Politician, businessman Chic Hecht dies at 77 in Las Vegas

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

CARSON CITY, Nev. -- Chic Hecht, a Republican known as much for his verbal miscues as his upset victory in 1982 in winning a U.S. Senate seat, died of cancer Monday in a Las Vegas hospital. He was 77.

Hecht's death was confirmed by longtime family friend Francine Pulliam. He had been diagnosed with prostate cancer a year ago, she said.

Born Mayer Jacob Hecht in Cape Girardeau, he was known since childhood as Chic, a nickname given him by an uncle. Hecht was the brother of longtime Cape Girardeau businessman Martin Hecht.

The conservative Hecht was praised by former U.S. Sen. Paul Laxalt, R-Nev., as "one of the gutsiest politicians I've ever encountered." Laxalt recalled thinking that Hecht was "half-crazy" when the one-time Las Vegas clothing store owner ran for a state Senate seat in a heavily Democratic district in 1966.

Hecht won that race, and when he decided to challenge U.S. Sen. Howard Cannon, a powerful Democrat, in 1982, Laxalt recalled thinking, "Chic, you're really on a kamikaze mission this time." "Yet he proved all the doubters wrong once again and shocked the political world by winning by some 6,000 votes," Laxalt said. Hecht was helped to the narrow victory after Cannon was caught up in a Teamsters union scandal.

Hecht served one term in the Senate, failing in his bid for re-election. After that, he served for five years as the U.S. ambassador to the Bahamas before returning to private business.

In the Senate, Hecht became known for his verbal slips, once referring to the proposed nuclear waste repository that the federal government wants to open at Nevada's Yucca Mountain as a "nuclear suppository." Among his Senate assignments, he chaired the Housing and Urban Affairs subcommittee.

After graduating from college in 1949, Hecht served in Europe as an Army counterintelligence agent in Berlin in 1952 and 1953.

Soon afterward, Hecht moved to Nevada, where he became a prominent and wealthy businessman. He is survived by his wife, Gail, and two daughters.

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