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Ex-Official Championed Housing, Tax Reforms

By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 3, 2009

Jack Kemp, 73, a star quarterback with the Buffalo Bills who became a spokesman for supply-side economics, a secretary of Housing and Urban Development and a candidate for high national office, died yesterday at his home in Bethesda.

A former aide said he died of cancer. He had announced in January that he had been diagnosed with the illness.

Mr. Kemp was a Republican congressman from Upstate New York for nine terms in the 1970s and 1980s. On the powerful Appropriations and Budget committees, he tirelessly pitched the idea that tax cuts and economic growth were more important to U.S. prosperity than controlling deficits.

Mr. Kemp had sought the GOP presidential nomination. He ran for vice president in 1996 on the Republican ticket headed by Sen. Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.). He was picked in large part because of his advocacy of low taxes.

In Congress, he and Sen. William V. Roth (R-Del.) pushed through a 33 percent tax cut over a three-year period that was regarded as a linchpin of Reagan administration tax policy.

It represented supply-side theory, according to which lower taxes meant more growth.

In Mr. Kemp's 1979 book, "An American Renaissance: A Strategy for the 1980s," he adopted John F. Kennedy's idea that "a rising tide lifts all boats."

But he said he was made aware that it was not universally applicable, and recognized a need for government help for those whose boats had sunk.

Mr. Kemp was regarded as an unusual sort of Republican, combining fiscal and social conservatism with support for civil rights, affirmative action and rights for illegal immigrants. He called himself "a bleeding-heart conservative."

After becoming HUD secretary in 1988, he worked to root out discrimination by lenders and insurers. He ended some programs, tightened others and energized the staff.

He was an early advocate of plans to attract business to distressed neighborhoods with tax-free zones.

Jack French Kemp Jr. was born in Los Angeles on July 13, 1935. He graduated from Occidental College, where he quarterbacked and captained the team, and led the nation's small colleges in passing.

He served in the Army Reserve from 1958 to 1962, with a year on active duty.

He played in the Canadian Football League from 1958 until 1960, when the American Football League was formed.

The Los Angeles (later, San Diego) Chargers signed him. In 1961, his hand was broken during a game; it was reset in a football grip, with one finger permanently curved.

After a long recovery from a shoulder injury, Mr. Kemp returned to the field with the Bills and led them to their first winning season. In 1964 and 1965, he led the team to the AFL Championships. He won the AFL's player of the year award in 1965.

Mr. Kemp also co-founded and served five terms as president of the AFL Players' Association.

Off-season jobs, including one as an intern to then-California Gov. Ronald Reagan, helped him develop conservative credentials.

Football experiences, including rejections encountered by black players in New Orleans for the 1965 AFL All-Star game, fostered Mr. Kemp's recognition that the GOP needed to become more inclusive.

As a Republican congressman, he defied conservatives by pushing sanctions against South Africa. As HUD chief, he put the interests of poor tenants over housing developers. And as a vice presidential nominee, he campaigned hard for African American votes his ticket had little hope of winning.

By 1970, Mr. Kemp left football and ran successfully for an open House seat in a district that included suburban Buffalo.

In 1988, Mr. Kemp challenged Vice President George H.W. Bush for the Republican nomination for president. Mr. Kemp failed to gain traction and withdrew. Bush, who won the election, appointed Mr. Kemp to the Cabinet.

After four years at HUD, Mr. Kemp co-founded Empower America, a public policy and advocacy organization, joined the Heritage Foundation and became a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution. He also served on corporate and institutional boards.

He is survived by his wife, Joanne Main Kemp of Bethesda, and children Jeffrey, Jennifer, Judith and James.

In 2007, the Jack F. Kemp Institute for Political Economy was launched as an initiative of Pepperdine University's School of Public Policy. The Institute scheduled its first conference for May 13 in Washington, with President Clinton as a speaker.

In a news release, the Institute quoted Clinton as saying that Kemp "often reminded us that we serve our party best by serving our country first" and that in many areas, including welfare reform, public housing and race relations, Kemp's influence made "great contributions."

Staff writer Martin Weil contributed to this report.

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