Former Vice President Walter Mondale, a civil rights champion who lost a 1984 White House bid in one of the largest Electoral College landslides in U.S. history, died Monday evening at his home in Minneapolis. He was 93.
Mr. Mondale had died peacefully of natural causes, said
a family spokeswoman. He had received numerous calls in recent days from past and present political leaders and enjoyed sharing memories with them, she said.
Mr. Mondale, the 42nd vice president, was credited with boosting the status of the office with his deep involvement in shaping policy, influencing administration appointments and conducting foreign policy negotiations.
“I was the first vice president to be in the White House working daily with the president,” Mr. Mondale said in a 2008 documentary about his life.
Before agreeing to be
1976 Democratic running mate, Mr. Mondale—known as “Fritz” to family, friends and many voters—wrote a memo outlining his expectations, should they win. Among Mr. Mondale’s demands was that he be invited to all cabinet meetings and that the two men would confer at least weekly.
Mr. Carter, a little-known former governor of Georgia, needed a Washington veteran to boost public confidence in his ability to run the nation. Mr. Mondale had worked in the capital for more than a decade by that point.
“Today I mourn the passing of my dear friend Walter Mondale, who I consider the best vice president in our country’s history,” Mr. Carter said in a statement Monday evening. “During our administration, Fritz used his political skill and personal integrity to transform the vice presidency into a dynamic, policy-driving force that had never been seen before and still exists today.”
Mr. Carter called Mr. Mondale an “invaluable partner and an able servant of the people of Minnesota, the United States, and the world,” a model for public service and private behavior.
In a statement, President Biden called Mr. Mondale “one of our nation’s most dedicated patriots and public servants” and a “dear friend and mentor.”
The White House statement said the president and first lady spoke with Mr. Mondale and his family over the weekend and that the call offered an opportunity to reflect on their friendship. “He may have been modest and unassuming in manner, but he was unwavering in his pursuit of progress,” Mr. Biden said.
‘It was Walter Mondale who defined the vice presidency as a full partnership, and helped provide a model for my service.’
asked Mr. Biden to be his vice presidential running mate in 2008, Mr. Biden said he turned to Mr. Mondale.
“Fritz was my first call and trusted guide,” he said. “He not only took my call, he wrote me a memo. It was Walter Mondale who defined the vice presidency as a full partnership, and helped provide a model for my service.”
Before serving in Washington, Mr. Mondale was Minnesota’s attorney general in the early 1960s after being selected for the post at the age of 32. In 1964, he was appointed to the Senate after Hubert H. Humphrey was elected vice president and vacated one of Minnesota’s seats in the chamber.
Mr. Mondale first met Mr. Humphrey—who would go on to become one of his political mentors and encouraged him to take the vice presidential slot when it was offered—while he was a college student. After graduation, Mr. Mondale didn’t have enough money to attend law school, so he joined the U.S. Army for two years before attending the University of Minnesota’s law school.
During his 12 years as a senator, he served on the Finance Committee; the Labor and Public Welfare Committee; the Budget Committee; and the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee. Mr. Mondale also served as the chairman of the Select Committee on Equal Education Opportunity and as the chairman of the Intelligence Committee’s Domestic Task Force.
He was one of the authors of the Fair Housing Act of 1968, which sought to end segregation and discrimination in mortgage and housing policy and to level the economic playing field. Mr. Mondale later said the law failed to reduce discriminatory practices as much as he had hoped.
As vice president, Mr. Mondale played a major role in the negotiations between Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin that resulted in the 1978 Camp David Accords.
In 1980, Ronald Reagan easily defeated Mr. Carter in the wake of the Iran hostage crisis, gasoline shortages, inflation and a general sense the nation was on the wrong track. Mr. Mondale returned to private practice in 1981, setting up shop in Winston & Strawn’s Washington office.
Just two years later, he was formally announcing his presidential bid from his home state’s capitol in St. Paul. His Democratic primary opponents included Reverend
former Sen. George McGovern of South Dakota,
Sen. Gary Hart
of Colorado and Sen. John Glenn of Ohio.
The month after clinching the nomination, Mr. Mondale made history by picking a woman, U.S. Rep. Geraldine Ferraro (D., N.Y.), as his running mate. She became the first woman nominated for vice president by a major U.S. political party, but questions about her family’s finances and disclosure statements plagued the campaign.
At the Democratic National Convention, Mr. Mondale did something most politicians don’t do while running for office: He promised to raise taxes, arguing that he was just being more honest than Mr. Reagan. “He won’t tell you,” he proclaimed during his acceptance speech. “I just did.”
Mr. Mondale proved no match for Mr. Reagan, who used his showmanship and sense of humor to outshine his challenger.
“I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience,” Mr. Reagan quipped during a debate when the septuagenarian president was asked if he was too old to serve a second term. The line even solicited a big smile from his 56-year-old opponent.
Mr. Reagan won in a landslide, carrying every state except Mr. Mondale’s native Minnesota.
Assessing the results, Mr. Mondale said, “Reagan was promising them ‘Morning in America,’ and I was promising a root canal.”
The 1984 loss wouldn’t be Mr. Mondale’s last high-profile defeat. In 2002, Sen. Paul Wellstone of Minnesota died in an airplane crash a little more than a week before the election, which had wide implications on U.S. Senate control. Mr. Mondale was recruited as the Democratic Party’s best chance of holding on to Mr. Wellstone’s seat in a competitive election against
the Republican mayor of St. Paul.
After Mr. Wellstone’s sons asked the former vice president to fill their father’s spot in the race, Mr. Mondale traveled by bus instead of airplane and covered less territory than he might have otherwise. Mr. Coleman won by just more than 2 percentage points.
Mr. Mondale had returned to his native Minnesota in 1987, where he practiced law with the firm of Dorsey & Whitney until President
nominated him to be the U.S. ambassador to Japan.
Mr. Mondale served as ambassador from August 1993 to December 1996. During that period, he helped to negotiate several U.S.-Japan security agreements, including a resolution to the controversy over the U.S. military presence in Okinawa. He also helped to forge numerous trade agreements between the U.S. and Japan and promoted the expansion of educational exchanges between the two nations.
Walter Frederick (“Fritz”) Mondale was born in Ceylon, Minn., on Jan. 5, 1928. Mr. Mondale was the son of a Methodist minister and music teacher. His father regularly talked politics at mealtimes, and the family’s heroes were Franklin D. Roosevelt and Minnesota’s self-described radical Gov. Floyd Olson, according to Mr. Mondale’s U.S. Senate biography.
Mr. Mondale was raised in a family that shied away from self-promotion, an aspect of his upbringing that was often reflected in his public life. Still, the avid fisherman would occasionally brag about the size of his latest catch.
The former vice president is survived by two sons, William and Theodore. His wife, Joan, died in February 2014, and his daughter, Eleanor, died in September 2011.
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