Obituaries

Former US Rep. Joseph McDade of Pennsylvania dies at 85

Representative Joseph M. McDade, Republican of Pennsylvania.
Chris Gardner/Associated Press/File
Representative Joseph M. McDade, Republican of Pennsylvania.

FAIRFAX, Va. — Joseph M. McDade, an 18-term Republican congressman who was known for bringing federal dollars home to his northeastern Pennsylvania district and who was acquitted in 1996 on a bribery charge, died Sunday at his home in Fairfax, Va. He was 85.

Mr. McDade was the longest-serving Republican in the House when he was indicted in 1992 on charges he accepted gifts from defense companies in exchange for helping them win lucrative contracts. He was acquitted after a seven-week trial but not before losing the opportunity to become chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

Constituents stood behind the congressman who had helped steer money to local manufacturers to replace a collapsed coal industry and who had fought hard for Tobyhanna Army Depot, one of the region’s largest employers, when the Pentagon considered closing it.

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Many Scranton-area buildings, a recreational trail, and a park built atop an abandoned coal mine bear his name. The honors continued after he left office; in 2003, the local airport’s terminal building was named for him.

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One of his most well-known endeavors, the Steamtown National Historic Site, was also one of the most criticized. The federal government spent more than $70 million to turn an abandoned train yard into a National Park Service site celebrating the nation’s railroad history.

Critics lambasted the project, which sits next to a shopping mall. They noted the Park Service didn’t ask for the money and that many of the site’s coaches and locomotives had nothing to do with Scranton.

But Mr. McDade and local leaders saw the park as a way to bolster Scranton as a tourist destination.

The federal indictment on bribery, conspiracy, and racketeering charges came six months before the 1992 election, but Mr. McDade faced no opposition. He won again in 1994 with 66 percent of the vote.

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Government prosecutors accused Mr. McDade of expecting illegal gifts in exchange for his support. They alleged that he accepted campaign contributions, trips, free flights, golf equipment, vacations, and scholarships for his son from three companies in return for government contracts.

The indictment cost him the chance to become chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, one of the most powerful positions in the House, when Republicans regained power in 1994. He had been the panel’s longtime top-ranking Republican, but the House GOP rules barred members under criminal indictment from holding leadership posts.

At his 1996 trial, Mr. McDade testified in his own defense, saying his aides were responsible for reporting gifts, not him. In testy exchanges with prosecutors, the congressman repeatedly raised his voice, calling a government lawyer ‘‘dreadfully wrong.’’

‘‘Blood, sweat, and toil,’’ he said several times in response to questions about how he paid for items or trips. ‘‘I assumed in a normal course of business that everything was taken care of (ethically).’’

His aides also testified, blaming themselves for any violation of federal laws about reporting gifts.

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Mr. McDade was acquitted by jurors, who later said the government had seemingly little evidence to back up their accusations.

Joseph Michael McDade was born in Scranton in 1931. He graduated from Notre Dame in 1953 and got his law degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1956.

He became the city solicitor for Scranton in 1962 and was first elected to the House later that year.

During his legal battle, Mr. McDade was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. He decided to not seek reelection in 1998, after his acquittal.