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Bob Kerrey

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Title: Bob Kerrey  
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Subject: Democratic Party presidential primaries, 1992, Ben Nelson, United States Senate election in Nebraska, 1988, United States Senate election in Nebraska, 1994, United States Senate election in Nebraska, 2012
Collection: 1943 Births, American Agnostics, American Amputees, American Military Personnel of the Vietnam War, American Politicians with Physical Disabilities, Democratic Party State Governors of the United States, Democratic Party United States Senators, Governors of Nebraska, Living People, Nebraska Democrats, People from Lincoln, Nebraska, People from New York City, Recipients of the Bronze Star Medal, Recipients of the Purple Heart Medal, United Church of Christ Members, United States Navy Medal of Honor Recipients, United States Navy Officers, United States Navy Seals Personnel, United States Presidential Candidates, 1992, United States Senators from Nebraska, University of Nebraska–lincoln Alumni, Vietnam War Recipients of the Medal of Honor
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Bob Kerrey

Bob Kerrey
United States Senator
from Nebraska
In office
January 3, 1989 – January 3, 2001
Preceded by David Karnes
Succeeded by Ben Nelson
35th Governor of Nebraska
In office
January 6, 1983 – January 9, 1987
Lieutenant Donald McGinley
Preceded by Charles Thone
Succeeded by Kay Orr
Personal details
Born Joseph Robert Kerrey
(1943-08-27) August 27, 1943
Lincoln, Nebraska, U.S.
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Sarah Paley
Alma mater University of Nebraska–Lincoln
Military service
Allegiance  United States
Service/branch  United States Navy
Years of service 1966–1969
Rank Lieutenant (junior grade)
Unit SEAL Team 1
Battles/wars Vietnam War (WIA)
Awards Medal of Honor
Bronze Star Medal
Purple Heart

Joseph Robert "Bob" Kerrey (born August 27, 1943) is an American politician who served as the 35th Governor of Nebraska from 1983 to 1987 and as a United States Senator from Nebraska from 1989 to 2001. Before entering politics, he served in the Vietnam War as a United States Navy SEAL officer and was awarded the Medal of Honor (MOH) for heroism in combat. During the same action for which he was awarded the MOH, he was also severely wounded, precluding further naval service.

Kerrey was a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1992. He retired from the Senate in 2000 and was replaced by former Governor and fellow Democrat Ben Nelson. From 2001 to 2010, he served as president of The New School, a university in New York City.[1] In May 2010, he was selected to become the head of the Motion Picture Association of America,[2] but he and the MPAA could not reach an agreement,[3] so former Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd was chosen instead.

In 2012, Kerrey sought election to his old Senate seat to succeed retiring Democratic incumbent Ben Nelson.[4] He lost to Republican nominee Deb Fischer.

In 2013, Kerrey joined the Carmen Group lobbying firm.[5]

Kerrey is a co-chair for the Advisory Board of [6]


  • Early life and education 1
  • Military service 2
    • Medal of Honor citation 2.1
    • Thanh Phong raid 2.2
  • Governor of Nebraska 3
  • U.S. Senate 4
    • Elections 4.1
      • 1988 4.1.1
      • 1994 4.1.2
      • 2012 4.1.3
    • Tenure 4.2
  • National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States 5
  • 1992 presidential election 6
  • The New School 7
  • Return to politics 8
    • 2012 U.S. Senate election 8.1
  • Personal life 9
  • Awards and decorations 10
    • Medals and ribbons 10.1
  • See also 11
  • Notes 12
  • References 13
  • Further reading 14
  • External links 15

Early life and education

Kerrey was born in Lincoln, Nebraska, the son of Elinor Fern (née Gonder), a University of Nebraska instructor, and James Kerrey, a builder and businessman.[7][8] He attended public schools, graduating from Lincoln Northeast High School. He credits Bob Reese, his chemistry teacher, for inspiring his pursuit of a career in the sciences.[9] He went on to earn a degree in pharmacy from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 1966. Kerrey pledged Phi Gamma Delta fraternity, and during his senior year he was tackled into the Society of Innocents, the chancellor's senior honorary society of spirit boosters.

