Remembering Lee Weissenborn, The Man Who Loved Fighting For The Little Guy

May 17, 2017

Lee Weissenborn will be remembered for many things:  He loved animals, he believed in fighting for the little guy when he was a lawyer and  he tried to move Florida's state capital from Tallahassee to Orlando. 

Weissenborn was a state representative between 1963 and 1967, then a state senator between 1967 and 1972. He passed away on May 7 at the age of 88. Howard Cohen of the Miami Herald says it's likely Weissenborn's legacy will be centered on that time he tried to move the state capital.

COHEN: Weissenborn is most famous for wanting to move the state capital out of Tallahassee to Orlando, and failing. But in that failing, he managed great change in the culture in North Florida.

The move wasn't just geographical. His motivation was the culture at the time. Segregation was in, and Tallahassee was a kind of culturally bankrupt part of the state. For example, folks there had a policy where they took a petulant stand against integration. They wanted to integrate the swimming pools, and rather than integrate them, they [Tallahassee authorities] said ‘we're just going to close them.' And so that incensed him [Weissenborn] as someone who was dogged in fighting for civil rights. So, he floated a bill he wrote to study the feasibility of moving the state capital out of Tallahassee to Orlando.

As host chairman of the Young Democrats National Convention, Lee Weissenborn, center, welcomed President John F. Kennedy (shaking Weissenborn’s hand) to Miami Beach.
Credit Miami Herald

WLRN: Obviously it didn't happen and instead lawmakers built a very big capital building in Tallahassee to keep it there. Did Weissenborn ever consider it a failure?

You could call it a failure because, as we know, Tallahassee is still the capital. However, he changed the culture over there. They integrated the pools. Afterward, they built a new Capitol so big, so expensive, that they said no one will ever put forth a bill again to move the capital because ‘look what we've just built here.' So you would think that would be a slap, but it wasn't. And tongue in cheek, they put a plaque in the new rotunda honoring Sen. Weissenborn for advancing the idea to move the capital. He took that as a victory because ultimately he got his desire.

What would you say about his life after politics?

He went right back into what he loved to do. He went back to practicing law and he would always take and help the underdog. One famous example is in the early 70s, an 85-year-old widow owned property in Miami where Jackson Health wanted to build a garage. She had a huge patio out front and they wanted to build a garage starting on her patio. They would have bought her house, but she would have to leave. And she had been in that home for her whole life and she refused. He [Weissenborn] fought the Public Health Trust, which runs Jackson, to let her live out her days in that home. And he was successful. It was just an example of him taking a case for the underdog, something he believed in. Also, he loved animals. And one of the requests on his obituary would be donations to some of the charities that he supported, one for cats another for all animals. There are stories of how he would go to the veterinary office and he would hear some sad stories of people whose pets needed operations. But as you know, veterinary bills are really expensive and a lot of us don't have insurance for our pets. He would offer to pay. He wouldn't want anyone to lose a pet because they couldn't afford some lifesaving operation, so he would money up.