Blackwell, J. Kenneth, Sr.

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Blackwell, J. Kenneth, Sr.



J. Kenneth Blackwell had an illustrious career as mayor of Cincinnati, Ohio, deputy undersecretary at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), a diplomat, and Ohio State Treasurer. While serving as Ohio's Secretary of State, Blackwell became embroiled in controversy over voting irregularities in the 2004 presidential election. A successful business entrepreneur, as well as a fiery and eloquent public speaker, Blackwell was a strict social and fiscal conservative. In a race that drew national attention, he moved to the far right in his unsuccessful 2006 bid to become governor of Ohio.

Active in Campus Politics

Born on February 28, 1948, in Cincinnati, Ohio, J. Kenneth Blackwell was the elder of two sons of George Blackwell, a meat packer, and Dana Blackwell, a practical nurse. Ken Blackwell spent his first six years in a housing project on Cincinnati's west side. In a 1999 speech to the Urban Institute he described his neighborhood: "We had more aunts than our mothers and fathers had sisters…Nothing under the sun was hidden from our aunties. If you got into trouble on one end, the news was at the other faster than you could run. Kids today have the Internet. But in my neighborhood…we had the Auntie-Net." As a teenager Blackwell sold peanuts and worked in a funeral parlor.

Raised a Catholic, Blackwell attended Xavier University, a small Jesuit school in Cincinnati, on a football scholarship. He was one of the few black students. During his sophomore year in 1968 Blackwell married his childhood sweetheart, grew an Afro, presided over the black student association, and adopted the slogans of the black power movement. He persuaded the university to recruit more black students and teachers, to improve conditions for cafeteria workers, to invite civil rights leaders to campus, and to send Blackwell to Martin Luther King's funeral.

After graduation the six-foot-four-inch Blackwell tried out for the Dallas Cowboys. Failing to make the team, he briefly taught school and then returned to Xavier where he remained for many years. There Blackwell recruited and advised black students, eventually serving as vice president of community relations.

Elected to the Cincinnati City Council

Blackwell began his political career in 1975 when he ran unsuccessfully for the Cincinnati Board of Education. Two years later he was elected to the city council as a reform candidate and led a campaign to end police brutality. He was reelected repeatedly over the next ten years and served as vice mayor and mayor. Throughout his career Blackwell promoted financial investment in low-income neighborhoods. He alienated Cincinnati business leaders when he challenged the banks' minority-lending practices and, as chair of the council's finance committee, demanded that the banks serve local neighborhoods and low-income families. Hostility from the business community would return to haunt him.

Although he later denied ever having been a Democrat, Blackwell worked for President Jimmy Carter's reelec- tion in 1980. However he had a deep distrust of big government and, after Ronald Reagan's landslide presidential victory, Blackwell became a Republican. When President George H. W. Bush appointed Blackwell's friend Jack Kemp as Secretary of HUD in 1989, Kemp brought Blackwell on as his deputy.

In 1990 Blackwell ran unsuccessfully for an Ohio congressional seat. His opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1990 alienated voters and civil rights groups. For the next two years Blackwell served as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Commission, examining human rights violations in Bosnia-Herzegovina, China, Cuba, Sudan, Somalia, Romania, East Timor, and elsewhere.

Compared Welfare to Slavery

During the 1990s Blackwell became a rich man. He was a founding partner in Blue Chip Broadcasting Company, a network of 20 urban-format radio stations. At the time of its sale in 2001, it was the nation's second largest black-owned radio company.

Blackwell believed that the solutions to the problems facing America—and the world—lay in reducing government, lowering taxes, and promoting free enterprise and individual rights. A certified government finance manager, he served on the board of the National Taxpayers Union and was a domestic-policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington, D.C. think-tank.

In a 1994 speech to the Urban League Blackwell compared the American welfare system to slavery: "It is time now for us to replace ineffective governmental expenditures which encourage joblessness with economic incentives which encourage people to take and hold jobs…It is time now to free up the economic strength and creativity of the African-American Community to deal with the needs of people in the welfare trap."

Implemented His Political Philosophy

In 1994 Blackwell was appointed State Treasurer, becoming the first black Ohioan to hold a statewide non-judicial office. In November of that year he was elected to a four-year term. True to his philosophy, Blackwell increased the state's commerce with black businesses from 2.8% in 1994 to 30.4% in 1999. He campaigned for a flat tax to replace the progressive income tax and for a constitutional limit on state spending. A proponent of school vouchers, Blackwell proposed overhauling the educational system with a plan in which the state—rather than funding public schools—would make grants to parents to pay for the schools of their choice.

