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Former U.S. Congressman Once Made his Home in the Woodlands Country Club

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Leo Isacson on the left, American Labor Party Candidate being congratulated by Representative Vito Marcantonio (NY) in a special election in the 25th Congressional District of New York in 1948. Photo rights owned by Sharon Aron Baron.

By: Sharon Aron Baron

What’s so amazing about living in the Woodlands Country Club is that there is so much history. Once home to millionaires who made it their winter escape, so many residents have a story,  and I am fortunate that neighbors told me about the former U.S Representative who lived in mine. 

Former Florida home of U.S Representative Leo Isacson.

I live in the home that was once owned by U.S. Representative Leo Isacson of New York.  He was a Jewish man who not only pushed for the immediate recognition for Israel, he opposed the peacetime draft. 

Now, this wasn’t his first home, but sadly, it was to be his last. Located on beautiful Woodlands Boulevard, Isacson would be the first owner of this amazing bright and sunny home built in 1970. Perhaps he bought it directly from Behring Properties. I’m certain that moving from New York, he appreciated the skylights, the atrium and the wide golf course views.  I’m sure he was probably a golf club member as it was the place for the well-to-do Jewish residents in the 1970’s and 80’s. Besides, what else would he have done with that convenient golf cart garage right off the men’s closet?

Born April 20, 1910 in Manhattan, Isacson attended public schools before graduating from New York University in 1931 and New York University School of Law in 1933. He was admitted to the bar in 1934 and commenced practice in New York City.

Isacson became a member when the American Labor Party was founded in 1936 to advance the cause of trade unions and was member of the New York State Assembly (Bronx Co., 13th D.) in 1945 and 1946. Elected as an American Laborite to Congress in 1948 to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of Benjamin J. Rabin from a Bronx district seat, Isacson served from February 17, 1948 until January 3, 1949.

He was the second most liberal person to serve in Congress between 1937 and 2002.  He opposed the Marshall Plan and the peacetime draft, and was one of three Congressmen to oppose legislation to increase the size of the Air Force. He also pushed for immediate recognition of Israel.

Isacson became the first Congressman ever to be denied a United States passport by the State Department when he attempted to go to Paris to attend a conference as an observer for the American Council for a Democratic Greece, a Communist front organization, because of the group’s role in opposing the Greek government in the Greek Civil War. Issuing him a passport was judged not to be “in the interests of the US”, so he was denied a passport under the Passport Act of 1926 which allows the Presidential administration to deny or revoke passports for foreign policy or national security reasons at any time.

An unsuccessful candidate for reelection in 1948, Isacson returned to his law practice and became active in the Democratic Party. He was a delegate to the 1968 Democratic National Convention. He moved to Tamarac, Florida and taught political science at Nova Southeastern University.

Isacson died of cancer in a hospital at Fort Lauderdale on September 21, 1996 at the age of 86.

His obituary from the New York Times gives more details:

Leo Isacson

Leo Isacson, 86, Upset Winner of a Bronx Congressional Seat

SEPT. 25, 1996

Leo Isacson, who flabbergasted political experts in 1948 when he won a Bronx Congressional seat as the candidate of the American Labor Party, died on Saturday at a hospital in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. He was 86.

Mr. Isacson, who had lived in retirement in Fort Lauderdale in recent years, had been suffering from cancer, said his daughter, Dale Bloom, of Rye Brook, N.Y.

Mr. Isacson’s tenure in Congress was brief but eventful. It began on Feb. 17, 1948, when he won a special election from the 24th District after the incumbent was named a judge. It effectively ended the following November when he was beaten by the more mainstream politicians he had confounded.

The favorite in the special election was a Democrat, Karl Propper, who was backed by Mayor William O’Dwyer, Eleanor Roosevelt and other party luminaries. But Mr. Isacson crushed the Democrat, gathering 22,697 votes to 12,598 for Mr. Propper. The Liberal Party candidate got 3,800 votes, and the Republican standard-bearer 1,500.

The political post-mortems found several reasons for Mr. Isacson’s triumph. His district was a poor one and ethnically mixed — fertile ground, it seemed, for an American Labor candidate. Mr. Isacson had been a member since the party was founded in 1936 to advance the cause of trade unions.

Then, too, about half the people in the district were Jewish, and Mr. Isacson was an early and vigorous supporter of the new country of Israel.

Perhaps just as important, Mr. Isacson concentrated his law practice on labor and tenant cases, making him well known to many district residents even before he and his wife, Rose, went door to door ringing doorbells.

Nor was he a political neophyte. He had been elected to the New York State Assembly on the Republican and American Labor Party tickets in 1944. A year later, he ran unsuccessfully on the American Labor Party line for Bronx borough president.

Seeking re-election to the Assembly in 1946, he was denied endorsement by Republican leaders, so he ran in the Republican and Democratic primaries. He lost in the primaries and lost in the general election, when he ran only on the American Labor Party line.

Mr. Isacson’s victory in February 1948 delighted Henry A. Wallace, the Progressive Party candidate for President, and it alarmed supporters of President Harry S. Truman, who had his hands full with his Republican rival, Thomas E. Dewey. Or so the polls said.

Once in office, Mr. Isacson opposed the Marshall Plan and the peacetime draft. He was one of three Congressmen to oppose legislation to increase the size of the Air Force, and he pushed for immediate recognition of Israel.

Barely a month into his term, Mr. Isacson became the first Congressman ever to be denied a passport by the State Department. He had wanted to go to Paris for an international congress on the future of Greece, where Communist guerrillas were trying to overthrow the Government.

One reason for the State Department’s unease may have been Mr. Isacson’s friendship with Vito Marcantonio, a former American Labor Party state chairman who was then a Congressman from East Harlem and who was widely thought to have far-left views.

Mr. Isacson (like Mr. Marcantonio) denied any links to Communism. But in 1948, the Republican, Democratic and Liberal Parties formed a coalition to unseat him. Mr. Isacson’s opponent, Isidore Dollinger, charged that much of the incumbent’s support came from Communist-dominated unions. Mr. Isacson lost, 74,594 votes to 44,257.

After leaving office, Mr. Isacson lived for about 25 years in Eastchester. He continued to practice law and became active in the Democratic Party. In recent years, he was an adjunct professor of political science at the Institute of Retired Professionals at Nova University in Fort Lauderdale.

His first wife, Rose, died eight years ago. Another daughter, Jill Blanchard, was killed in her New Rochelle home in 1981 in a crime that remains unsolved.

Mr. Isacson is survived by his wife, Violet; his daughter; two sisters, Ruth Thielle of Fort Lauderdale and Regina Hymowitz of Great Neck, L.I., five grandchildren and one great-granddaughter.

Dossier on Leo Isacson, February 23, 1948. Truman Papers, President’s Secretary’s Files. Communists and Pro-Communists for Wallace.  Read Here

 

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2 Responses to Former U.S. Congressman Once Made his Home in the Woodlands Country Club

  1. Richard Powell Reply

    January 10, 2017 at 6:45 pm

    Great history’ What is the best way to trace the history of my home”

  2. J. Lagatta Reply

    January 10, 2017 at 11:51 pm

    very interesting and well written article. I enjoy learning the histories of the places we live in and come into contact with. Thanks so much ! jl

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