Donald J. Mitchell

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Donald J. Mitchell
Donald J. Mitchell.jpg
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 31st district
In office
Jan. 3, 1973 – Jan. 3, 1983
Preceded by Alexander Pirnie
Succeeded by David O'Brien Martin
Personal details
Born (1923-05-08)May 8, 1923
Ilion, New York
Died September 27, 2003(2003-09-27) (aged 80)
Little Falls, New York
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Margaretta Wilson LeVee
Children 3
Alma mater Hobart College / Columbia Univ.
Occupation elected official / optometrist
Religion Methodist

Donald Jerome Mitchell (May 8, 1923 – September 27, 2003) represented New York in the United States House of Representatives from 1973–1983.

Early life[edit]

Donald J. "Don" Mitchell, a native of Central Upstate New York's Mohawk Valley, with ancestral family roots tracing back to the American Revolution, was born in Ilion, New York, in 1923. He was the oldest child of Donald G. Mitchell and Winnifred Packard Mitchell of Herkimer, New York.

He attended the Herkimer Public School System, graduating from Herkimer High School in 1940.

In 1945, after returning home from his military service during World War II, Mitchell married Margaretta "Gretta" Wilson LeVee, the daughter of E. Allen LeVee and Margaret Tinker LeVee, of Little Falls, New York.[1]

Married for over 57 years at the time of the Congressman's death in 2003, the Mitchells had three children — Gretchen, Cynthia, and Allen.

Military service[edit]

During World War II, Mitchell served as a carrier-based fighter pilot in the United States Navy from 1942 until 1945. An avid pilot in private life, Dr. Mitchell re-enlisted in the Navy in 1951, and served as a Naval Flight Instructor in Pensacola, Florida, from 1951–1953, during the Korean War.

Life after the military, professional career, civic service[edit]

Following his military service in World War II, Mitchell completed a bachelor's degree in Optometry at Hobart College in 1949, and earned a master's degree from Columbia University in 1950. In the early 1950s he founded an optometry practice in Herkimer, New York.

In 1954, he was elected to the Herkimer City Council (1954–1957), and served as Mayor of Herkimer from 1957–1960. He was also active in numerous civic and charitable organizations. Among those were: the Boy Scouts of America, the American Civil Defense Association, the Central Association for the Blind, the Eastern New York Chapter of the Nature Conservancy, the Mohawk Valley Chapter of the American Red Cross, the American Cancer Society, the United Way, and the Herkimer County Historical Society. Additionally, he served as a member of the Herkimer Zoning Board of Appeals from 1963 until 1964, until elected to the New York State Assembly.

NY State Assembly[edit]

In 1964, Mitchell was elected to represent Herkimer County in the New York State Assembly (1965–1972), and served in the Republican leadership as the Assembly Majority Whip from 1969 until 1972.

United States Congress[edit]

In 1972, Mitchell was elected to the United States Congress where he represented what is now New York's 31st Congressional District. After being successfully re-elected to a second term by a wide margin in 1974, he then ran unopposed to for three more terms,[2] serving in Congress a total of 10 years from January 3, 1973 until January 3, 1983.

While in the U.S. Congress, Mitchell served on the House Armed Services Committee, and was elected by his colleagues and served four years in the House Republican Leadership as Regional Whip for New England and the Mid-Atlantic States.[3]

Mitchell was also a founder of, and the first Chairman of the Northeast/Midwest Coalition in the U.S. House of Representatives, and was a founding member of the Congressional Tourism Caucus.[2]

Central NY State Tourism / Economic Development[edit]

Among his other accomplishments as a Member of Congress, he was responsible for establishing Leatherstocking Country, a nine-county tourism district in Central New York state, and played a key role in establishing Fort Stanwix National Monument as a unit of the National Park System.