At a Glance …

Born J. Kenneth Blackwell on February 28, 1948, in Cincinnati, OH; married Rosa E., August 10, 1968; children: Kimberly A., Rahshann K., Kristin S. Education: Xavier University, BS, educational psychology, 1970, MEd 1971; Harvard University, Program for Senior Executives in State and Local Governments, 1981; Massachusetts Institute of Technology, executive program. Religion: Evangelical Protestant. Politics: Republican.


Board of Education, Cincinnati, OH, teacher, coach, 1971; Model Cities for Community Schools Association, Cincinnati, educator/consultant, 1973; University of Cincinnati, teacher of Afro-American Studies; Xavier University, Cincinnati, instructor, director of University and Urban Affairs, 1973-1980, associate vice president of community relations, 1980-89; Cincinnati City Council, member, 1977-87, vice mayor, 1977-78, 1985-87, mayor 1979-80; Cincinnati Employees Retirement System, vice chair, 1988; US Department of Housing and Urban Development, Washington, DC, deputy undersecretary, 1989-91; United Nations Human Rights Commission, US representative, 1991; Heritage Foundation, Washington DC, senior fellow and domestic policy analyst, 1992; State of Ohio, treasurer, 1994-99, secretary of state, 1999-07.

Selected memberships:

Campaign Finance Institute, George Washington University, co-chair; Congressional Human Rights Foundation, director; International Republican Institute, director, Physicians for Human Rights, director; Xavier University, trustee, presidential advisory council.

Selected awards:

US State Department, Superior Honor Award, 1993; National Council of Negro Women, Family of the Year, 1994; NAACP, Theodore M. Berry Award, 1995, Public Service Award, 1996; American Conservative Union and the Ashbrook Center for Public Affairs, John M. Ashbrook Award, 2004; National Forum for Black Public Administrators, National Leadership Award, 2006.



In 1998 Blackwell declared his candidacy for governor but was persuaded to run for secretary of state instead. Although he won the election, it was not the job he wanted. Upon his reelection in 2002 Blackwell announced that he would run for governor in 2006. As secretary of state Blackwell again patronized black businesses and blacks accounted for 47% of his top management.

Blackwell was still seen as a moderate Republican but he was moving to the right. In 1999 he became the first black to head a major-party presidential campaign when he became national chair of Steve Forbes's presidential bid. Democrats called for him to resign as Republican co-chair of the U.S. Census Monitoring Board, but Blackwell refused. He was quoted in CongressDaily/A.M.: "I look forward to continuing my work to ensure the 2000 census does not repeat the mistakes made in 1990 when over four million people were undercounted or missed." When Forbes withdrew from the race Blackwell moved to the Bush campaign and was involved in the 2000 Florida vote recount that awarded the presidency to George W. Bush.

Embroiled in Election Scandals

In 2003 Blackwell broke with the Ohio governor and Republican leaders over a sales tax increase and gained national attention as spokesperson and co-chair of Citizens for Tax Repeal. In 2004 he led a successful campaign for a state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Famously, he championed the privatization of the Ohio Turnpike.

Blackwell oversaw the state's 2004 presidential election, amid myriad complaints about voting-machine failures and polling-site changes. Democrats charged that Blackwell had manipulated the voting to disenfranchise minorities and steal the election for President George W. Bush. Black Enterprise quoted Ohio Democratic Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones: "Ken Blackwell…has done things to frustrate people's access to the ballot box…[Blackwell] served as chair of the Bush re-election campaign in Ohio; it's not illegal but it truly creates an appearance of impropriety and makes people think, ‘how could he chair the campaign for the president and then be the one responsible for ensuring that we have a fair election?’" Harper's quoted from Congressman John Conyers' report Preserving Democracy: What Went Wrong in Ohio: "In many cases, these irregularities were caused by intentional misconduct and illegal behavior, much of it involving Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell…."

