Harris Wofford

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Harris Wofford
United States Senator
from Pennsylvania
In office
May 9, 1991 – January 3, 1995
Appointed by Bob Casey
Preceded by John Heinz
Succeeded by Rick Santorum
Pennsylvania Secretary of Labor and Industry
In office
March 23, 1987[1] – May 8, 1991
Governor Bob Casey
Preceded by James Knepper
Succeeded by Tom Foley
Chairman of the
Pennsylvania Democratic Party
In office
June 28, 1986[2] – December 6, 1986
Preceded by Edward Mezvinsky
Succeeded by Larry Yatch[3]
Personal details
Born Harris Llewellyn Wofford
(1926-04-09) April 9, 1926 (age 88)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Political party Democratic
Military service
Service/branch United States Army Air Forces
Battles/wars World War II

Harris Llewellyn Wofford (born April 9, 1926) is an American politician who served as a Democratic U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania from 1991 to 1995 and as the fifth president of Bryn Mawr College, and is a noted advocate of national service and volunteering. Wofford was a surrogate for Barack Obama's campaign for president, and introduced Obama in Philadelphia at the National Constitution Center before Obama's speech on race in America, A More Perfect Union.


Harris Wofford was born in New York City in 1926. While attending high school,[4] he was inspired by Clarence Streit's plea for a world government to found the Student Federalists.[5]

He served in the United States Army Air Forces during the Second World War.[citation needed] He is a 1948 graduate of the University of Chicago. He enrolled at Howard Law School, the first white male student to do so.[6] After two years, he continued his studies at Yale Law School, where he received his second law degree in June 1954.[7] He began his public service career as an attorney for the United States Commission on Civil Rights, serving from 1954 to 1958. In 1959, he became a law professor at University of Notre Dame. He was an early supporter of the Civil Rights movement in the south in the late 1950s and became a friend and unofficial advisor to Martin Luther King, Jr.

Wofford is on the Board of Selectors of Jefferson Awards for Public Service.[8]

Kennedy administration[edit]

Wofford's political career began in 1960 when he served as an adviser to the presidential campaign of John F. Kennedy. When King was imprisoned shortly before the election, Wofford persuaded Kennedy's brother-in-law, Sargent Shriver, to race to O'Hare airport to persuade Kennedy to call King's wife, Coretta Scott King, who faced the specter of her husband sentenced to hard labor in a Georgia prison for a minor traffic violation while she was in an advanced stage of pregnancy. This was done with Ted Sorenson, Teddy Kennedy and Ken O'Donnell out of the room. All of them would have opposed this move in fear of criticism from Southern political leaders such as arch-segregationist Senator James Eastland of Mississippi. JFK's call helped shift the African American vote decisively in Kennedy's favor and may have won him the election.[9]

In 1961, Kennedy appointed him, in a last minute decision, as a special assistant to the President on civil rights. He also served as chairman of the Subcabinet Group on Civil Rights. He was instrumental in the formation of the Peace Corps and served as the Peace Corps' special representative to Africa and director of operations in Ethiopia. He was appointed associate director of the Peace Corps in 1962 and held that position until 1966. Wofford's book Of Kennedys and Kings: Making Sense of the Sixties details his years in the civil rights movement and the creation of the Peace Corps.

Academic career[edit]

In 1966, Wofford left politics to become president of the State University of New York at Old Westbury. At the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, Wofford risked his career by allowing himself to be arrested in protest of police brutality. In 1970, he became president of Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania and held that post until 1978.

Private practice[edit]

In 1978, Wofford joined the law firm of Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP.[10]

Pennsylvania political career[edit]

After spending seven years in private law practice and one year chairman of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, Wofford was appointed by Pennsylvania Governor Bob Casey as the state's Secretary of Labor and Industry in 1987.

1991 special election victory[edit]

On April 4, 1991, Pennsylvania's senior U.S. Senator, John Heinz, died in an aviation accident, leaving his seat in the U.S. Senate open. By law, the Pennsylvania governor was required to appoint a replacement until a special election could be held for the seat. After considering several potential candidates, including Allentown, Pennsylvania native Lee Iacocca, who turned down the job, Governor Bob Casey appointed Wofford to the seat on May 9, 1991.

In the special election held in November 1991, Wofford faced Dick Thornburgh, the former Pennsylvania governor and U.S. Attorney General under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush. Candidates for this special election were chosen by the party committees because the vacancy had happened too late to set up a primary. Wofford began the campaign so far behind in the polls that most pundits assumed he had no chance of winning. His eventual victory over the former governor by ten percentage points surprised many.[who?]

