United States Senator
Harrison "Pete" Williams, a popular, longtime U.S. senator
from New Jersey whose career was ended by the Abscam bribery scandal,
died November 17, 2001, following a battle with cancer and heart
ailments. He was 81.
After Oberlin, Mr. Williams served as a Navy
pilot in WWII and later graduated from Columbia Law School. In 1958,
with the backing of Democratic Party bosses, he landed a seat in
the U.S. Senate, defeating longtime Republican incumbent Robert
W. Kean. Mr. Williams was easily reelected three times and became
chair of the Labor and Human Resources Committee in 1971--a post
he held until the Republicans took control of the Senate in the
He fought for a range of social welfare laws
and urban transit programs and was instrumental in passing landmark
laws such as the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, which
protects worker pensions, and the Coal Mine and Health Safety Act.
He also helped pass legislation that created the Occupational Safety
and Health Administration and was a key player in passing the Urban
Mass Transit Act of 1964.
In 1981, Mr. Williams was convicted of bribery
and conspiracy after being caught with FBI agents and informants
posing as Arab sheiks. He was convicted of promising to use his
office to further a business venture in which he had a hidden interest.
Claiming he was a victim of FBI misconduct, Mr. Williams fought
expulsion efforts before resigning from the Senate in 1982. He was
sentenced to three years in prison, serving most of the sentence
at the federal correctional facility in Allenwood, Pennsylvania.
After his release he spent the remaining years of his life as a
member of the board of directors of Pyramid House, a New Jersey
halfway house that provided alcohol and drug rehabilitation.
Mr. Williams is survived by his second wife
and four children.