Howard Israel, congressman's father, dies

Rep. Steve Israel, right, and his dad, Howard, Rep. Steve Israel, right, and his dad, Howard, hold a photo of the congressman with President Barack Obama as the president writes a get-well note to the father. Howard Israel died of lung cancer Sept. 1, 2012, at age 78. Newsday's obituary for Howard Israel
Photo Credit: Handout

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Not content to let his son, Rep. Steve Israel, do all the politicking, Howard Israel became an unabashedly blue political gadabout later in life in solidly red Arizona, boosting Democratic candidates and opposing President George W. Bush.

The elder Israel, who worked and raised a family on Long Island, died at his Phoenix home on Friday of complications from lung cancer. He was 78.

Howard Israel was a renaissance man: amateur pilot, painter, guitarist, sailor, tennis player, photographer. His latest hobby: astronomy, his son said.

"He wasn't particularly political until after I entered public service -- and then he became relentless about politics," Steve Israel said of what happened after he was first elected to a seat on the Huntington Town board in 1993. Israel (D-Dix Hills) added: "He was to the left of me."

One of Howard Israel's most treasured possessions was a handwritten get-well letter from President Barack Obama.

Amid Bush's re-election bid, Howard Israel called to say that he'd gone out sporting an anti-Bush ball cap. "He'd call me and he would say, 'Oh, five people gave me the finger today.' I would say, 'Dad, that's not good,' " Steve Israel said.

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When Arizona Democrats sought to unseat Republican Rep. J.D. Hayworth in 2006, Howard Israel persuaded his son to campaign for challenger Harry Mitchell, who won.

But Howard Israel was dejected when retired Gen. Wesley Clark, a Democratic presidential candidate he and his son supported, lost his nomination bid in 2004. "America's not ready for someone that intellectual," Howard Israel told The Arizona Republic. "It's an MTV world. They want to talk about Janet Jackson."

He was an early supporter of a then-obscure Democratic candidate for Congress, Gabrielle Giffords, making a rare political donation: $25.

Steve Israel said his father would critique his son's appearances on MSNBC and chide him for granting interviews to Fox News Channel.

Howard Lee Israel was born in Brownsville, Brooklyn, to Charles and Betty Israel. A graduate of East New York Vocational High School, he moved to Flushing, Queens. After a stint in the Army, he married Madeline Kass in 1956. They moved to Levittown in 1960, and in 1968 to Wantagh.

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"My dad was the quintessential New Yorker. He had grown up in the city, did his service in the military and wanted to raise a family in the suburbs," Steve Israel said.

The elder Israel worked as a salesman for General Semiconductor Industries. In the 1980s, he became a manager at the company's Tempe, Ariz., factory and later joined a direct-mail firm his wife founded. She survives him, as do two other children -- Sharyn Younger, of Chandler, Ariz., and Richard Israel, of Los Angeles -- and five grandchildren. Services are pending.

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