A longtime television journalist, Marjorie Margolies–Mezvinsky won election to the U.S. House in 1992. Her brief congressional career turned, quite literally, on a single vote when the Pennsylvania Congresswoman abruptly backed the William J. Clinton administration's budget after being an outspoken critic of the legislation.
Marjorie Margolies was born on June 21, 1942, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, daughter of Herbert and Mildred Margolies. "Margie always kept me busy," her mother said, recalling a schedule that involved multiple ballet lessons each week, sports, cheerleading, honor roll academics, and finishing junior high two years early.1 After graduating from Baltimore's Forest Park High School in 1959, Margolies earned a B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1963. She worked as a television reporter for a Philadelphia NBC affiliate in 1967 and, from 1969 to 1970, she was a CBS News Foundation Fellow at Columbia University.
In 1970, at age 28, she covered a story on Korean orphans and was so moved by the experience that she became the first single woman in the United States to adopt a foreign child, a Korean girl. Several years later she adopted a Vietnamese girl. Covering another story on adopted children, Margolies met then–Iowa Representative Edward Mezvinsky, and they married in 1975. Together the couple raised 11 children: Margolies's two children, Mezvinsky's four children from a previous marriage, two sons born to them, and three Vietnamese boys whom they adopted together. Figuring in the number of refugee families that they sponsored over the years, Marjorie Margolies–Mezvinsky estimated that her household had provided for 25 children. In 1976, she testified before Congress and was credited with helping change legislation on adoption and immigration practices incorporated into the 1976 Immigration and Nationalities Act.2 When Edward Mezvinsky lost his re–election bid in 1976, the couple settled in Philadelphia. Margolies–Mezvinsky commuted weekly to Washington, D.C., where she worked as a correspondent for 12 years for the local NBC television affiliate, focusing on congressional issues. She also worked for a Philadelphia television station and for NBC's Today Show in New York City. During her career, she won five Emmy Awards. She also published three books, including They Came to Stay (1976), relating her experiences as an adoptive parent and a supporter of immigrant families. Marjorie and Edward divorced in 2007.
When Representative Lawrence Coughlin announced his retirement from the House, two members of Pennsylvania's Montgomery County Democratic Committee approached Margolies–Mezvinsky to run for the nomination. Producing reports for four network television programs, she nevertheless felt she needed to heed her own admonition to her children: "You've got to be prepared to lose before you can win. You've got to get out of the stands and onto the playing field."3 From the moment Margolies–Mezvinsky declared her candidacy for the open seat that encompassed most of the Montgomery County suburbs northwest of Philadelphia, it was an uphill battle, since the district was two–to–one in favor of registered Republicans and had not elected a Democrat since 1916. Her campaign focused on job creation, health care, and education and the necessity of each of these for good family life. She addressed the 1992 Democratic National Convention and later recalled as she stood on the podium: "I thought about what Barbara Jordan had said the night before, invoking Thomas Jefferson and talking about women being in the halls and councils of power. And I thought about how important it was that we get in in numbers that can make a difference, to change the face and the body of [Congress]. And I thought, here I am, standing here, part of all this. Me. Herbert and Mildred's daughter."4 In the general election she faced Republican Montgomery County Commissioner Jon D. Fox. During the campaign, Margolies–Mezvinsky portrayed herself as a nontraditional Democrat who sought to reduce the cost of social programs and avoid hiking taxes.5 She won in an exceedingly close race with a margin of 1,373 votes out of more than a quarter million cast, 50.27 percent to 49.73 percent.6
When Margolies–Mezvinsky took her seat in the 103rd Congress (1993–1995), she received assignments on the influential Energy and Commerce Committee, as well as the Government Operations and Small Business committees. She focused on issues affecting women, from abortion to health care. Her first vote on major legislation was for the Family and Medical Leave Act. She also opposed the "Hyde Amendment," which prohibited federal funding of abortions. In 1993, Margolies–Mezvinsky joined women colleagues in the House who effectively pushed for more funding and research for breast and cervical cancer and making preventive tools available to more women. "The best mammogram means precious little to the woman who cannot afford it," she said. "The opportunity for women to save ourselves rests upon the commitment of this Congress to put the money on the line for our sisters, our daughters, and our wives."7 She also proposed legislation to better educate doctors about diseases prevalent among women and to encourage leadership training for women in the medical field.8
Along with women's issues, Margolies–Mezvinsky supported much of the Democratic Party's legislative agenda. She voted for the Brady Handgun Bill, which passed the House in late 1993. It required a background check and waiting period for gun buyers. "Waiting periods work. Waiting periods save lives," Margolies–Mezvinsky noted at the time.9 She also introduced bills that raised the minimum retirement age to 70 by the year 2012 and set cost–of–living adjustments for Social Security recipients at a flat rate.10
The turning point for Margolies–Mezvinsky came when she made a last–minute switch to support the 1993 Clinton budget after months of publicly voicing her opposition to the bill because it did not contain enough spending cuts. During her campaign, she had promised not to raise taxes, and the budget proposed a hike in federal taxes, including a gasoline tax. On the day of the vote, she appeared on television and told her constituents that she was against the budget. Minutes before the vote, however, on August 5, 1993, President Clinton called to ask Margolies–Mezvinsky to support the measure. She told him that only if it was the deciding vote—in this case, the 218th yea—would she support the measure. "I wasn't going to do it at 217. I wasn't going to do it at 219. Only at 218, or I was voting against it," she recalled.11 She also extracted a promise from Clinton that if she did have to vote for the budget package, that he would attend a conference in her district dedicated to reducing the budget deficit. He agreed (and later fulfilled the pledge). Nevertheless, Margolies–Mezvinsky told Clinton "I think I'm falling on a political sword on this one." When she finally walked onto the House Floor to cast the decisive vote, passing the measure 218 to 216, Democrats cheered while Republicans jeered, "Goodbye, Marjorie!"12 She later recalled that "I knew at the time that changing my vote at the 11th hour may have been tantamount to political suicide.… [but] the vote would resolve itself into one simple question: Was my political future more important than the agenda the President had laid out for America?"13
Margolies–Mezvinsky's vote, coming as it did after her specific promises, created wide resentment among her district constituents. "I ran into a wall of anger," she recalled when she returned to her district throughout the fall of 1993.14 In 1994, the Republican National Committee targeted her and 14 other vulnerable House Democrats (many of them first–term women) who had voted for the Clinton budget. That fall Margolies–Mezvinsky again faced off against Jon Fox, who attacked her relentlessly for her vote. He won by a slim margin of 8,000 votes, with 49 percent to her 45 percent in a four–way race.15
After Congress, Margolies–Mezvinsky chaired the National Women's Business Council and served as the Director and Deputy Chair of the U.S. delegation to the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women. She served as executive director of the Women's Campaign Fund, a group that supported pro–choice women candidates. In 1998, she left that post to run unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania. In 1999, Margolies–Mezvinsky initiated a challenge against incumbent U.S. Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania but soon withdrew when her husband's finances came under investigation. Although Edward Mezvinsky was convicted on federal fraud charges in 2002, investigators cleared Marjorie Margolies–Mezvinsky of wrongdoing.16 In 2014, Margolies unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination for the 114th Congress (2015–2017).17
View Record in the Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress
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