Harris Wofford


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(b. New York City, 26 Apr. 1926)

US; US Senator 1991–5 The son of an insurance company executive, Wofford grew up in New York and, after a spell of military service, attended Chicago, Yale, and the overwhelmingly black Howard University, specifically chosen to broaden his understanding of civil rights issues first-hand. Wofford published two books on world government while an undergraduate and spent a brief period as an aide to Chester Bowles before devoting himself to law practice. He joined John Kennedy's presidential campaign and, together with Bowles, drafted the Democratic platform statement on civil rights. It was his initiative to get Kennedy to put through the symbolic telephone call to Martin Luther King's wife when King was jailed, an electorally risky initiative which mobilized black voters in 1960.

Wofford was appointed special civil rights assistant in the Kennedy administration but became disillusioned by the pace of change and in 1962 moved to Ethiopia to head the operations of the Peace Corps.

From 1966 until 1978 Wofford was primarily engaged in academic life, first as president of the State University of New York's progressive Old Westbury campus and then as president of Bryn Mawr. He published his memoirs Of Kennedys and Kings. After a brief return to private practice in Philadelphia, Wofford served as chair of the Pennsylvania state Democratic Party and was then appointed by Governor Casey to be the state Secretary of Labor and Industry. His period in that post (1987–91) gave Wofford an opportunity to address a range of domestic issues including unemployment, training, and health care costs. In April 1991, when Pennsylvania Senator John Heinz was killed in an air crash, Casey appointed Wofford to fill the post until a special election could be held in November. In that election Wofford emphasized the health care issue and against the odds beat Richard Thornburgh, Bush's former Attorney-General. The result was widely interpreted as an early indication of the Bush administration's weakness on domestic policy and the electoral salience of the health care issue. Democratic presidential candidates then addressed the theme of health care and for a time Wofford was spoken of as vice-presidential material for Clinton. However, Wofford himself was not able to entrench his position and in 1994 he lost the Senate seat to the young Republican candidate Rich Santorum. Since losing his seat he has been active in community service organizations and in university lecturing.

Subjects: Politics.

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