Jack Kemp Rest In Peace 2009: Grew Suburbs

Jack Kemp Rest in Peace

I grew up in the suburbs of Pittsburgh.
The first time I ever saw the name "Jack Kemp” was when my father took me to a Pittsburgh Steelers football game at the late, lamented Forbes Field in 1957 against the Green Bay Packers. Kemp was listed in the program that day as the third string quarterback behind the starter, Earl Morrall and his backup, the Steelers' first round draft pick, Len Dawson. Prior to reading the program, I did not even know that the Steelers had a third string quarterback. I actually remember that game, because it was the first National Football League game I ever saw in person, and the two teams, the pre-Lombardi Packers and the hapless "same old Steelers” of the 1950s were exemplars of futility on the gridiron. Also, the Packers' first round draft pick out of Notre Dame, Paul Hornung was then playing fullback, rather than his later Packer halfback position, and was injured in the game. Ultimately, however, the real significance of that game to me was my first awareness of Jack Kemp, a man whose vision and ideas did so much to change the course of American history for the better. As recounted by Dr. Alvin Felzenberg in his landmark book, Governor Tom Kean: From the New Jersey Statehouse to the 9-11 Commission, Tom Kean developed both a close personal and working relationship with Kemp. The most significant result of that relationship, as noted by Felzenberg, was Kean's support of Kemp's proposal for urban enterprise zones. Although it never was passed by the Congress, Kean succeeded in obtaining passage of the program in New Jersey. When Kean signed the legislation into law in Camden in 1983, Kemp was at his side. The New Jersey Urban Enterprise Zone program is one of the most successful urban economic incentive programs in modern American history. I was privileged to have been appointed to chair the program by former New Jersey Commerce Commissioner Gualberto "Gil” Medina in 1994, and I served in this capacity until I left the Commerce Commission to become the Executive Director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission in 1998. It will always be a special source of pride for me to have chaired a program created by a partnership of two great Americans, Tom Kean and Jack Kemp. For Jack Kemp, it was essential that the Republican Party develop a much better relationship with urban minorities. I will never forget a campaign stop on behalf of Christie Whitman that Jack made in Camden during the Friday before the election in 1993. I picked up from school my son, Neil, then age 13, and we drove into Camden to greet Whitman and Kemp, together with key campaign staffers. Neil and I posed for pictures with Kemp and my good friend and then Executive Director of the Camden County Republican Committee Rich Ambrosino. What I remember so vividly from that event is the way Jack engaged in conversations with African-American youth and passed the football with them as well. He could relate to African-Americans and Hispanics in a way few Republicans could, again with the notable exception of Tom Kean. Kemp was that kind of Republican who preferred visiting an urban neighborhood and having discussions with African-American and Hispanic youth to spending time fundraising at a suburban country club.
I saw Jack Kemp in person a number of times down through the years. My most memorable encounter, however, was when I stood with 250,000 other Americans on the National Mall in Washington on Sunday, December 6, 1987 as a participant in the March on Washington for Soviet Jewry and listened to Jack Kemp advocating our cause. No other member of the House of Representatives more effectively and ardently championed the cause of Soviet Jewry than Jack Kemp. In fact, the issue of Soviet Jewry was a cause not only of Jack Kemp but of his family as well – his wife, Joanne, for years served as a Co-Chair of Congressional Wives for Soviet Jewry.

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