Military service

Kerrey served in the United States Navy as a SEAL officer from 1966 to 1969 during the Vietnam War. He lost the lower part of one leg in combat and received the Medal of Honor for action near Nha Trang Bay in South Vietnam on March 14, 1969.

Medal of Honor citation

His Medal of Honor citation reads:[10]

The U.S. Navy's variant of the Medal of Honor.

Thanh Phong raid

The Thanh Phong sewer pipe in which three children allegedly hid before being killed is on display at the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City

In 2001, The New York Times Magazine and 60 Minutes II carried reports on an incident that occurred during Kerrey's Vietnam War service. On February 25, 1969, he led a Swift Boat raid on the isolated peasant village of Thanh Phong, Vietnam, targeting a Viet Cong leader whom intelligence suggested would be present. The village was considered part of a free-fire zone by the U.S. military.

Kerrey's SEAL team first encountered a peasant house, or hooch. Later, according to Kerrey, the team was shot at from the village and returned fire, only to find after the battle that some of the deceased appeared to be under 18, clustered together in the center of the village. "The thing that I will remember until the day I die is walking in and finding, I don't know, 14 or so, I don't even know what the number was, women and children who were dead", Kerrey said in 1998. "I was expecting to find Vietcong soldiers with weapons, dead. Instead I found women and children."[11]

In contrast, Gerhard Klann, a member of Kerrey's SEAL team, gave a different version independently supported by a separate interview with Vietnamese woman Pham Tri Lanh. According to Klann, the team rounded up the women and children from hooches and decided to "kill them and get out of there", for fear that they would alert enemy soldiers. Kerrey responded to Klann's account by stating "it's not my memory of it", and accused Klann of being jealous that Kerrey had not assisted him in obtaining a Medal of Honor for a later mission. Other members of Kerrey's SEAL team also "wholeheartedly" denied Klann's account. [12][13]

Kerrey expressed anguish and guilt over the incident, saying: "You can never, can never get away from it. It darkens your day. I thought dying for your country was the worst thing that could happen to you, and I don't think it is. I think killing for your country can be a lot worse."[14]

Kerrey was awarded a Bronze Star for the raid on Thanh Phong. The citation for the medal reads, "The net result of his patrol was 21 Viet Cong killed, two hooches destroyed and two enemy weapons captured."[11]

A display at the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City is based on the incident. It includes several photos and a drain pipe, which it describes as the place where three children hid before they were found and killed.[15] The display reads:[16]

From 8PM to 9PM February 25th, 1969, a group of Seal Rangers [sic] (one of the most selective rangers of U.S. Army) led by Lieutenant Bob Kerry [sic] reached for Hamlet 5, Thanh Phong Village, Thanh Phu District, Ben Tre Province. They cut 66 year-old Bui Van Vat and 62 year-old Luu Thi Canh's necks and pulled their three grandchildren out from their hiding place in a drain and killed two, disembowelled one. Then, these rangers moved to dug-outs of other families, shot dead 15 civilians (including three pregnant women), disembowelled a girl. The only survivor was a 12-year-old girl named Bui Thi Luom who suffered a foot injury. It was not until April 2001 that U.S. Senator Bob Kerrey confessed his crime to the international public.

Governor of Nebraska

In 1982, Kerrey ran for Governor of Nebraska and defeated incumbent Republican Charles Thone. He served as Governor from 1983 to 1987. In 1986, he served as the Chairman of the Midwestern Governors Association.

U.S. Senate



In 1988, Kerrey ran for the U.S. Senate seat held by recently appointed incumbent Republican David Karnes. He won the Democratic primary with 92% of the vote.[17] In the general election, he defeated Karnes 57%-42%.[18]


Kerrey won re-election to a second term defeating businesswoman Jan Stoney[19] 55%-45%[20]


Kerrey ran again for his old senate seat after the retirement of Incumbent Democratic Senator Ben Nelson in 2012, but was defeated by Republican candidate State Senator Deb Fischer.[21]


Senator Kerrey was a member of the Agriculture Committee and the Finance Committee, and was a member of the Appropriations Committee from 1989 to 1996. He also served as vice chairman of the Intelligence Committee from 1995 to 1999. He was the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee for the 104th Congress before retiring in 2000.

