|Former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk (Democrat)|
Ron Kirk, a former two-term Dallas mayor, hopes to make Texas history by becoming the Lone Star state's first African-American senator. Following his victory in the Democrat primary runoff election against liberal Democrat Victor Morales, Kirk faces off with the Republican candidate, state Attorney General John Cornyn, for the Senate seat left open by retiring Sen. Phil Gramm (R).
Although he already made the history books as the first African-American to win a primary runoff for the Senate in Texas, Kirk says he does not want to be known simply for his record as an African-American. Instead, Kirk and his supporters laud his abilities to build coalitions amid diverse parties and ethnic groups in order to achieve goals against tough odds.
Born in 1954 as the youngest of four children, Kirk grew up in a politically active family in a predominantly black community. His father supported the family through a job as a U.S. postal worker for 35 years. Kirk attended Austin's public schools during the troubled early days of desegregation, but that challenge did not deter the young student from asserting his leadership in high school.
His teenage political career culminated with a successful run for student council president, a post he served his senior year. After graduating from Austin College with a degree in political science and sociology in 1976 and earning a degree from the University of Texas School of Law in 1979, Kirk left for Washington, DC to work in the office of then-Senator Lloyd Bentsen.
The moderate Texas Democrat, who later served as treasury secretary in the Clinton administration, left an indelible influence on Kirk's political ideology. With that federal experience under his belt, Kirk returned to his home state and joined the attorney general's office of Dallas, where he quickly became the assistant city attorney for governmental relations - the city's chief lobbyist position -- where his job "was to push the city's legislative agenda with state legislators in Austin," Kirk said in a 1995 interview with The Dallas Morning News.
Kirk left the city payroll to resume his private legal career, but returned to government work in 1994, when then-Gov. Ann Richards, a Democrat, tapped him to serve a partial term as Texas' secretary of state, which gave the corporate lawyer the chance to demonstrate his lobbying skills on the state level. The next year, members of Dallas' business community urged Kirk to run for mayor.
Kirk mounted a strong election bid, pulling in nearly 62 percent of the vote and gaining strong support from influential black leaders in the city. Kirk earned a reputation as a coalition-builder and was widely credited with jumpstarting Dallas' ailing economy.
His office pursued initiatives designed to foster business growth for Dallas' lead industries and to spur development of small businesses. In 1999, Kirk was re-elected, garnering a landslide 74 percent of the vote.
Since resigning from office to run his Senate campaign, Kirk has told groups across the state that he supports many of the initiatives of President Bush, a former Texas governor who is still popular in the state, and pledges to support the president in Congress.
Like Mr. Bush, Kirk says he advocates running a fiscal deficit to fund the war on terrorism. However, Kirk has criticized the president's $1.35 trillion tax cut, saying it contributed to the rising budget deficit and recession. During the campaign, Kirk has amassed a $5 million war chest - a considerable sum for a Democrat campaigning in "Bush country."
Recent fundraising efforts included a coast-to-coast tour, hosted by several luminaries such as Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), former pro-basketball player Magic Johnson and actor Billy Baldwin.
His nation-wide campaigns, however, have given some ammunition to his opponent, state Attorney General John Cornyn, who alleges that Kirk received more cash from out-of-state than from in-state donors.
Cornyn has taken his message to the airwaves, running television ads that accuse Kirk of representing East Coast liberal special interests and suggest Kirk will not truly represent Texan values in Washington.
Nevertheless, Kirk and his fellow Democrat candidates have billed themselves Texas's "Dream Team," saying their ethnic diversity accurately represents Texas' increasingly multiethnic demographic. Kirk called the 2002 Texas elections the "first race in the country with blacks and Hispanics aligned." Kirk, an avid golfer, is married to Matrice Ellis-Kirk and has two daughters, Elizabeth Alexandria (Alex) and Catherine Victoria.
--By Liz Harper, Online NewsHour