Former Bethlehem Steel CEO remembers Specter

Posted: 8:00 PM EDT Oct 15, 2012   Updated: 5:35 AM EDT Oct 16, 2012

Bethlehem Steel's former CEO is remembering the late Sen. Arlen Specter, who died of cancer on Sunday, as an ally who worked tirelessly to save the sinking company.

It was the 1990s. Bethlehem Steel, facing serious losses and increased foreign competition, was looking to Congress for help. They found a friend in Specter, according to retired CEO Hank Barnette.

"He was a fearless advocate," Barnette said. "I can remember very, very well, Arlen coming to our offices at Martin Tower, and for example, reviewing the documents."

When you write Bethlehem Steel's eulogy, cheap foreign competition certainly played a role. According to Barnette, Specter put a lot of energy into making sure American steelmakers got a level playing field.

Bethlehem Steel did not survive, but Barnette's friendship with Specter did. It was a relationship that began almost 30 years ago, when Barnette's son worked for the newly-elected senator.

Barnette's friendship with Specter was not all business.

"Arlen believed that the perfect way to start every day was to play squash," he said. "When he would be in the Lehigh Valley, for example, we would play."

In Congress, Specter was an endangered species: a moderate who often bucked his own party.

"Arlen believed in a civility. He believed in courteous behavior," said Barnette. "He especially thought that moderation was really a virtue."

Barnette knows that moderation was likely Specter's political downfall. The senator switched parties in 2010, claiming the Republican party had become too extreme.

"I deeply regretted that Arlen changed parties," said Barnette, a lifelong Republican who continued to support Specter after the switch. "For whatever the reasons, he assessed that the political circumstances were such that he would likely not be nominated by the Republican party."