Kerrey voted for the Gramm–Leach–Bliley Act which repealed the Glass–Steagall Act in 1999, defending his position against opposition by stating, "The concerns that we will have a meltdown like 1929 are dramatically overblown".[22]

National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States

After his retirement from the Senate, Kerrey served on the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, commonly known as the 9/11 Commission. The commission was created by Congressional legislation to investigate the circumstances of the attacks on September 11, 2001, and to provide recommendations of actions that could help prevent future similar attacks. It was a bipartisan commission of five Democrats and five Republicans. The commission issued its final report, the 9/11 Commission Report on July 22, 2004.

Kerrey criticized the 2014 Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA torture as "unfair" and "partisan".[23]

1992 presidential election

In September 1991, Kerrey announced his candidacy for the 1992 Democratic nomination for president. In a small field of five second-tier candidates devoid of an early frontrunner, Kerrey was seen as the early favorite. However, his performance on the campaign trail sometimes seemed lackluster, especially in comparison to the dynamic Arkansas Governor, Bill Clinton.

Kerrey finished third in the New Hampshire primary in February 1992, despite spending heavily on TV advertising. He briefly rebounded after winning the South Dakota primary but soon dropped out of the race after finishing fourth in the Colorado primary. Kerrey was on Clinton's "short list" for vice presidential candidate, but Tennessee Senator Al Gore received the nod instead.

The New School

Kerrey served as President of the New School from 2001 to 2010. During this time he more than doubled the endowment, taking it from $94 million in 2001 to $206 million today. He also secured substantial federal funding for the school. Both of these factors helped the New School accomplish major academic growth and expansion in the decade that Kerrey was President.[24]

Kerrey presided over an ambitious program of academic development at the university. Under his leadership, the university launched numerous new academic programs, including several joint degree programs. Enrollment increased by 44% to over 10,200, and online course enrollment doubled. He also oversaw an increase in the size of the faculty. The number of full-time faculty members grew from 156 in 2001 to more than 372 in 2009. He also helped to establish the Faculty Senate, which allowed the school to set university-wide standards for promotion, hiring, and faculty evaluation. Additionally, tenure was instituted for all academic departments.

On April 14, 2005, Kerrey announced that the university was changing its name from "New School University" to "The New School", and rebranding its eight divisions as specialized, separate entities serving different constituencies.

On December 10, 2008 it was announced that Kerrey had received a vote of no confidence from the University's senior faculty. This was perceived to have come as a response to his management style. The no-confidence vote was largely a symbolic gesture. The Board of Trustees offered their unanimous support for Kerrey at a meeting following the faculty vote.[25]

On December 16, 2008, dozens of students took over the cafeteria in the 65 5th Avenue building; as the occupation continued, the group grew into hundreds of students from the New School, other New York City based universities, labor union members, and other supporters. Initially, the students stated that they would not leave the building unless several school officials resigned. Kerrey attempted to have a discussion with the students at the beginning of the occupation, but the students voted down that option. The occupation ended after 30 hours when the two parties accepted a treaty; Kerrey agreed to amnesty for the students involved in the occupation, more student space, and more student input in school investments and decision making.[26]

Early in the morning of April 10, 2009, 19 students took over the 65 5th Avenue building, erecting an anarchist flag and demanding once again that Kerrey resign. A few hours later, about 20 police officers entered the building, arresting 22 students and ending the occupation after five hours.

In December 2012, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported that in 2010, the year of his anticipated departure, his salary was more than $600,000, and his total take-home pay, including bonuses, deferred compensation and nontaxable benefits, was $3,047,703, making Kerrey the highest-paid private college president in the United States.[27]

Kerrey's time as President concluded on January 1, 2011. He was succeeded by David E. Van Zandt. Kerrey was then appointed President Emeritus.

