MILWAUKEE — Former U.S. Rep. Jerry Kleczka, a liberal Democrat who represented a Wisconsin district that included his hometown of Milwaukee for 20 years, has died. He was 73.
Kleczka died Sunday in the Madison area of natural causes, according to his nephew, Jeff Kleczka.
A factory worker’s son, Kleczka represented Wisconsin’s 4th District from 1984 to 2005, winning 10 consecutive races. He retired from Congress and was succeeded by Democrat Gwen Moore.
Before winning a special election to the U.S. House in 1984 to fill the seat left vacant by the heart attack death of Democrat Clement Zablocki, Kleczka served in the Wisconsin Assembly and Senate. He was a member of the House Ways and Means Committee and later the House Budget Committee, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.
“His career centered around tirelessly helping his constituents and community in Milwaukee, with a steadfast focus on national and state policy designed to better the lives of the poor, the disadvantaged and the elderly,” the Democratic Party of Wisconsin said in a statement Monday.
Democratic state Rep. Peter Barca of Kenosha, who served with Kleczka in Congress, said he always had “the utmost respect for his tenacious advocacy.”
“Jerry never forgot where he came from and worked hard for critical causes like alleviating poverty and improving education in Milwaukee, throughout Wisconsin, and across the country,” Barca said in a statement.
Kleczka worked to ban so-called “drive-thru” baby deliveries and to protect seniors living in public housing. He also secured money for education and housing programs.
In 1999, Kleczka sponsored legislation with Sen. William Roth, a Delaware Republican, that made selling or making products with dog or cat fur a federal crime. President Bill Clinton signed the bill into law in 2000.