored Play, Book
The same year, he and his friend, cartoonist Lee Falk, wrote a play, “The Big Story,” based on his newspaper experiences. It was tried out in New Jersey but never reached Broadway.
During World War II, Cranston worked for the Office of Facts and Figures and the Office of War Information until 1944, when he enlisted in the Army as a private. He was assigned to the Army Services Forces to lecture on war aims.
After the war, he wrote a book, “The Killing of the Peace,” about the Senate struggle over the League of Nations in the aftermath of World War I.
In 1947, Cranston became head of a Palo Alto real estate firm founded by his father, and in 1949 he became president of United World Federalists, an organization advocating world government.
When he announced his presidential candidacy more than 30 years later, Cranston said he no longer believed that world government was “a practical solution to problems in the form in which they now exist.”
After working in Democrat Adlai Stevenson’s presidential campaign in California in 1952, Cranston became president of the California Democratic Council, an outgrowth of Democratic clubs that supported Stevenson.
He was elected California state controller, the official who signs checks to pay the state’s bills, in 1958. He was re-elected in 1962, but lost his third-term bid in the 1966 Republican landslide that swept Ronald Reagan into the governorship.
To Senate in 1968
In 1968, Cranston received 52 percent of the votes in his Senate campaign against Rafferty, who had eliminated liberal Sen. Thomas Kuchel in the GOP primary. Cranston was re-elected 1974, 1980 and 1986, defeating conservative Republicans H.L. Richardson and tax revolt leader Paul Gann and moderate Congressman Ed Zschau.
Cranston married the former Geneva McMath in 1940. They were divorced in 1977. One of their two sons, Kim, played key roles in Cranston’s presidential campaign and in running a controversial vote registration program funded by Keating’s contributions. Their other son, Robin, was killed in a traffic accident at age 33 in 1980.
In 1978, Cranston married the former Norma Weintraub, who had been active in California Democratic politics. They divorced in May 1989.