February 24, 2001
Public Lives: For Ex-Student Protester, a Pardon Without the Spotlight
By MICHAEL JANOFSKY
New York Times
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- AND then there was the pardon President Bill Clinton
granted Howard L. Mechanic, whose return to good standing has, so far, been
altogether routine, uncomplicated and anything but controversial.
Unlike others who might have won clemency through financial means or
political influence, Mr. Mechanic walked a path to freedom on the backs of
ordinary citizens, thousands of them.
"I can't stress that enough," Mr. Mechanic said here on Thursday, heaping
all the credit for his pardon on the friends and relatives who signed
petitions, wrote letters and rallied support to end his 30-year odyssey as
the United States' most-wanted Vietnam war protester.
As a 22-year-old senior at Washington University in St. Louis, Mr. Mechanic
was arrested on charges that he threw a cherry bomb at firefighters on May
4, 1970, in a demonstration against the war and the shootings earlier that
day at Kent State University, where four students were killed by National
Guardsmen. He became the first person to be tried under a new law, the 1968
Civil Disobedience Act, that was directed, in effect, at young people who
were protesting on college campuses.
Mr. Mechanic always denied throwing the cherry bomb; indeed, a classmate
last year admitted in a television interview that he was the culprit. But
rather than turn himself in to serve a five-year sentence after his
conviction, Mr. Mechanic disappeared, resurfacing outside Phoenix two years
later as Gary Robert Tredway, the significance of which, if any, he
declined to discuss in an interview here at the apartment-hotel he owns and
For the next 28 years, Mr. Mechanic led a sometimes anxious but generally
law-abiding life, as a family man, businessman, community activist and ^
what ultimately unmasked him ^ would-be politician. It was only after he
declared his candidacy for the Scottsdale City Council early last year and
local reporters began checking his background that he revealed his identity
Through a plea agreement, prosecutors allowed him to serve four months for
a more recent charge, providing false information on a passport
application, concurrent with the five- year term from long ago. Also, the
United States attorneys in Phoenix and St. Louis agreed not to oppose any
application for a presidential pardon, on the remote chance one might arise.
His twin brother, Harvey, a lawyer in Los Angeles, suggested he might
apply, Mr. Mechanic said, adding: "I felt I had a good chance to have my
sentence commuted. I thought there was only a slim chance for a pardon."
As a prisoner, first in Florence, Ariz., and later in Lompoc, Calif., Mr.
Mechanic could do little on his own behalf. The challenge, instead, was
undertaken by others, old friends in St. Louis and new ones here in
Arizona. They created a Web site to collect petition signatures ^ nearly
3,000 at last count, said Bruce M. Roger, a college classmate of Mr.
Mechanic's ^ and to urge supporters to contact elected officials.
Along the way, several prominent Democrats, including Representatives
William L. Clay of St. Louis and Ed Pastor of Phoenix, wrote to plead Mr.
Mechanic's case with Mr. Clinton. On his final day in office, he commuted
Mr. Mechanic's sentence after 11 1/2 months of time served and restored his
rights as a citizen through a pardon.
And as far as he knows, Mr. Mechanic said, the effort was accomplished
without any help from relatives of Mr. Clinton's or the aid of major
"Seems like it was on the up and up," Mr. Clay said of Mr. Mechanic's
MR. MECHANIC grew up in the Cleveland suburb Shaker Heights, the son of
Ralph and Rose Mechanic, an appliance repairman and a homemaker. These
days, he has less hair than the wild mane he wore on campus and wanted
posters, and he is 20 pounds or so lighter than he was during his months in
prison. Another big difference, he said, is that he now feels more relaxed
with people, more willing to connect emotionally. Still, he has a tired
look about him, and his manner among strangers is reserved. During an
hourlong conversation, he smiled only rarely.
Divorced with a 20-year-old son, Ari, who attends St. John's College in
Santa Fe, N.M., Mr. Mechanic said he was not certain what the future held.
The dream of law school is gone ^ he was once accepted at Boston University
^ but he might try politics, he said, expressing pride that even in prison,
he drew 1,200 votes in the City Council race. Or he might stick to running
businesses he grew as Gary Tredway, the hotel and an organic foods
Or his autobiography, which is almost completed, might lead him to
Hollywood. "One studio has already called," he said.
In the short term, he seems most excited about a big reunion in St. Louis
in April that old friends are arranging. Since college, he has not visited
there or his hometown, although he maintained contact with family members
and about a dozen friends, he said. This, then, is a big first step.
"I know they'll recognize me; they've seen my picture in the newspapers and
on television," he said. "But I wonder if I'll recognize many of them."
This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Tue Feb 27 2001 - 22:11:55 EST