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Former Michigan Sen. Carl Levin dies

Former U.S. Sen. Carl Levin stands in front of Wayne State University Law School. Levin is distinguished legislator in residence at the Law School and chair of the Levin Center at Wayne Law. (Photo taken June 11, 2015)
John F. Martin / Wayne State University
Former U.S. Sen. Carl Levin stands in front of Wayne State University Law School. Levin was distinguished legislator in residence at the Law School and chair of the Levin Center at Wayne Law. (Photo taken June 11, 2015)

The longest-serving U.S. Senator from Michigan has died.

Carl Levin rose from Detroit’s City Council, to become chair of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee. The Detroit Democrat is remembered as a relentless questioner, whose gaze through the thin glasses habitually perched low on his nose pierced everyone from corporate executives to Pentagon officials. He led investigations into the 2008 financial crisis, and told military leaders they must lift the ban on gays in the military.

He passed away Thursday in Detroit.

About a decade ago, Levin told WDET his fight over the so-called “Don’t Ask…Don’t Tell” policy had become a partisan showdown.

“I think that this is a very bad policy and ought to be repealed," Levin said. "But again I never thought it should have been put in place to begin with. It’s unbelievable to me that the Republicans who say that they are so supportive of the military are filibustering a bill which provides for the military for the entire year… because it has one provision in there that they don’t like.”

Carl Levin was born in Detroit in 1934. He served on the Detroit City Council from 1970 to 1977. He narrowly won election to the U.S. Senate in 1978, beating Republican Senator Robert Griffin. After a close re-election in 1984, he won subsequent terms by large margins until his retirement in 2015. He was Michigan's longest serving U.S. Senator.

Earlier this year, Levin published a memoir in which he first announced his three year fight with cancer.

In an April interview, Levin said his brand of bipartisanship in Washington was severely diminished, but was not gone forever.

“I don’t think anything that’s useful is gone forever," he said. "I think it’s so obvious that the only way you can get things done is by compromise.”

Levin called bipartisanship "essential to governing."

“You don’t have to give up your principals," he said. "It’s the only way, really, in difficult situations of helping to achieve those principals, or at least most of the principals. You’re not going to get everything you want. Nobody does in a diverse Democracy.”

Following his retirement from the Senate, Levin served as the Distinguished Legislator in Residence at the Wayne State University Law School, and was chair of the Levin Center at the university.

Carl Levin was part of a political dynasty in Michigan. His brother, Sander, served in the U.S. House from 1983 to 2019. That seat is now held by Carl Levin's nephew, Andy Levin. Carl Levin's uncle, Theodore, was Chief Judge on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, and his cousin served on the Michigan Supreme Court.

Sen. Carl Levin is survived by his wife, Barbara, three daughters, and six grandchildren. He was 87 years old.

Quinn Klinefelter
Mike Horace is WCMU's Radio Program and Operations Manager.