Anderson: The Man Who Got Things Done : Obituary: The late congressman’s talent for securing funds for local public works may be his legacy. Ports, freeways and subways bear his mark.


Through 12 terms, former Democratic Rep. Glenn M. Anderson rarely took the forefront of partisan turf wars, social controversies or foreign policy.

But when it came to lining up federal support for freeway tunnels or rail lines, he was a master.

Anderson died Tuesday at 81 from complication of Alzheimer’s disease, almost two years after he retired from a lengthy career that took him to City Hall, Sacramento and Washington. Although he gained the limelight as lieutenant governor in the 1960s, his ability to shepherd an endless list of public works projects through Congress could be his legacy.


“People always talk about making their mark and leaving something behind,” said former Long Beach Councilman Ray Grabinski, a longtime family friend. “You cannot walk around L.A. County without seeing the mark of Glenn Anderson.”

As a member of the Public Works and Transportation Committee, which he headed from 1988 to 1990, he made possible the Port of Los Angeles’ main shipping channel (called the Glenn M. Anderson Deep Ship Channel), the Century (105) Freeway (officially named for him) and Metro Rail (which has a plaque in his honor at a Downtown Los Angeles station). His moniker is also on a park in Redondo Beach and a federal building in Long Beach.

“When I went back to Washington, I always went to Glenn Anderson’s office,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Deane Dana. “He was the key congressman to get things done.”

Critics today may call the projects pork, but friends and supporters say he was coming through for the district and was critical in getting projects for other parts of the country through his powerful committee. Quiet and unassuming, he worked behind the scenes to persuade colleagues that the projects would have a national payoff.

“He was not a swashbuckler,” said Grabinski, former chairman of the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission. “If you met him, you would not even know he was a congressperson. You felt that you were around someone who was a doer, but you never felt like you were standing in his shadow.”

According to Grabinski, shortly after Anderson was elected to the House of Representatives in 1968, he got wind that a New York congressman somehow was close to securing money for a state highway project. But the House had a policy that coast-to-coast interstate projects would take priority. Rather than raise a stink, Anderson let the legislator know that he supported the New York project--and wanted the same thing on the West Coast. He got funding to complete the Harbor Freeway.


“That was an early glimpse in his ability to understand how things worked,” Grabinski said. “You kept things rolling.”

During the 1980s, he secured the controversial Metro Rail project by making it part of a omnibus bill that included money for transit programs throughout the country. By the time it reached the House floor, Anderson had made so many deals with other representatives that its victory was assured.

“What he was able to do was translate the importance of his projects to his colleagues, how it would benefit this country and the economy,” said Ezunial (E. Z.) Burts, executive director of the Port of Los Angeles.

Many of Anderson’s efforts were directed at the Port of Los Angeles, which he used to call “the sleepy little port.”

His plan to double the cargo-handling capacity of the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach helped make the region a world leader in international trade, Burts said.

Anderson was initially uninterested in politics. Raised in Hawthorne, he spent the 1930s putting his UCLA education to use as a real estate developer and investor. He had to be nudged by the local Masonic Lodge into running for City Council in the late 1930s. (A friend filled out his nomination papers.) He lost but ran again in 1940, and the council elected him mayor.


He won a spot in 1942 on the state Assembly, where he persuaded lawmakers that the suburban city, with its growing defense industry, was in dire need of more schools and child care.

“He was the kind of man you knew was honest and sincere,” said Dorothy Andersen, 85, of Hawthorne, a longtime family friend. “The other (legislators) knew that if they gave him support, he’d give them support. They respected him.”

Anderson left the Assembly in 1951 and went on to be elected lieutenant governor in 1958. He was filling in for Gov. Edmund G. (Pat) Brown, who was out of the country, when the 1965 Watts riots broke out. Anderson came under criticism for being slow to mobilize the National Guard to quell the disturbance, and both Anderson and Brown lost reelection bids a year later.

Many Hawthorne residents felt Anderson was unfairly criticized for the riots, Dorothy Andersen said, and with their support, he scored a political rebirth in 1968, when he was elected to Congress. He won a narrow reelection victory after his first term but thereafter was reelected easily.

But by the late 1980s, Anderson showed signs of slipping. In 1990, fellow Democrats stripped him of the chairmanship of the House Public Works and Transportation Committee, saying his age had left him too reliant on his staff and unable to hold his own in policy discussions. With state Democrats poised to carve up his district once again, he decided not to run in 1992.

But Anderson insisted at the time that the political challenge wasn’t what made him retire. Early in his career, he said, he was frustrated with elderly politicians who wouldn’t give up their office.


“I felt, ‘Now why don’t they retire?’ ” Anderson said. In recent years, he added, “I tried to tell myself I was not as far behind as those people I thought about years ago. But maybe I am.”

Anderson is survived by his wife, Lee; daughter Melinda Anderson Keenan; sons Evan Anderson Braude and Glenn Michael Anderson, and six grandchildren.

Funeral services will be at 10:30 a.m. Friday at Mary Star of the Sea Church, 7th and Meyler streets in San Pedro. Burial will be private at Green Hills Cemetery.

Community correspondent Jon Garcia contributed to this report.