Tom Scwheich was remembered Tuesday as a crusading public servant who ran into a buzz saw of politics.
Schweich, the Missouri auditor who died of an apparent suicide last week, was honored at a memorial service in the St. Louis suburb where he lived and eulogized by the man who mentored his political career.
Former U.S. Sen. John Danforth lauded the integrity Schweich brought to public service.
But in the end, Danforth said, the high-energy underdog Republican candidate for Missouri governor was felled by a world of politics that too often put short-term gain above ethics and decency.
“Politics has gone so hideously wrong,” Danforth said. “The death of Tom Schweich is the natural consequence of what politics has become.”
Danforth suggested that Schweich might have been ill-suited for the sharp-elbowed world of politics.
“He was a person easily hurt and quickly offended, and I told him I didn’t think he had the temperament for elective politics,” Danforth said. “But Tom didn’t easily accept advice, and he was offended by mine. It was his decision, and he was my friend, and I was for him, whatever he chose to do.”
The former senator, who had nurtured Schweich’s career, also described him as the sort of person who “was the model for what a public servant should be. He was exceptionally bright, energetic and well organized. He was highly ethical, and like the indignant prophets of Biblical times, he was passionate about his responsibility for righting wrongs.”
Later, Danforth spoke of how he believed the campaign had stung Schweich.
Last month, as Republicans gathered in Kansas City for the Republican Party’s annual conference, a radio ad hit the airwaves attacking Schweich as a weak candidate who could be “easily confused for the deputy sheriff of Mayberry.” Schweich was thin and short.
“Making fun of someone’s physical appearance,” Danforth said, “calling him a ‘little bug,’ there is one word to describe it: ‘bullying.’ And there is one word to describe the person behind it: ‘bully.’ …
“We often hear,” Danforth said, “that words can’t hurt you. But that’s simply not true. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said just the opposite. Words for Jesus could be the moral equivalent of murder. He said if we insult a brother or sister we will be liable. He said if we call someone a fool we will be liable to hell. Well how about anti-Semitic whispers? And how about a radio ad that calls someone a ‘little bug,’ and that is run anonymously over and over again?
“Words do hurt. Words can kill,” Danforth continued. “That has been proven right here in our home state.”
Schweich, who had just begun his second term as Missouri Auditor and was a leading contender to be the state’s next governor, died Thursday at a St. Louis hospital from what police have said appeared to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
A native of Clayton, Schweich graduated from Yale University and Harvard Law School.
After years in the private sector, he served as former Danforth’s chief of staff for the 1999 federal investigation into the deadly government siege at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, and followed Danforth to the United Nations, where he was chief of staff for the U.S. delegation.
President George W. Bush appointed Schweich to the State Department in 2005 as an international law enforcement official. Two years later, Bush picked Schweich to coordinate the anti-drug and justice reform efforts in Afghanistan.
In 2009, Schweich’s name was floated as a potential candidate for a U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Republican Kit Bond. Schweich ultimately decided against tossing his hat in the ring, instead challenging Democratic State Auditor Susan Montee in the 2010 election.
He won and cruised unopposed to re-election last year.
His campaign for governor officially kicked off last month, focused on the idea that corruption was rampant in Jefferson City. He pointed to his rival for the GOP nomination as the prime example. He accused Catherine Hanaway of being bought and paid for by conservative megadonor Rex Sinquefield, who has given roughly $1 million to her campaign.
One of Schweich’s final acts before his death was an attempt to set up an interview with reporters from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and The Associated Press. The topic was to be his assertion that the newly elected chairman of the Missouri Republican Party had been spreading misinformation about his religion. Schweich was an Episcopalian with a Jewish grandfather. He told reporters that he suspected references were made to his Jewish heritage to damage his standing with Republicans in the primary for governor.
Missouri Republican Party Chairman John Hancock said that he mistakenly believed that Schweich, 54, was Jewish, “but it was simply a part of what I believed to be his biography — no different than the fact that he was from St. Louis and had graduated from Harvard Law School.”
“While I do not recall doing so, it is possible that I mentioned Tom’s faith in passing during one of the many conversations I have each day,” Hancock wrote. “There was absolutely nothing malicious about my intent, and I certainty was not attempting to ‘inject religion’ into the governor’s race, as some have suggested.”
Danforth’s eulogy tried to challenge that logic.
“The only reason for going around saying that someone is Jewish is to make political profit from religious bigotry,” he said. “Someone said this was no different than saying a person is a Presbyterian. Here’s how to test the credibility of that remark: When was the last time anyone sidled up to you and whispered into your ear that such and such a person is a Presbyterian?”