LYNN NEARY, host:
Jack Kemp, the pro-quarterback turned Republican heavyweight, has died. He first gained national attention in the early '60s playing for the San Diego Chargers. But it was with the Buffalo Bills that he won two American Football Championships in 1964 and '65. His popularity on the football field helped catapult him into politics.
Representative JACK KEMP (Former Pro-Quarterback, Former Representative): Thirteen years in the NFL and AFL I've broken both ankles, both shoulders, my right knee, my right hand and had 12 concussions. Nothing left to do but run for Congress.
NEARY: Kemp won a Buffalo-area congressional seat in 1970. He served in the House for nine terms, where he worked to cut federal taxes and to broaden the Republican Party. In 1988 Kemp ran for president.
Rep. KEMP: I am an absolutely convinced, ladies and gentleman, that we must be the party of jobs, jobs, jobs, growth, growth, growth, sound money, low tax rates and a decent equal opportunity for any man or any woman to be what God meant them to be. That if we're that type of a party, I'm convinced we'll win black votes, Hispanic votes, Asian-Pacific votes. We can be a party of the people.
NEARY: Kemp later dropped out of the race. The man who was elected, George H.W. Bush, offered him a cabinet post as secretary of housing and urban development. There he pushed for urban renewal and supported tenant ownership in public housing projects.
Rep. KEMP: And I think it's immoral, I think it's immoral to preach democracy and capitalism in Eastern Europe and not allow it to work in eastern New York or east St. Louis or east L.A.
NEARY: In 1996, Republican presidential nominee Bob Dole picked Kemp as his running mate — a choice celebrated by party conservatives. They didn't win, but Kemp was a tireless campaigner throughout — often drawing on his football career when things seemed rough politically.
Rep. KEMP: I remember one time playing against the Philadelphia Eagles, and I was taken out for an interception. They put me back in and I got booed terribly. I threw a touchdown pass, a 60-yard touchdown pass. In the middle of the pass, literally, the booing occurred all the way up the line of scrimmage. I dropped back to pass, they were still booing. I threw a 60-yard touchdown pass. And in midair, as the ball was in the air, the booing turned to cheering.
People today in Buffalo come up to me and say, I remember the day when you threw that touchdown pass and the booing was so bad and it turned to cheering. And I was carried off the field after the game. So, that's perspective and I think you have to have that in politics.
NEARY: Kemp's office announced that he had cancer in January. Jack Kemp died last night at his home in Bethesda, Maryland. He was 73.
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NEARY: WEEKEND EDITION host Scott Simon has a remembrance of Jack Kemp. You can find it on our blog, NPR.org/Soapbox.
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