Former Congressman Jack Kemp died over the weekend. Many of us remember him as one of the nation’s strongest advocates for tax cuts to stimulate the economy–a true blue supply-sider. But he was also one of the few national politicians with a sincere and deep interest in urban policy, affordable housing, and the challenges of urban redevelopment.
Oddly, The New York Times obit makes merely a passing reference to his four-year tenure as the nation’s Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under George H.W. Bush (1988 to 1992).
Mr. Kemp was secretary of housing and urban development under the first President George Bush and the Republican vice-presidential nominee in 1996. But his greatest legacy may stem from his years as a congressman from Buffalo, especially 1978, when his argument for sharp tax cuts to promote economic growth became party policy, one that has endured to this day.
The Washington Post does scarcely more justice, but at least makes an obtuse reference to Enterprise Zones, a program he championed in Congress and at HUD.
After becoming HUD secretary in 1988, he worked to root out discrimination by lenders and insurers. He ended some programs, tightened others and energized the staff.
He was an early advocate of plans to attract business to distressed neighborhoods with tax-free zones.
Neither obit mentions the expansion of the Section 8 housing voucher program which became a signature mechanism for addressing affordable housing needs among low-income urban populations.
This is unfortunate. Jack Kemp was an advocate for cities, urban redevelopment, and stamping out racial prejudice and discrimination using market forces. His appointment to HUD was not patronage. Rather, more than any other cabinet post, this appointment may have served a talented politician’s own professional interests and political expertise.