Xavier Magazine

Profile: Dennis Eckart

Bachelor of Arts in political science, 1971
Former Congressman; Founder of North Shore Associates

Welcome to Washington | Dennis Eckart still has his college government textbook with a chapter titled “How a Bill Becomes Law.” “Any relationship to what my textbook told me and what I saw in Washington is purely coincidental,” the former Congressman says with a chuckle. “There are government textbooks and then there is Washington politics. What the textbook doesn’t teach you is that it’s a complicated world, there are conflicting ideas and ideologies. The best idea for Ohio may not be the best idea for Oklahoma.”

Young Man in a Hurry | The 59-year-old native of Cleveland graduated in three years. “I was a classic young man in a hurry,” he says. Then, “at the ripe old age of 23,” he was elected to the Ohio House of Representatives. Six years later, he was elected to Congress at the age of 29. The Democrat served a dozen years, and even though his freshman year in Washington was 28 years ago, he still vividly recalls a rite of passage. “When you’re a freshman, you may think you have the best ideas in the world, but what other people aren’t quite so sure about is you. What you know to be certain, other people have doubts about. So you have to spend some time proving yourself. You come early, stay late, work hard, show up at committee meetings and ask the right questions.”

Tumultuous Times | “I am a classic child of the 1960s,” he says. “It was a very tumultuous time in American history. I was at Xavier when the shootings took place at Kent State. I have vivid memories of being very active in student government. I was on the first Student Senate that was elected. One of the first books I read in a biology class was a book by Rachel Carson, ‘The Silent Spring.’ She exposed us to the world stories of what we were doing to our own environment. And remember, I came from Cleveland where the Cuyahoga River once caught on fire.”

Plato Pays Off | After Congress, Eckart practiced law and chaired the United States delegation to the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. It was a critical time, when countries from the crumbled Soviet Union were struggling to find their way. “I went to countries and helped them write constitutions and supervised elections,” says Eckart. “I told them that a free press is important and they said, ‘Yes, but not if it criticizes the government.’ I said, ‘You don’t understand. Government needs criticism.’ I recalled taking a class on the principles of democracy at Xavier where we read Plato and Aristotle, and I thought, ‘What am I ever going to do with this?’ Well, transport me from Xavier in 1969 to Krakow in 1994 and the principles of democracy are the same—the right to thought, the right to speech, the right to associate.”

What Matters Most | Eckart served as president of America’s largest chamber of commerce, the Greater Cleveland Growth Association, from 2000-2003. “For a Democrat, running a chamber of commerce can be a challenge sometimes,” he says. “The things that matter most to people are: Do they have a job and does their job have a future?” Through his chamber of commerce work, he discovered he liked economic development and job creation, so he launched North Shore Associates, a consulting and real estate development firm. “Right now, I work on real estate projects in California, Florida and Ohio, and I do consulting for some Fortune 200 companies,” he says. And, Eckart still enjoys talking politics. “I have a TV show in Cleveland, and I get to pontificate,” he says. “It’s been a fun 59 years for me.”

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