Griffiss AFB[edit]

He and a coalition of other House members also started a campaign in the early 1970s to persuade the Defense Department to award more military contracts and employ more people in the Northeast, which was losing Defense funding and contracts to the South. And in 1974, Mitchell led another successful campaign to prevent the Air Force from cutting 1,500 jobs at the Rome Air Development Center at Griffiss Air Force Base in Rome, NY [4]

"Save the Theatres" Effort[edit]

In 1982, at the behest of Broadway Producer Joe Papp, and with the encouragement of members of his family and others involved in a "Save the Theatres"[5][6][7][8][9] effort to preserve historic Broadway theatres in New York City, Mitchell introduced legislation in the Congress along with 13 co-sponsors[10] to designate a "Broadway/Times Square Theatre District National Historic Site" in Mid-Town Manhattan.[11] Mitchell's bill (97th Congress – H.R.6885) faced fierce opposition and extensive lobbying mounted against it by Mayor Ed Koch's administration and big-money Manhattan development interests. Although the measure was, consequently, never enacted – the overall effect of his legislative initiative and of the "Save the Theatres" effort generally, however, was to slow down the rapid destruction of the old Theater District. This allowed eventually for the preservation of at least some of the historic playhouses and helped ensure retention of some measure of the District's original flavor, atmosphere, charm and historic character for future generations of theatregoers and visitors to the City.[12] And, as a result in large part to Mitchell and Papp's efforts, the Theater District remains one of New York City's primary and most popular tourist attractions and destinations.[13][14]

Life after Congress / Accolades[edit]

In 1984, Mitchell retired from public service and returned to Herkimer, New York. There he resumed his optometry practice, he and his wife Gretta dividing their time between homes in the Mohawk Valley and in Cedar Key, Florida.

Following his retirement, Congressman Mitchell received a number of tributes of various sorts.[15] Among these was the naming in his honor of the Veterans Administration hospital clinic at Griffiss Air Force Base near Rome, New York – which was formally designated by Act of Congress, signed into law by President Clinton, to be known as the "Donald J. Mitchell VA Outpatient Clinic". The facility provides primary care and other health care services for veterans in the greater Utica-Rome-Syracuse area in Central New York State.[16]

Also, a highway bridge over West Canada Creek in the Mohawk Valley just north of the Village of Herkimer was officially designated by Herkimer County as the "Donald J. Mitchell Bridge" in his honor.

Always well liked and highly respected by his colleagues on both sides of the aisle in the U.S. Congress, Representative Mitchell has been described by a Capitol Hill legislative aide as, "without doubt the nicest, most decent Member of Congress I ever knew or worked with – totally honest, of unquestionable integrity, always receptive to considering all points-of-view, with nothing beyond doing the very best possible for his Country at heart, and willing to work tirelessly for the betterment and continued welfare of his constituents in the Mohawk Valley in Upstate New York."[17]

Former Congressman Mitchell died on September 27, 2003, of complications associated with his lengthy battle late in life with Parkinson's disease. Upon his death, the Utica Observer-Dispatch newspaper noted: "If anyone can be heralded for having led an exemplary life, its former U.S. Congressman Donald J. Mitchell.... Mitchell managed to balance a vigorous commitment to community and country without ever forsaking family and friends – and he left a legacy of pride along a path that took him from the Mohawk Valley to the Nation's Capital and back again."[18]