Blackwell had his defenders. In his magazine Steve Forbes called Blackwell "an unsung hero" of the 2004 elections who "did everything humanly possible to ensure an honest vote." Following multiple recounts and lawsuits Blackwell was cleared of any role in the voting irregularities. However new election rules implemented by Blackwell made it impossible to conduct traditional voter-registration drives. Holly Hudson in the Dayton City Paper wrote that Blackwell "has been busy ensuring that every Ohioan's right to vote is made progressively more difficult."

Wooed the Religious Right

The media attention surrounding the 2004 elections helped launch Blackwell's gubernatorial campaign, but he was considered a long-shot for the Republican nomination. Over the years he had alienated Republican insiders and he trailed his opponents in campaign funding. He was attacked as a hypocrite for his opposition to gambling and abortion rights when his multimillion-dollar stock portfolio included investments in slot machines and emergency contraception. However black radio stations made a last-minute appeal, urging Democratic voters to cross over and vote for Blackwell in the Republican primary. The Ohio Restoration Project mobilized "patriot pastors" for Blackwell. Although the primary was again plagued with widespread voting irregularities and Blackwell was criticized for overseeing an election in which he was a candidate, he won the Republican nomination with 56% of the vote.

Blackwell faced an uphill battle in his gubernatorial campaign against Democratic Congressman Ted Strickland. Black Enterprise quoted from his address to black business leaders, summing up his prescription for Ohio's ailing economy: "There are three things that we are going to have to do to change the nature of our economic situation statewide to get the economy expanding and producing jobs: moving to a single-rate tax system over the next four years; cutting our capital gains tax; changing our residency requirements via state tax; and reducing lawsuit abuse, better known as tort reform." He also campaigned on eliminating Ohio's estate tax and supported President Bush's efforts to privatize social security.

It proved to be Ohio's most expensive-and nastiest-campaign ever. Ohioans were fed up with local and national Republican scandals. Lifelong Republican businessmen were unnerved by Blackwell's stance on social issues. Many believed that his proposed Tax and Expenditure Limitation would cripple the ability of state and local governments to pay for essential services. Blackwell lost the election to Strickland, garnering only 37% of the vote. The Cleveland Call & Post quoted from his concession speech: "If you think we're going to ride off into the sunset, forget it. We are committed for the long haul."

As of 2007 Blackwell was a contributing editor of the Townhall Web site, a senior fellow at the Family Research Council and at the Buckeye Institute, and an independent corporate director. He lectured widely, published commentaries in major newspapers, and was a frequent guest on radio and television public-affairs programs. His wife was Cincinnati school superintendent and the Blackwells were minority shareholders in the Cincinnati Reds, the city's major-league baseball team.

Selected writings


(With Jack Kemp, eds.) IRS v. The People: Time for Real Tax Reform, Heritage, 1998.

(With Jerome R. Corsi) Rebuilding America: A Prescription for Creating Strong Families, Building the Wealth of Working People, and Ending Welfare, WND, 2006.


"The African American Community: Rewarding Enterprise," Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. 60, No. 23, September 15, 1994, pp. 730-732.

"The Kyoto Protocol: Using Provisional Science for a World Power Grab," Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. 65, No. 2, November 1, 1998, p. 53.

"The True Undercount Experts: Census 2000," Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. 65, No. 19, July 15, 1999, pp. 581-583.

"Social Insecurity: High Costs and Questionable Returns from an Outdated System," Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. 68, No. 16, June 1, 2002, pp. 487-489.

"One Nation Under God: Muslims in America post-September 11," Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. 68, No. 24, October 1, 2002, pp. 784-787.

"Conservative Movement Needs New Leaders," Human Events, Vol. 63, No. 3, January 22, 2007, p. 16.


"On Keeping Perspective and Beginning Again,", (March 22, 2007).

"Second Amendment Freedoms Aided the Civil Rights Movement,", (March 22, 2007).



Freeman, Steve, and Joel Bleifuss, Was the 2004 Presidential Election Stolen?: Exit Polls, Election Fraud, and the Official Count, Seven Stories Press, 2006.


Black Enterprise, November 2006, pp. 100-108.

Call & Post (Cleveland, OH), November 9-15, 2006, p. 1A.

CongressDaily/A.M., May 28, 1999.

Dayton City Paper (OH), November 1-7, 2006, p. 6.

Forbes, November 29, 2004, p. 31.

Harper's, August 2005.

New Yorker, July 31, 2006.


Ken Blackwell, (March 22, 2007).

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