His campaign was run by Paul Begala and James Carville, and their dramatic success brought them to national attention. The campaign was also a proving ground for many of the themes that would underlie Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential election victory, such as the focus on the economy and health care. Although Clinton ultimately chose Al Gore, Wofford was a finalist for the vice presidential nomination.[11] In May 1993, Wofford received an honorary doctorate from Elizabethtown College, Pennsylvania.

1994 re-election loss[edit]

Wofford narrowly lost his 1994 bid for re-election to Republican Congressman Rick Santorum, 32 years his junior, who defeated Wofford 49%–47%. The election was part of that year's Republican Revolution, in which many Democrats were ousted from both houses of the United States Congress.

National service career[edit]

After his time in the Senate, Wofford served as chief executive officer of the Corporation for National and Community Service (the federal agency that runs AmeriCorps and other domestic volunteer programs), from 1995 to 2001. Since his retirement, he has taught at the University of Maryland, College Park and served on the boards of several charities and service organizations including America's Promise, Youth Service America, and the Points of Light Foundation. He is currently a board member of the Center for Citizen Leadership and Malaria No More, a New York-based nonprofit that was launched at the 2006 White House Summit with the goal of ending all deaths caused by malaria. He was the recipient of the John W. Gardner Leadership Award in 2002. He is currently a senior fellow at the Case Foundation in Washington, D.C. Since February 2007, Wofford has been national spokesperson for Experience Wave [1], a national campaign advancing state and federal policies to make it easier for mid-life and older adults to stay engaged in work and community life. [2]

On January 4, 2007, Wofford was present for the swearing-in of Senator Bob Casey, Jr., who defeated Santorum in his bid for a third term,[12] and on January 3, 2013, Wofford again accompanied Sen. Bob Casey, Jr. to his swearing-in for a second term on the floor of the Senate.

In 2011, in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps, the National Peace Corps Association created the Harris Wofford Global Citizen Award in honor of the life and work of Harris Wofford. It is given annually to an outstanding global leader who grew up and lives in a country where Peace Corps Volunteers served and whose life was influenced by the Peace Corps. The leader should be a person whose life’s work has made a significant contribution to the world in a way that reflects the core Peace Corps values of service, peace, development, human rights, health, and understanding.

Wofford served as a trustee to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Non-Violent Social Change.[13]

Harris Wofford was presented with the 2012 Presidential Citizens Medal.[14]


  1. ^ "Wofford Is Sworn In As P.A. Labor Secretary". The Philadelphia Inquirer. March 24, 1987. Retrieved December 20, 2011. 
  2. ^ Stoffer, Harry (June 30, 1986). "PA Democrats Elect Wofford Chairman". The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved December 21, 2011. 
  3. ^ Neri, Al (December 4, 1986). "Casey expected to back Yatch to direct Democrats in state". The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved December 21, 2011. 
  4. ^ "The Eyes of a Schoolboy". Time. November 20, 1944. 
  5. ^ Lillenthal, David E., Jr. (March 11, 1949). "Brass Tacks". The Harvard Crimson. 
  6. ^ "Wofford profile". King Research and Education Institute. Retrieved May 7, 2011. 
  7. ^ "The Experiences of Civil Rights Lawyers in the 1950s and 1960s". Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Retrieved May 7, 2011. 
  8. ^ http://www.jeffersonawards.org/board
  9. ^ Wofford, Harris, "Of Kennedys and Kings: Making Sense of the Sixties;"Broder, David, and Johnson, Haynes (1996). The System: The American Way of Politics at the Breaking Point, p.4 Little, Brown & Company. ISBN 0-316-46969-6.
  10. ^ "John F. Kennedy Library and Museum Biographical Profiles: Harris Wofford". Retrieved 6 January 2014. 
  11. ^ Ifil, Gwen (July 10, 1992). "Clinton Selects Senator Gore of Tennessee as Running Mate". The New York Times. 
  12. ^ Tom Curry (January 4, 2007). "Chance to enjoy foes' defeat on opening day". MSNBC. Retrieved December 16, 2008. 
  13. ^ "SENATOR HARRIS L. WOFFORD". Civic Enterprises. Retrieved 6 October 2014. 
  14. ^ Kasie Coccaro (February 15, 2013). "President Obama to Honor Recipients of the 2012 Citizens Medal". US White House. Retrieved February 15, 2013. 

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
James Knepper
Pennsylvania Secretary of Labor and Industry
Succeeded by
Tom Foley
United States Senate
Preceded by
John Heinz
U.S. Senator (Class 1) from Pennsylvania
Served alongside: Arlen Specter
Succeeded by
Rick Santorum
Party political offices
Preceded by
Joe Vignola
Democratic nominee for U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania
(Class 1)

1991, 1994
Succeeded by
Ron Klink
Preceded by
Edward Mezvinsky
Chairman of Pennsylvania Democratic Party
Succeeded by
Larry Yatch