Former Democratic congressman Fred B. Rooney, who represented Pennsylvania’s 15th district for almost sixteen years, died in his Washington, DC home yesterday surrounded by family.
Rooney was born in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania on November 6, 1925 and named after his father. He attended public schools growing up, graduating from Bethlehem high school in the 1940s. During this time, the United States was on the brink of entering World War II. On September 16, 1940, the United States instituted the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940, which required all men in between the ages of 21 and 45 to enter the draft. Rooney a patriot, enlisted at 19 and served in the United States Army for two years as a paratrooper. He returned to the US after serving in Europe and enrolled at the University of Georgia, graduating in 1950 with a degree in Business Administration.
Rooney once stated he got involved in politics because of his work on George Leader’s run for governor in 1954. Rooney organized the Northampton County Young Democrats and possibly contributed to Leader’s success in defeating the republican nominee. He served on the Pennsylvania State Senate from 1958-1963, and assumed office in the House of Representatives in 1963. Taking office months after President Kennedy was assassinated, Rooney began his work on the hill motivated to continue President Kennedy’s vision. In a 1963 Easton Express interview, he was quoted saying “It is my prayerful hope that the Congress and the people of these United States will have the courage and vision to do the necessary work a great man saw clearly before us.” In Congress Rooney championed bills relating to the rail systems, steel trade, and the rights of older Americans. He left office in 1979 after losing his seat to Republican Donald L. Ritter.
After leaving Congress, Rooney settled in Washington and took on a senior consultant role at Cassidy & Associates, a government relations firm notorious for it’s shadowy clients like Teodoro Obiang, an African dictator, and the Mukhabarat, the Egyptian Intelligence service. Rooney later left the firm to lead his own private practice under his own name, where he led clients from the American Iron & Steel Institute and the Association of the American Railroad. In addition to opening his own lobbying firm, Rooney created a real estate business named WRC Rooney Limited Partnership. At one point, he was also a member of the Bethlehem Housing Authority.
In 2009, a highway connecting Pennsylvania’s Route 378 to US 22 to the Hill to Hill Bridge was renamed the Fred B. Rooney highway, recognizing his role in creating the road through congressional legislation. In addition, in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, the Fred B. Rooney building also extends the congressman’s legacy, a low-income housing unit built for seniors. Rooney will be remembered as a politician that stayed close to his roots; his name will live on, especially in his hometown.