WESTWOOD—Anthony Beilenson, a 10-term Democratic congressman, died in his Westwood home on Sunday, March 5. According to his son, Adam Beilenson, he had been recovering from a heart attack over the last month. He was 84.
Beilenson was born on October 26, 1932, in New Rochelle, New York, to owners of a book-publishing company. In 1954, he received a degree in American government at Harvard University. After graduating from Harvard Law School in 1957, Beilenson settled in Southern California to work for his cousin’s entertainment law firm. In 1962, he was elected to the California Assembly, representing Beverly Hills and West Los Angeles. He joined the state Senate four years later.
“I wanted to be useful in the world,” Beilenson told The Los Angeles Times in 1981. “Politics was the way you could acquire the most power to do good things.”
In 1967, Beilenson wrote the Therapeutic Abortion Act, which decriminalized abortion in cases where the mother’s mental or physical health was at risk, or if the pregnancy was a result of rape or incest. The governor at the time, Ronald Reagan, signed the bill into law. It was considered one of the most liberal abortion laws at the time.
Beilenson won the 1976 race for a U.S. House of Representatives Seat. He represented a region that included Beverly Hills, Westwood, Bel Air, Malibu, Pacific Palisades, and Thousand Oaks. In 1978, he co-sponsored the legislation that created the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, which protects the wilderness from the Hollywood Hills to Point Mugu.
“Californians and people from across the country owe Tony a great deal – and they can literally see it every time they drive up the PCH,” said Rep. Brad Sherman, Beilenson’s House successor in a statement. “He was essential to the creation of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, which is the most frequently visited national park in the country.”
Over his 20 years in Congress, Beilenson became known for his independence and tendency to defy categorization. He was regarded as unafraid to cross party lines and face hostility.
Beilenson supported the Clean Air Act, but was against proposals he deemed to be a waste of money. He championed defense budget cuts and tax increases to address the deficit. He was against oil-drilling in California and worked toward restricting elephant ivory imports to protect the endangered African elephant. In addition, he opposed the creation of the Federal Department of Education, saying education should be left to the states.
He was known for his integrity, as one of the few politicians against accepting political action committee funds. U.S. News and Report referred to him as a “straight arrow.”
“He will be remembered for his ability to debate tough issues of the greatest controversy and importance with civility and respect,” said Sherman.
In 1996, Beilenson decided against running for re-election, due to the congressional atmosphere in the midst of ideological politics. The lack of compromise and civility made him feel that sensible resolutions could no longer be reached.
Beilenson is survived by his wife, Dolores; two sons, Adam and Peter; one daughter, Dayna; and nine grandchildren.