RIBICOFF, ABRAHAM A. (1910–1998), U.S. politician. Ribicoff was born in New Britain, Connecticut, the son of a poor Polish immigrant factory worker. After working his way through school and college, Ribicoff won a scholarship to the University of Chicago Law School, graduating in 1933. He entered law practice in Hartford, Connecticut, and became active in the Democratic Party. In 1938 Ribicoff was elected to the General Assembly of the state legislature. He served there until 1942, when he was appointed a municipal judge in Hartford. In 1948 Ribicoff won election to the U.S. House of Representatives. After four years in the House, he ran unsuccessfully for the Senate in the Eisenhower Republican landslide of 1952. Two years later he ran as the Democratic candidate for governor in a campaign marked by antisemitic appeals. Ribicoff responded to the hate campaign against him in an impassioned speech affirming his faith in the "American dream" of equal opportunity. He won a narrow victory over the incumbent, the only Democrat to win a statewide election in Connecticut that year. He served as governor of Connecticut from 1955 to 1961. In that capacity he became extremely popular, especially for his crackdown on automobile driving violations. In 1958 he was reelected by a margin of 246,000 votes, the largest ever recorded in the state.
In 1960 Ribicoff led the campaign to gain his party's presidential nomination for John F. Kennedy. When Kennedy became president, he appointed Ribicoff to his cabinet as secretary of health, education, and welfare. After 19 months, marked by both success and frustration, Ribicoff resigned to run for the Senate, where he hoped to be able to promote needed changes in health and welfare programs more effectively than he could as an administrator. In the Senate, where he served from 1963 to 1981, his first major triumph came with the passage of the Medicare Act, in which he played a prominent part. Other reform causes that he championed included automobile safety, control of air pollution, aid for dependent children and the mentally ill, and increased federal help for the urban areas and for the arts and education. Ribicoff frequently spoke out in the Senate on issues of special concern to Jews. In 1965 he warned against resuming aid to Egypt so long as it continued to threaten Israel with extinction. He also denounced discrimination against Jews and the denial of Jewish cultural and religious rights in the Soviet Union. Although generally identified as a staunch advocate of social reform and the raising of social welfare standards, and as a defender of the rights of minorities, Ribicoff won general respect for his practicality, his concern for economy in government, and his criticism of those who seek redress of their grievances through violence.
Ribicoff served as chairman for the Committee on Government Operations (94th and 95th Congresses) and the Committee on Governmental Affairs (95th and 96th Congresses). After serving in the Senate, he returned to the practice of law in New York City.
Ribicoff wrote America Can Make It! (with P. Danaceau, 1972). The American Medical Machine (with P. Danaceau, 1972). Politics: The American Way (with J. Newman, 1973). Nixon's Good Deed: Welfare Reform (with V. Burke, 1974). and Mental Health and Retardation Politics (with D. Felicetti, 1975).
J. Lieberman, The Legacy: Connecticut Politics, 1930–1980 (1981); S. Isaacs, Jews and American Politics (1974); L. Tanzer (ed.), The Kennedy Circle (1961); S. Opotowsky, The Kennedy Government (1961).
Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.