Charles Harting Percy (September 27, 1919 – September 17, 2011) was an American businessman and politician. He was president of the Bell & Howell Corporation from 1949 to 1964. In 1966, he was elected to the United States Senate from Illinois as a Republican. He served for three terms, until 1985. He was mentioned as a GOP presidential hopeful from 1968 through 1988.
Percy was the GOP’s candidate for the Illinois governor’s race in 1964, but lost in part because he was tied to the unpopular Goldwater and neglected to take a forthright stand in favor of civil rights. Thereafter, Percy created the New Illinois Committee (NIC). The Committee offered a way to put into practice Percy’s call for private sector assistance for America’s impoverished inner cities. Funded by Percy and his corporate allies, the NIC conducted literacy classes, posted job openings, offered legal aid and day care, and connected local minority-owned businesses with Republican executives who offered advice and assistance. The NIC’s highest-profile operation was its “Call for Action,” a telephone help line that inner-city residents could call with complaints about absentee landlords, ineffective city departments, and abusive merchants. The NIC succeeded in helping its minority clientele on issues such as trash removal, welfare-check processing, and rat control.
In 1967, Senator Percy introduced a bill to establish a program to stimulate production of low-cost housing. Percy’s proposal was the first of its kind to provide home ownership to low-income families, and it received strong support from Republicans in both the House and the Senate.
Percy opposed centralized, high-rise public housing, which he believed destroyed any sense of neighborhood community and allowed criminals to operate with impunity. He collaborated in creating the “New Dawn of Our Cities” plan, which proposed that high-rise public housing be replaced with scattered-site public housing units no more than three stories high, and he advocated for urban home ownership, so that public housing tenants could purchase their apartments.”
In 1977, Percy and Democratic [Senator and] former Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey – responding to the 1973 OPEC oil embargo and high energy prices in general – created the Alliance to Save Energy to encourage a national commitment to energy efficiency.
Percy also successfully advocated for ending the practice of nominating federal judges from a pool of candidates generated by the Chicago political machine. He implemented a system of consultation with groups of legal experts, including the professional bar associations, a practice that though novel at the time was consistent with the longstanding Republican Party commitment to good government and against corrupt political machines.
Percy, like some other moderate Republicans, called for a reevaluation of America’s involvement in the Vietnam War. “If we continue to spend $66 million a day trying to save the people of South Vietnam,” Percy argued, “while leaving the plight of the twenty million poor in our own country unresolved, then I think we have our priorities confused.”