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Published: 6/15/2010

Former Congressman Ashley dies at age 87; known as 'Mr. Housing'

Congressman Ashley throws the first pitch at a 1965 Mud Hens game. Congressman Ashley throws the first pitch at a 1965 Mud Hens game.
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Thomas Ludlow Ashley, a Democrat, staunch liberal, and fierce advocate for landmark anti-poverty and housing legislation who represented Toledo in Congress longer than anyone before him, died Tuesday morning at his home in Leland, Mich. He was 87.

He cut a large figure on national and local stages, a genial good companion with a ready wit, at times colorful, but also a thoughtful and a skilled legislator capable of reconciling diverse interests to produce bills that would win floor approval.

During his tenure, he brought millions of dollars to the Ninth Congressional District.

On Capitol Hill, he was "Mr. Housing" and shepherded America's public-housing programs through Congress in the 1960s and 1970s — including more than $15 million in public housing units across Lucas County.

Through his efforts, Toledo was one of the first 30 cities to have food stamps distributed to the poor.

With more than $11 million he secured, the Port of Toledo was dredged and improved, creating one of the nation's leading ports.

"It seemed like when the city needed the money, Lud would come through," the late Harry Kessler, Toledo's mayor from 1971-77, told The Blade in 1997.

Mr. Ashley, known universally as "Lud," was the 26th man to represent the Ninth District in the House. Until his defeat in 1980, he served the district longer than anyone, his 13 terms besting Gen. Isaac Sherwood, a regimental commander in the Civil War, who was elected nine times in the late 19th and early 20th centuries — one term as a Republican and eight as a Democrat.

His great-grandfather, James M. Ashley, represented Toledo in Congress from 1859-69 as a Republican, having left the Democratic Party because of his anti-slavery beliefs. James Ashley is one of the candidates being considered to represent Ohio in the National Statuary Hall.

The federal courthouse in downtown has been named the James M. and Thomas W. Ludlow Ashley United States Courthouse in their honor, by act of Congress. The measure was sponsored by U.S. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo), who with her re-election in 2008 surpassed Lud Ashley's record.

Miss Kaptur cited Thomas Ashley's co-authorship of the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery, and his great-grandson's work on the Housing and Community Development Acts of 1974 and 1977. Those achievements "reflect the Ashley family's place in history on the scales of justice and equality for all people," Miss Kaptur said in 2008.

Mr. Ashley, a resident in recent years of Leland, near Traverse City, noted in 2008 that his great-grandfather chose to settle in Toledo.

"It's where he was buried, and where I'm going to be buried," Mr. Ashley told The Blade. "Toledo's home."

Mr. Ashley was first elected to Congress in 1954, defeating the then-incumbent Frazier Reams, Sr., an independent, in a three-way race. He proved a redoubtable vote-getter over the years, dispatching some of the best opponents the Republican Party could muster, including Lucas County Common Pleas Judge Harvey Straub; Lucas County Commissioner William Gernheuser; former Toledo Vice Mayor Howard Cook; Martin Janis, who later was state mental health director; Jane Kuebbeler, a popular member of Toledo City Council, and — twice — Carty Finkbeiner, later a council member, vice mayor, mayor, and Democrat.

Mr. Ashley rose to a position near the leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives. He became a close ally and personal friend of House Speaker Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill, Jr., who in 1977 named Mr. Ashley chairman of a special committee created to handle a package of bills submitted by President Jimmy Carter to deal with the energy crisis.

"That took some courage, I thought, particularly when the [Carter] administration wanted to propose a gasoline tax," Mr. Kane said. "But Lud took it as a point man for the administration.

Energy legislation cleared Congress more than a year later, and Speaker O'Neill sent Mr. Ashley a letter of praise.

"Somebody said that it couldn't be done, but they didn't know that Tip O'Neill had a friend who had knowledge, ability, toughness, and a never-say-die attitude, and who, when he was put on the first team, could run with the ball," the House Speaker wrote.

Mr. Ashley is survived by sons Meredith (Monica) Ashley of Ho-Ho-Kus, NJ, and Mark Ashley of Washington, D. C.; daughter, Lise Murphy, of Washington, D.C.; brother Charles S. Ashley and sister-in-law Gerry Ashley, of Leland; and many nieces and nephews.

He was preceded in death by a brother William Meredith Ashley, who died in a plane crash early in World War II, and a sister, Mary Edwards.

A memorial service will be held later in Washington, D. C., and burial will be held in Toledo's Woodlawn Cemetery. Additional local arrangements are pending.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Leland Township Library.



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