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The career of Representative Michael Kirwan of Ohio

July 27, 1970
The career of Representative Michael Kirwan of Ohio Image courtesy of Library of Congress From humble origins, Representative Michael Kirwan of Ohio rose to prominence within the Democratic Party and in the House of Representatives.
On this date, 17-term Representative Michael Kirwan of Ohio died after a protracted illness at Bethesda Naval Hospital. Born in the coal mining town of Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania in 1886, Kirwan dropped out of school after the third grade. He worked as a "breaker boy" in the mines and as a farm hand until he entered the U.S. Army in 1917. After the war, he chose politics as his profession and was elected to the Youngstown, Ohio, city council. In 1936, he won election to the 75th Congress (1937–1939). During his service, Kirwan gained prominence in both the House and the Democratic Party. At the time of his death, the Ohio Congressman was dean of Ohio delegation, seventh in line in House seniority, the second oldest serving Member, chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Public Works, and chairman of the Democratic National Congressional Committee (a position he held since 1947). Among Kirwan’s pet projects was a canal linking Lake Erie with the Ohio River via rivers located in his Youngstown district and the National Aquarium (colleagues teasingly referred to them as "Mike’s big ditch" and "Mike’s aquarium"). Kirwan’s stature in the House turned otherwise dissenting colleagues into supporters. In one instance, Kirwan slashed appropriations for a water program of Senator Wayne Morse of Oregon who had cut funding for the aquarium and called it a “fish hotel.” The chairman said, "I’ll hold up Oregon’s water projects until Morse learns something about fish." Minority Leader Gerald Ford of Michigan remembered his colleague as "a colorful individual in a wonderfully unique way." Michael Feighan of Ohio recalled, "He had unswerving belief in his Creator and boundless confidence in his fellow man. He was kind and considerate and yet firm in his convictions and truly dedicated to every cause which he felt was right."

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