Alumni CLASnotes Spring 2005

Alumni Spotlight



As a political science student at UF in 1968, Charlie Black had an impossible mission: Do everything to help Republican presidential candidate Richard Nixon carry Alachua County, a Democratic stronghold. Nixon won the White House, but not with the help of Alachua County voters.

Black was not deterred by this minor setback. “We were outnumbered,” he says. Working for the Nixon campaign was one of the first steps Black took into the political arena. These days, he is the chairman of BKSH & Associates, a government relations and public affairs firm based in Washington, DC. But he moonlights as an informal political adviser to President George W. Bush and once served as a counselor to Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. In private, Black says, the president has a better sense of humor than he lets on, and his personality is more like his mother, former first lady Barbara Bush. His presidency, Black says, more resembles the Reagan model than his father’s.

Black’s interest in politics first arose during the 1964 presidential race, when Barry Goldwater unsuccessfully challenged Lyndon B. Johnson for the presidency. Black was a senior in high school then, but he was drawn to the rough-and-tumble realm of national politics. “I always liked campaigns and the competition of working one,” he says.

Charlie Black talks about his years at UF at the third annual CLAS Outstanding Alumni Awards Brunch, held during homecoming weekend in November.
Charlie Black talks about his years at UF at the third annual CLAS Outstanding Alumni Awards Brunch, held during homecoming weekend in November. Black, who campaigned for Republican candidates while a UF student, earned a law degree at American University and then began working on campaigns at the national level. He has served as an adviser to Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush and is currently an informal political adviser to President George W. Bush. He described the 2004 presidential contest as “nerve-wracking” and a “tremendous accomplishment” for the president.

His time at UF in the 1960s coincided with the heyday of student activism, when students rallied for civil rights and against the Vietnam War. Campus conservatives were in the minority, but Black was active in the Young Republicans and served as the state chairman of Young Americans for Freedom, a conservative group. “It wasn’t Berkeley,” Black says, referring to the California hub of the counterculture movement. “But as far as a Southern school goes, nothing really compared to what was going on at UF.” Though the university’s clashes were mild compared to the dissent ripping across other campuses, Black says there was “a lot of healthy debate about the war.”

After graduating with his BA in 1969, Black earned a law degree at American University in Washington, DC. The newly minted lawyer went to work on Reagan’s unsuccessful 1976 bid to wrest the Republican presidential nomination from Gerald Ford, and then on the late president’s landslide 1980 and 1984 White House victories.

For a time, he was the chief spokesman for the Republican National Committee. During the 1992 race—a three-way brawl between the elder Bush, Bill Clinton and Ross Perot—Black, a spokesman and strategist for the Republican campaign, was a familiar presence on political talk shows and nightly news broadcasts. During the heated 2004 race for the White House, Black was pressed into service again, offering the president advice on how to win a second term. On Election Day, Black conferred with other advisers before a bank of televisions, working the phones to ensure the numbers tipped in the president’s favor. “It was a tremendous accomplishment for George W. Bush considering everything he had working against him,” Black says. “Since 9/11, people realize the government’s role in national security and homeland security affects their lives.”

Talk about the 2008 presidential race already has begun, but Black says there is no chance he will run for office. He says he is content in his behind-the-scenes role. “I feel the best way I can serve is by helping to elect the right people to public office.”

-- Warren Kagarise


Photo:
Jane Dominguez

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Friday, 13-Aug-2010 14:22:20 EDT