Niagara Gazette

April 4, 2014

HAMILTON: Quarterback Congressman Jack Kemp and the art of perspective

By Ken Hamilton
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — We all must come from someplace, and we all do. Both quarterback Jack Kemp and I did; and then we met together on a stage at the University of Buffalo. The meeting was probably not like you might have suspected.

Kemp came to mind, again, when I received an email from Carl Paladino, the owner of the old United Office Building, now the upscale Giacomo Hotel. Paladino said that they will be holding the annual Jack Kemp Tribute Dinner on March 29, and I might want to be there.

I did, as I had a great deal of respect for Kemp as a HUD secretary. Like me, he believed in home ownership.

Personally, I also believe that we should have representation at every table where there is the possibility that someone is going to sit and talk about our destinies — even if I have to be there myself. Too often, that is the case, as it was in Buffalo that day.

The year was 1996 and Sen. Bob Dole and Congressman/quarterback Jack Kemp were running for the presidency and vice-presidency of the United States. I was running for a seat in the New York state Senate, and we all were running on the Republican line.

Now, before you all bet your undies in a bunch, former Democratic County Legislator Renae Kimble ran for the same seat and on the same line as did I; only she did so immediately after I did so, and her district kept re-electing her.

As could be expected, there were not very many African-Americans in the audience; however, because Kemp was the quarterback during the initial years of the Buffalo Bills, many of the Bills alumna were present, and some of them were black. I also ran into Jim Kelly there, but only after I felt his looming presence behind me.

As a part of the photo-ops that were made available, any and all candidates for public office could go, one at a time, on to the stage where the prospective prez and vp were and have their picture taken.

I cued up to go and watched as each candidate stood next to Kemp; he give them a quick look, took his left hand, grabbed the candidate by the wrist and then lifted their right arm above their heads. I expected no more than that when my turn came.

As I stood on the stage next to Kemp, he reached down and grabbed my wrist and then looked not only into my face, but did so in a manner as if he was looking into my brain. We both stood motionless for more than a few moments.

Kemp squinted his eyes as if we were both lost, and left me feeling as though I didn’t belong there. After a moment or two, his eyes left my brown face and head full of black hair and gazed upon my suit. It was then that he saw my nametag that indicated that I was running for senator. He then grinned and said, “Oh, you’re a candidate,” and then with a swift and powerful lift, he almost dislocated my shoulder as he raised the arm of my shorter-than-average body high above my head and held it there as it throbbed in pain. I left that stage massaging it and wondering what had just happened.

As I rejoined the audience, I saw a few of the bowed, belly-bulging and bald Bills black alumna looking at me and smiling; and it was then that I realized what had happened. I was not what Kemp expected to see on the stage that day, and it was because of where in time and space from where we had both come.

When I stood next to him, his mind was less examining me because I was black, as one may have suspected. It was because of nearly every black that was in attendance had played with the Bills back in the 60s, when I was quite young; and Kemp was merely trying to remember which of those players that I might have been.

While I was too young to have played football with Kemp, and woefully inadequate to have been an NFL player at all, I fully understood how he could throw a football as far as he did. That man was still very strong, even after all of those years — and I had a very sore shoulder to prove it.

It also proves that not everything is as we may suspect it to be; and a great deal of our perceptions is based upon our expectations. 

Because of such things, a tear or two ran down my face when I heard that Kemp had died. He was indeed a great man to whom many more of us ought to give tribute.

And that is my perspective.

Contact Ken Hamilton at