There's more to the retiring Senate Democratic leader than meets the eye
When Harry Reid retires in 2017, he will have served as the Senate Democratic leader for 12 years—longer than all but two other senators in the country’s history.
But while he’s well-known inside Washington, the Senate Majority Leader is a distant figure to many Americans. His dry speaking style and low-key persona has kept him from becoming a household name, even as he’s led Democrats and at times the Senate itself.
But whether you approve of the job he’s done or not, Reid is actually fairly colorful. Here are three things you should know about the man from Searchlight as he heads out the door.
His mother used to do laundry for a brothel
Reid had a tough upbringing, growing up in “tiny wood shack with a tin roof’ as the “son of a hard-drinking gold miner, who eventually shot and killed himself,” according to a TIME 2004 profile. In 2011, Reid called for Nevada’s brothel industry to be outlawed, recalling stories of his mother taking laundry in from some of the 13 brothels that his hometown had at one point.
“Nevada needs to be known as the first place for innovation and investment–not as the last place where prostitution is still legal,” Reid told the state legislature then. “When the nation thinks about Nevada, it should think about the world’s newest ideas and newest careers—not about its oldest profession.”
He once tried to choke a man who tried to bribe him
Reid was an amateur boxer and later paid his way through George Washington University as a night-shift Capitol police officer, so he knows how to crack heads, literally. That came in handy when he was chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission from 1977 to 1981. While he worked there he received “repeated death threats from the mob,” according to his biography, and had at least one instance where a man attempted to bribe him. Bad move. Per a 2005 New Yorker piece:
In July of 1978, a man named Jack Gordon, who was later married to LaToya Jackson, offered Reid twelve thousand dollars to approve two new, carnival-like gaming devices for casino use. Reid reported the attempted bribe to the F.B.I. and arranged a meeting with Gordon in his office. By agreement, F.B.I. agents burst in to arrest Gordon at the point where Reid asked, ‘Is this the money?’ Although he was taking part in a sting, Reid was unable to control his temper; the videotape shows him getting up from his chair and saying, ‘You son of a bitch, you tried to bribe me!’ and attempting to choke Gordon, before startled agents pulled him off. ‘I was so angry with him for thinking he could bribe me,’ Reid said, explaining his theatrical outburst. Gordon was convicted in federal court in 1979 and sentenced to six months in prison.
He inspired a character in a Martin Scorsese film
Few bureaucrats can say that their work was fictionalized by Scorsese. In 1978, Reid held a hearing as chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission that was later used in the 1995 film Casino. Dick Smothers’ character spouted some of Reid’s statements during the scene where Robert De Niro’s character freaks out after the commission rejects his application for a license to operate a casino, according to Slate.