Coppersmith, Sam

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COPPERSMITH, SAM (1955– ), attorney and U.S. congressman. Coppersmith, was born in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, and educated in the local public schools, attending religious school from kindergarten through confirmation at the end of the tenth grade. He had his bar mitzvah at Johnstown's Conservative synagogue.

Coppersmith attended Harvard University, where he graduated magna cum laude in 1976. He earned a Juris Doctor at Yale in 1982 and then moved to Phoenix, Arizona, where he clerked in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and eventually entered private practice. From the outset, Coppersmith became heavily involved in local civic and political affairs. In 1992, prodded by the local Democratic elite, Coppersmith declared for Arizona's First Congressional District seat against incumbent Republican Jay Rhodes. In Phoenix the first Congressional District seat had been occupied by a Rhodes – Jay and father John – for more than 40 years. Running as a "new-generation Democrat" (pro-choice and business-oriented), Coppersmith coasted to an easy victory in the Democratic primary and then scored an upset victory in the November general election.

Coppersmith took seats on the Public Works Committee and Science, Space and Technology Committee. During his one term in the House (1993–94), he kept a unique campaign promise: he turned down a congressional pay raise. He also gained attention with his leadership of an effort to eliminate the "Advanced Liquid Metal Reactor Program," an effort that brought praise from experts concerned about America's plutonium policy. Although largely unnoticed at the time, Coppersmith was also the first member of Congress to wire his office up to the Internet. In 1994 he gave up his House seat in order to run for the United States Senate; he lost that race and returned to Arizona for good.

After leaving Congress, Coppersmith practiced business and real estate law in Phoenix and wrote a weekly opinion column for the Tribune newspaper chain. In 1996, during his tenure as chair of the Arizona Democratic Party, Bill Clinton and Al Gore became the first Democrats to win Arizona since Harry S. Truman in 1948. In late 2004 he traveled several times to the Ukraine to serve on a panel of international observers monitoring the former Soviet republic's contentious presidential elections.

Coppersmith's wife, Beth Schermer, who practiced law with him, specialized in legal issues involving health care. One of Coppersmith's sisters, Dr. Susan N. Coppersmith, became a professor of physics at the University of Chicago. Their father, Louis Coppersmith, served 12 years (1969–81) in the Pennsylvania State Senate, where he chaired the Public Health and Welfare Committee and was known as the "Conscience of the Senate."


K.F. Stone The Congressional Minyan: The Jews of Capitol Hill (2000), 66–68.

[Kurt Stone (2nd ed.)]