Mitchell won't seek Senate re-election

March 05, 1994|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- George J. Mitchell, the son of a janitor and an appointee to the Senate who became majority leader in less than a decade, startled Washington yesterday by saying he would not seek re-election this fall.

He gave no specific reason for his decision, saying he was in good health, enjoyed his work and was certain that the voters of Maine would have returned him to office.

He said in a release that it was the right time for him to do something else, but he did not say what. "No doubt some will search for other reasons for my decision," he said. "But there aren't any."

Indeed, speculation was rife in Washington that Senator Mitchell, a former federal judge and a lawyer from Portland, Maine, was clearing a path to become the next Supreme Court justice or, possibly, commissioner of baseball.

An executive who is familiar with Major League Baseball's inner workings and is a friend of Mr. Mitchell's said the senator made inquiries about the office of the commissioner as far back as 1992.

Now, the executive said, "I would think that he'd have to be rated a very likely candidate."

The decision of Mr. Mitchell, who is 60 and has no heir apparent in the Senate or in Maine, will set off mad scrambles in both places to replace him.

Almost no one in politics had any idea that he was planning to walk away from his seat, and two of his closest friends said that they did not know until they spoke with him yesterday morning.

President Clinton said Mr. Mitchell told him of his plans at the White House on Thursday night.

Mr. Mitchell had been appointed to the Senate in 1980 to succeed Edmund S. Muskie.

Mr. Muskie was named secretary of state by President Jimmy Carter to replace Cyrus Vance in the midst of the crisis over the hostages taken by Iran.

Mr. Mitchell was involved in Democratic politics in Maine for years and lost a bid to be governor in 1974. He was later named a federal judge and was considered a protege of Mr. Muskie.

As a legislator, Mr. Mitchell made his strongest mark on environmental issues, pulling together the very difficult renewal of the Clean Air Act in 1990.

He was also instrumental in the defeat of former Texas Sen. John G. Tower's nomination as secretary of defense in 1991, and later that year led the successful filibuster against a proposal to cut the capital gains tax.

As a leader, Mr. Mitchell is known as conciliatory but firm. He has had to rely on persuasion that verged on begging and spent long hours satisfying even petty demands, allowing this senator to go home early or granting that one his preferred time to speak.

When the Senate was burning the midnight oil, Mr. Mitchell was famous for asking his colleagues, "Do we want to make statements, or do we want to make laws?"

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