PHILADELPHIA — Arlen Specter was known as a political moderate unafraid to buck the leadership of his own party and work with colleagues across the aisle — a stubborn independent streak sure to be recalled as Pennsylvania’s longest-serving senator is laid to rest.
Specter, 82, died at home Sunday of complications from non-Hodgkin lymphoma. His funeral service was held today at Har Zion Temple in Penn Valley, near Philadelphia. Hundreds of people paid their respects, from regular citizens and local political figures to Vice President Joe Biden, a longtime colleague.
Specter’s long political career thrust him to the center of many pivotal events in modern American history. He promoted the single-bullet theory in the death of President John F. Kennedy in the 1960s, questioned Anita Hill about sexual harassment claims she raised against Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas in the 1990s, and more recently worked to promote Mideast peace plans and stem-cell research.
President Barack Obama ordered flags to be flown at half-staff at the White House and other public buildings today.
“Arlen never walked away from his principles and was at his best when they were challenged,” said Biden, who often rode home on the train with Specter from Washington, D.C.
Specter will be remembered as a political moderate who switched parties twice in his career, but mostly served as a Republican. He waged a short-lived run for president in 1995 on a platform that warned fellow Republicans of the “intolerant right.”
Specter crossed party lines to support Obama’s economic stimulus bill in 2009, one of only three Republicans to do so. Anger over his vote led him to run for re-election as a Democrat. But he failed to win the Democratic primary, ending his 30-year Senate career.
Specter had won his Senate seat in the Reagan landslide of 1980 and, as one of the Senate’s sharpest legal minds, took part in 14 Supreme Court confirmation hearings.
Earlier in his career, he had served as counsel to the Warren Commission investigating Kennedy’s death, and prosecuted Teamsters officials in Philadelphia as an assistant district attorney.
He had fought two previous bouts with Hodgkin lymphoma, and also overcome a brain tumor and cardiac arrest following bypass surgery.
Specter is survived by his wife, Joan, sons Shanin and Steve, and four granddaughters.
The funeral will be open to the public, followed by burial in Huntingdon Valley.