US Trade Representative: Who is Ron Kirk?
Thursday, January 01, 2009
Barack Obama’s choice for US Trade Representative is Ron Kirk, one-time mayor of Dallas and a former lobbyist and a key supporter of Obama’s in Texas during the presidential race.
The youngest of four children, Kirk was born in Austin, TX, on June 27, 1954. His father, Lee, was the first black postal clerk in Austin and worked for the postal service for 35 years. His mother, Willie Mae, was a schoolteacher. Both were politically active. At John H. Reagan High School, Kirk was elected student body president. His first political work came at age 18 when he volunteered for George McGovern’s 1972 presidential campaign. He wound up in the Dallas area meeting and working with Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton and future governor Ann Richards. Kirk attended Austin College, from which he graduated in 1976 with a bachelor’s degree in political science and sociology. At one point during his college years, Kirk served as an intern to the speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, Price Daniel Jr. Kirk went on to law school at the University of Texas, earning his JD in 1979.
Kirk practiced law in Dallas for two years with Bennett & Cane, before going to work for Democratic US Senator Lloyd Bentsen. In 1983, Kirk returned to Texas to lobby the state legislature in Austin as an assistant city attorney for the city of Dallas (1983-1989). From 1989-1994, he was a corporate lobbyist for the Dallas law firm of Johnson & Gibbs., with clients that included Dallas Area Rapid Transit, Southland Corp., Diamond Shamrock and Coors Brewing. When Johnson & Gibbs folded, Kirk became a partner in Gardere & Wynne.
His previous contact with Richards paid off when she—now governor of Texas—appointed Kirk to the state General Services Commission, in charge of purchases of state supplies and equipment, and then elevated him to Texas’ Secretary of State.
In 1995, Kirk ran for mayor of Dallas and won, thanks in part to strong support from the business community. He became the city’s first African-American mayor. During his tenure as mayor (1995-2001), Kirk earned the reputation of being a coalition-builder between the city council and the school board. He proposed the “Dallas Plan,” a vision for the next 25 years that included the controversial Trinity River Corridor Project, a $246 million plan involving the construction of a network of parks and highways in the flood plain of the Trinity River. He also pushed the construction of the American Airlines Center, home to the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks and the NHL’s Dallas Stars. Opponents criticized Kirk for being too close to Dallas’ business leaders. For example, in 2000 Kirk backed a large tax break for Allegiance Telecom after staying in France on the yacht of Paul Allen, one of Allegiance’s leading investors.
It later was reported that Kirk’s wife, Matrice Ellis-Kirk, was appointed to the board of Chancellor Broadcasting Co. during the negotiations over the American Airlines Center project. Chancellor was owned by Tom Hicks, who also owned the Dallas Stars. Ellis-Kirk received stock options valued at $530,000 for an outlay of $183,000. She served on the board for one year. She was also employed by Dallas Area Rapid Transit between 1987 and 1993.
In 1999, Kirk was re-elected as mayor in a landslide with 74% of the vote. Two years later, he resigned in order to run for the US Senate seat vacated by retiring Republican Phil Gramm. Facing then-Texas Attorney General John Cornyn, Kirk lost 55%-43%.
Kirk turned to lobbying after losing the senate race, working for powerhouse law and lobbying firm Vinson and Elkins. His clients have included Energy Future Holdings (from which he earned $745,765 in 2007) and Merrill Lynch. Kirk also joined the board of directors of Dean Foods and PetSmart, as well as Brinker International.
Kirk first met Barack Obama at a fundraising event in Chicago in 2002 when Kirk was running for the Senate and Obama was considering doing the same. Kirk later recalled, “They told me he was thinking of running for Senate. My first thought was that he needed to change his name.” When Obama did run, Kirk hosted fundraisers for him in Dallas and Houston.
Shared Paths to History Brought Obama, Ron Kirk Together (by Gromer Jeffers Jr., Dallas Morning News)
Ron Kirk tapped for Obama's Cabinet (by Jamie Stengle, Associated Press)
Ex-Dallas mayor and Cabinet hopeful Ron Kirk faces hurdles as former lobbyist (by Dave Michaels, Dallas Morning News)
Kirk; “I’ve Got a Lot More to Give”: For Kirk, Obama’s Rise Sparks renewed Commitment to Politics (by Gromer Jeffers Jr., Dallas Morning News)
Ron Kirk Bio (by Anne Janette Johnson, Answers.com)
Hicks ties earn mayor big bucks (Associated Press)
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