Obituary: R. Peter Straus / Media executive who ran Voice of America

Died Aug. 6, 2012

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R. Peter Straus, a New York media executive who served as director of the Voice of America in the late 1970s and who earlier led a court battle that resulted in the reapportionment of many state legislatures, died Monday of a heart ailment at his home in New York City. He was 89.

His daughter Diane Straus Tucker confirmed the death.

Mr. Straus, whose grandfather was a principal owner of Macy's department store, was born into a wealthy and politically active family in New York.

Throughout his life, he combined public service with a successful career in business.

In 1964, he was a campaign manager for Robert F. Kennedy's successful run for the U.S. Senate from New York. During the administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson, he was an administrator in the U.S. Agency for International Development, in charge of African affairs.

Under President Jimmy Carter, Mr. Straus served as VOA director from 1977 to 1979.

Through his second marriage, he was also the stepfather of Monica Lewinsky, the White House intern with whom President Bill Clinton admitted having a relationship that was "not appropriate."

In the late 1940s, Mr. Straus joined WMCA-AM, a family-run radio station in New York. For decades, the station would be the base of his business operations and his advocacy in the public sphere. With its energetic rock-and-roll disc jockeys, known as "the good guys," WMCA became one of New York's most popular stations in the late 1950s.

Soon after becoming president of the station in 1959, Mr. Straus began broadcasting editorials, a relatively rare practice at the time.

In the editorials, which he delivered in a voice he once described as "fair -- about a C-minus," he often discussed what he considered unfair apportionment of New York's state legislature. He maintained that the districts left the urban areas vastly underrepresented.

In 1961, Mr. Straus and his station filed a federal lawsuit, WMCA v. Simon, that reached the U.S. Supreme Court. The court ruled in 1964 that New York's legislative apportionment system was unconstitutional. The ruling was later applied to many other states and prompted efforts to create fair legislative representation through the principle of "one man, one vote."

Ronald Peter Straus was born Feb. 15, 1923, in New York City. His father was a New York state senator and the administrator of the U.S. Housing Authority under President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The younger Mr. Straus graduated in 1943 from Yale University, where he majored in government and international relations and was captain of the fencing team.

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