Following memorial services attended by, among many others, various former colleagues from the U.S. Congress and the New York State Assembly, his remains – escorted by both an active duty, and an American Legion veterans color guard, and borne by uniform personnel representing every branch of the U.S. Military Services – were interred with full military honors on a hillside at the Oak Hill Cemetery overlooking a tributary of the Mohawk River in his hometown of Herkimer, New York.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Mrs. Mitchell (née LeVee), a cousin to President Woodrow Wilson, is also related to Thomas Tinker who came to America aboard the Mayflower (cf. Mayflower Manifest: "Passenger List:... Thomas Tinker; the Wife of Thomas Tinker; the Son of Thomas Tinker"
  2. ^ a b The Herkimer Evening Telegram, Herkimer, NY, September 29, 2003.
  3. ^ Congressional Directory; 97th Congress, United States Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., 1981.
  4. ^ "The Sun Sentinel", Fort Lauderdale, FL – Oct 2, 2003.
  5. ^ The name of the organization was "Save the Theatres, Inc., as noted in court papers. See Shubert Organization, Inc. v. Landmarks Preservation Commission of the City of New York and Save the Theatres, Inc., Supreme Court of New York, Appellate Division, First Department, May 16, 1991, accessed March 10, 2013
  6. ^ "Proposal to Save Morosco and Helen Hayes Theaters", LHP Architects, accessed March 10, 2013
  7. ^ Helen Epstein. Joe Papp: An American Life. Retrieved February 22, 2013. 
  8. ^ "City Panel Near Vote On Save-The-Theaters Proposals". New York City: NYTimes.com. April 15, 1984. Retrieved February 22, 2013. 
  9. ^ Corwin, Betty "Theatre on film and tape archive", International Association of Libraries and Museums of the Performing Arts, accessed May 10, 2013
  10. ^ Co-sponsors of the legislation included: Rep. Michael D. Barnes (MD), Rep. Barber B. Conable, Jr. (NY), Rep. Thomas A. Daschle (SD), Rep. Arlen Erdahl (MN), Rep. David W. Evans (IN), Rep. Hamilton Fish, Jr. (NY), Rep. Thomas M. Foglietta (PA), Rep. Peter A. Peyser (NY), Rep. Peter W. Rodino, Jr. (NJ), Rep. Louis Stokes (OH), Rep. Ted Weiss (NY), Rep. George C. Wortley (NY), and Rep. Ron Wyden (OR).[1]
  11. ^ The bill as drafted proposed designation of the Theatre District in New York as the "Broadway/Times Square Theatre District National Historic Site." It would have required the United States to provide assistance in the preservation of the historical, cultural, and architectural character of the site and in its restoration, upgrading, and maintenance. It directed the Secretary of the Interior, acting through the National Park Service, to designate theatre preservation sites and other appropriate real property within the site as national historic landmarks if they met the criteria for national historic landmarks, and would have prohibited the demolition or alteration of real property located within the site unless such demolition or alteration would contribute to the preservation, restoration, or enhancement of the site for traditional legitimate theatre purposes. It also would require the National Park Service to provide technical assistance to carry out the Act, and authorized NPS to provide property owners within the site with emergency assistance in preserving or protecting their property. Finally, it would have established a Federally chartered citizens advisory group to be chaired by Papp known as the "Broadway/Times Square Theatre District Preservation Commission" which would provide advice to the Government on actions that could be taken and policies that should be appropriately applied in carrying out the Act.[2]
  12. ^ John Gingles, "My Years as a Capitol Hill Legislative Aide", from Accidents of Luck: A Personal Memoir, Washington, D.C., 2007.
  13. ^ New York City's Theater District (officially zoned as the "Theater Subdistrict") is an area in Midtown Manhattan where most Broadway theatres are located, as well as many other theaters, movie theaters, restaurants, hotels, and other places of entertainment. It extends from West 40th Street to West 54th Street, from west of Sixth Avenue to east of Eighth Avenue, and includes Times Square.
  14. ^ "New York City Department of City Planning". NYC.gov. Retrieved March 3, 2013. 
  15. ^ New York Times, October 1, 2003.
  16. ^ U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs, VA Healthcare Network Website, "Upstate New York", 2010.[3]
  17. ^ John Gingles, Ibid.
  18. ^ Utica Observer-Dispatch, Utica, NY, Oct 1, 2003.

Sources[edit]

New York Assembly
Preceded by
Leo Lawrence
New York State Assembly, Herkimer County
1965
Succeeded by
District abolished
Preceded by
New district
New York State Assembly, 122nd District
1966
Succeeded by
Louis Folmer
Preceded by
Harvey Lifset
New York State Assembly, 112th District
1967–1972
Succeeded by
K. Daniel Haley
United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Alexander Pirnie
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 31st congressional district

1973–1983
Succeeded by
David O'Brien Martin