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Political Junkie
Send your questions about campaigns and elections.

By Ken Rudin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, March 2, 2001

Question: How many former professional athletes have served in Congress? I know that currently there's Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) in the Senate, and Steve Largent (R-Okla.), J.C. Watts (R-Okla.) and Jim Ryun (R-Kan.) in the House. There used to be Jack Kemp, the former Republican congressman from New York. And there is also the possibility that with some favorable redistricting we could have former Broncos quarterback John Elway, a Republican, in Colorado. Who else am I missing? – Andrew M. Wong, New York, N.Y.


Mizell's baseball past was evident in his campaign buttons. (Collection of Ken Rudin)
Answer: You're omitting perhaps the most famous of all of them, former New York Knicks forward Bill Bradley, who (not that I need to tell you) served three terms as a senator from New Jersey and lost his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination last year. There are also two former House members: Tom McMillen (D-Md.), who played on the Washington Bullets and Atlanta Hawks; and Wilmer ("Vinegar Bend") Mizell (R-N.C.), who pitched for the St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates, and New York Mets. Many others tried but failed, including Russ Francis, the former NFL tight end who lost to Rep. Patsy Mink (D-Hawaii) last year; Bobby Richardson, the ex-Yankee second baseman (and my favorite player as a kid), who was defeated in a 1976 congressional bid in South Carolina; and the great Walter Johnson, who won 417 games for the Washington Senators but failed in a bid for Congress from Maryland in 1940.

Question: I've been told that there are at least seven African-American women who have run for president. Is that true? If so, who were they? – Kenny Jenkins, Tokyo, Japan

The first black woman to run for president. (Collection of Ken Rudin)

Answer: I can certainly name five. The only one from the political "mainstream" was Rep. Shirley Chisholm (D-N.Y.), who was the first black woman elected to Congress. Chisholm made an abortive bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1972. The first African-American woman to seek the presidency was Charlene Mitchell, the 1968 Communist Party nominee. Margaret Wright ran under the People's Party banner in 1976. Lenora Fulani, now a leader in the New York faction of the Reform Party, has twice run on independent party lines. And Monica Moorehead was the 1996 nominee of the Workers World Party.

I usually don't offer incomplete answers in this column, but hopefully some readers may come up with the others, assuming there are more. I don't know the racial identity of the following hopefuls, but maybe one or more of them fit the bill: Maureen Smith, who sought the Peace and Freedom nomination in 1980; Deirdre Griswold, the 1980 Workers World nominee; Helen Halyard, the 1992 candidate of the Workers League Party; or Willa Kenoyer of the Citizens Party in 1992.

Question: At one point (sometime in the 1970s, I think), it became a GOP rule that the party's national chair could not be an elected official. The reasoning, I believe, was that chairing the party was to be a full-time job. As chair of the RNC, Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore obviously violates this rule. Was the rule changed recently, or am I mistaken that such a rule ever existed? Or is Gilmore's title something like "General Chair," a somewhat ceremonial title given to Sen. Paul Laxalt back in the 1980s? – David R. White, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Francis Marion University, Florence, S.C.

Answer: The rule, which is still in effect, calls for it to be a full-time position. Choosing Gov. Gilmore, who has invigorated the Old Dominion GOP since his election in 1997 – the state has Republican control of the legislature for the first time in its history – would seem to violate that rule. But President Bush wanted him, and so the national committee agreed to the exception. As you noted, they bent the rule in 1982, when the committee installed Laxalt, a longtime Reagan ally, as "general chairman."

Nevada's Laxalt was the first elected official to serve as chair since Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.), who headed up the committee from 1971-73. The full-time rule was put in after Dole left, but prior to that, it was not unusual to see lawmakers serve as RNC chair. Here's a post-World War II list:

• Rep. Rogers Morton (Md.) 1969-71
• Rep. William Miller (N.Y.) 1961-64
• Sen. Thruston Morton (Ky.) 1959-61
• Rep. Hugh Scott (Pa.) 1948-49

Question: In your Feb. 23 column, you call retiring Rep. Joe Moakley of Massachusetts a "deeply partisan Democrat." If he's such a partisan Democrat, how do you explain that he was first elected in 1972 as an independent? – Frank Ferrari, Mesa, Ariz.

A poor run for mayor in 1971 left Hicks vulnerable in '72. (Collection of Ken Rudin)
Answer: Perhaps I should have said he is a deeply partisan liberal Democrat – because that explains why he took on an incumbent Democratic member of Congress in 1972 and beat her as an independent. Here's what happened.

Shortly after House Speaker John McCormack (D) announced his retirement in Massachusetts' 9th congressional district in 1970, a whole slew of Democratic liberals jumped into the race to succeed him. Moakley, a veteran South Boston state senator, was the favorite of the party regulars, but he split the vote with another liberal. This enabled Louise Day Hicks, a Boston city councilor who parlayed a fierce anti-busing platform into a strong bid for mayor in 1967 that attracted national attention, to win the primary.

Once in office, Hicks again set her sights on the mayor's office, but this time she finished poorly. Meanwhile, the state legislature, which never liked Hicks, redrew her district, eliminating several Irish, all-white enclaves and adding more liberal suburban voters. However, liberal Dems once again failed to unite behind one candidate for the '72 primary. Hicks managed only 38 percent of the vote, but because she had five opponents, it was good enough to win renomination. Moakley, a devout Democrat, nevertheless realized that he couldn't beat Hicks with a large primary field. So he ran instead as an independent – and won the seat by 3,000 votes. Thereafter, Moakley ran as a Democrat and won easily each time.

Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin: junkie@washingtonpost.com

Ken Rudin, political editor at National Public Radio, is also the creator of washingtonpost.com's ScuttleButton contest.

© Copyright 2001 Ken Rudin

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