Former U.S. Rep. Clay Shaw, a longtime fixture in South Florida politics who served as mayor of Fort Lauderdale before heading to a 26-year career in Washington, died Tuesday after a battle with lung cancer.
Shaw, a Republican who served a mostly moderate coastal district from 1981 to 2007, was 74.
Shaw was swept into the House during the 1980 election cycle dominated by President Ronald Reagan unseating President Jimmy Carter, and he was part of the GOP’s Contract with America that wrested control of Congress from the Democrats in 1994.
Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who served six years in the House with Shaw, called the late congressman “a great advocate and public servant” whose “greatest love was always his family.”
Shaw, who earned a law degree from the Stetson University School of Law, was married to Emilie Shaw for 53 years. They had four children and 15 grandchildren.
Shaw is also remembered for being able to work across party lines.
“I will always fondly remember Clay Shaw from my time as mayor of West Palm Beach, as someone who you could work with in a bipartisan manner and as a true gentleman,” U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, D-Fla.,, said in a release.
Eric Eikenberg, chief executive officer of the Everglades Foundation, also praised his former boss as a family man who was less interested in self-promotion than constructive legislation and effective constituent services.
“You don’t see this too often these days, but he was a member of Congress who was more interested in sitting in a conference committee working on legislation and not running down the street to FOX News or CNN, he was a work horse,” Eikenberg said.
Eikenberg started as a college intern answering phones in Shaw’s office before running the Congressman’s 2002 re-election and then serving as Shaw’s chief of staff until 2007.
“I firmly believe that the constituent service model that Clay Shaw developed for his office is emulated across South Florida today,” Eikenberg said. “I remember people calling saying ‘We can’t get an answer from our congressmen but you get the work done.’ He took great pride in that.”
Shaw was part of bipartisan efforts to implement the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan in 2000, helped write the 1996 Welfare Reform Act that President Bill Clinton signed into law, and introduced the Missing Children’s Act of 1982, which created a central computer file designed to trace missing children in response to the 1981 death of 6-year-old Adam Walsh in Hollywood.
Shaw also had a knack for bringing federal dollars back to his district, such as increasing funding for work on the Port Everglades Expressway and for U.S. Customs drug-interdiction and surveillance activities. After he secured money for the 17th Street Causeway bridge in Fort Lauderdale --- which opened 2002 --- the Florida Legislature agreed to name the bridge after Shaw.
Shaw fended off a number of challengers over the years before being unseated by Democrat Ron Klein in 2006.
Among his victories, Shaw easily defeated Florida Sen. Gwen Margolis, D-Miami, in 1992 after her term as Senate president, narrowly topped former state Rep. Elaine Bloom in 2000, and in 2002 defeated former Palm Beach County Commissioner Carol Roberts, whose profile attained national status while serving on the county canvassing board during the 2000 Florida election recount.
A memorial is being planned for Fort Lauderdale.