Mary Rose Oakar was born in Cleveland, Ohio on March 5, 1940, to parents of Lebanese and Syrian ancestry. She earned a BA degree from Ursuline College in 1962 and an MA from John Carroll University in 1966. She also studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London, Westham Adult College in England, and Columbia University in New York. After completing her formal education, Oakar taught at the Lourdes Academy (a Catholic girls’ high school in Cleveland) and at Cuyahoga Community College (1968-75).
Oakar served on Ohio’s Democratic State Central Committee from 1973-75, and on the Cleveland City Council from 1973-76. In 1976 she was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives (in Ohio’s 20th congressional district), and she went on to serve eight consecutive terms there. During her years in Congress, Oakar was a high-ranking member of the Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committees; the Committee on Post Office and Civil Service; and the House Administration Committee. She was also secretary/vice chair of the House Democratic Caucus from 1985-89.
Though Oakar’s district in 1992 was renumbered as the 10th and was redrawn to include more Republicans, it remained solidly Democratic. Nonetheless, Oakar lost her re-election bid that year and was voted out of Congress. A key factor in her defeat was her involvement in a scandal where at least two-dozen members of Congress routinely overdrew their accounts at the House Bank, only to have the Bank’s sergeant-at-arms, Jack Russ, cover the overdrafts for free, with no penalty. When the American public became aware of this practice, Russ resigned; eventually he spent time in prison for wire fraud and filing false financial reports.
In February 1995, Oakar, who was personally responsible for more than 200 overdrafts in the aforementioned scandal, was indicted on seven federal felonies including such transgressions as: her “negotiation in 1991 of a $16,000 insufficient funds check, drawn on her account at the ‘House Bank’”; her “failure to list on her 1991 Financial Disclosure Statement a $50,000 loan which she used in part to pay the settlement charges on a Georgetown townhouse she purchased in 1991”; false statements she had made to the FBI in May and October of 1992; and her “conspiracy to defraud the Federal Election Commission … and to make false statements to the FEC.” Under the seven counts of the indictment, Oakar faced a maximum penalty of 40 years’ imprisonment and a $1.75 million fine. In a 1997 plea agreement, however, she pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors involving campaign-law violations and agreed to pay a $32,000 fine.
Oakar made a political comeback in 2000 when she was elected to the Ohio State House of Representatives, where she served a single two-year term from 2001-03.
From 2003-10, Oakar served as president of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC). In September 2007 she sent a letter—co-signed by ADC executive director Kareem Shora—to Columbus State Community College (CSCC) president Valeriana Moeller. In that letter, Oakar asserted, without evidence, that the Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week presentations which the David Horowitz Freedom Center was preparing to stage on the CSCC campus would be “hateful and bigoted” and thus “should not be tolerated.” “ADC values the principle of free speech,” wrote Oakar, “however, hateful speech cannot be condoned and should not be allowed to permeate American campuses.”
In 2012 Oakar was elected to Ohio’s State School Board, where she served for four years before retiring.
Further Reading: “Mary Rose Oakar” (Bioguide.Congress.gov, History.House.gov); “After the Scandal: Congress Now Banks Like the Rest of Us” (Bankrate.com, 2-22-2000); “A Former Congresswoman Tries to Censor Islamo-Fascism Awareness week” (by Patrick Poole, FrontPageMag.com, 10-10-2007); “Former Congresswoman Mary Rose Oakar and Former Oakar Campaign Aide Are Indicted” (Justice.gov, 2-22-1995); “Ex-Congresswoman to Accept Guilty Plea in Funds Probe” (Chicago Tribune, 9-30-1997).