After Harry Meshel earned a master’s degree in 1950 from Columbia University in urban land economics, he was sure he’d get a job as a mortgage banker.
But Meshel couldn’t even get hired as a check runner for a local bank.
So Meshel spent the next decade working at a number of different jobs he didn’t like. It was until 1960 that Meshel said he thought about politics.
“I had a master’s degree and couldn’t find the right job,” he said. “I went into politics to give help to people who were in similar situations.”
Meshel, who will be 90 on Thursday, is likely the Mahoning Valley’s most accomplished politician alive today.
He spent more than 22 years in the Ohio Senate, most of it in leadership including president for two years, minority leader for eight years, and eight years as chairman of the powerful finance committee, a position at that time was almost on par with Senate president in terms of influence. He was also chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party for nearly two years.
“Harry was the single strongest advocate Youngstown had in Columbus in modern times; just look around the Youngstown State campus,” said Thomas Suddes, a Youngstown native who covered the Ohio Legislature from 1983 to 2000 for The Plain Dealer. “With term limits, it’s going to be hard for anyone to be as strong of an advocate for the whole Youngstown region as Harry.”
During his time in the Ohio Senate, Meshel helped Youngstown State University receive about $150 million in state funding. Meshel Hall, its technology center, is named in his honor.
“Youngstown State has been a great, great asset for our region and our community and that’s greatly due to Harry’s efforts over the years,” Suddes said.
State Rep. Robert F. Hagan of Youngstown, D-58th, said he greatly respects Meshel, who served in the Senate while Hagan served in the House.
“He fought for the middle-class workers and for his district,” Hagan said. “He was an incredibly strong advocate for this area. YSU grew considerably because of him. He’s absolutely the most famous living politician in the area. He has surpassed all other politicians in this area not only because of his longevity but because of his accomplishments.”
Read more about this Valley powerhouse and what he thinks about retiring.