Return to politics

2012 U.S. Senate election

On December 27, 2011, Political Wire reported that Ben Nelson, who had succeeded Kerrey in the Senate, would not seek re-election, and asserted that Kerrey was in talks with senior Democrats about the possibility of replacing him.[28] The Washington Post reported that Kerrey would neither confirm nor deny the rumor.[29] American Crossroads had been running advertisements critical of Kerrey's potential Nebraska Senate run, focusing on the fact that Kerrey had been living in New York for the last ten years.[30] Kerrey responded to the ads with an invitation for Karl Rove to eat at one of Kerrey's restaurants in Nebraska, or to work out at one of his gyms that he owns in that state.[31] On February 27, 2012, the Washington Post reported that Kerrey had earlier decided against a run, but that an aide had confirmed that he was now filing to seek election to his old Senate seat.[4][32] He won the May 15 Democratic primary against four minor candidates. However, he was defeated on November 6 by Republican state senator Deb Fischer. Kerrey narrowly won the state's two largest counties, Douglas and Lancaster—home to Omaha and Lincoln, respectively—but only won three other counties. His margin in Omaha and Lincoln was not nearly enough to overcome Fischer's margin in the more rural parts of the state.

Personal life

While he was Governor of Nebraska, Kerrey dated actress Debra Winger while the latter was in Lincoln filming Terms of Endearment (part of which is set in Nebraska), which won the 1983 Oscar for Best Picture. When confronted with intense questioning by the press over the nature of the relationship, Kerrey famously replied; "What can I say – she swept me off my foot", alluding to the fact that the lower part of one of his legs was amputated because of injuries sustained in his Medal of Honor action in Vietnam.[33]

Kerrey is friends with fellow Al Franken in his bid for the U.S. Senate in Minnesota.

Kerrey is married to Sarah Paley. They have a son, Henry (b. September 10, 2001). He has two children from his previous marriage: Ben and Lindsey.

A 2012 New York Times op-ed by columnist Frank Bruni states that Kerrey describes himself as an agnostic.[34]

On September 9, 2008, a pedestrian bridge connecting Omaha, Nebraska with Council Bluffs, Iowa was named in Kerrey's honor by the Omaha City Council.

Awards and decorations

Medals and ribbons

A light blue ribbon with five white five pointed stars
A light blue ribbon with five white five pointed stars
Special Warfare insignia
Naval Parachutist Insignia
Medal of Honor
Bronze Star Medal Purple Heart Medal Combat Action Ribbon
National Defense Service Medal Vietnam Service Medal Vietnam Campaign Medal

See also


  1. ^ "New School President Emeritus Web Page". Retrieved September 10, 2011. 
  2. ^ Ben, Alex (2010-05-21). "Bob Kerrey in line to head MPAA". Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on June 3, 2010. Retrieved 2010-07-30. 
  3. ^ "Bob Kerrey out of running for top job at MPAA". Los Angeles Times ( July 29, 2010. Retrieved 2010-07-30. 
  4. ^ a b Blake, Aaron; Cillizza, Chris (February 27, 2012). "Bob Kerrey changes his mind, will run for Senate, source says".  
  5. ^ Wilson, Megan R. "Former Sen. Bob Kerrey joins government affairs firm". The Hill: On The Money. 2013-04-22. Retrieved 2013-09-09.
  6. ^ Issue One website; retrieved 2014-11-05.
  7. ^ [3]
  8. ^ [4]
  9. ^ JM Appel. President Bob Kerrey Harnesses the New School, Education Update, February 2002
  10. ^ "Full Citations of Living Recipients K-L". Retrieved October 5, 2010. 
  11. ^ a b Gregory L. Vistica (April 25, 2001). "One Awful Night in Thanh Phong". New York Times Magazine. Retrieved October 31, 2015. 
  12. ^ Gregory L. Vistica (April 25, 2001). "One Awful Night in Thanh Phong". New York Times Magazine. p. 6. Retrieved 2006-01-24. 
  13. ^ Gregory L. Vistica (April 25, 2001). "One Awful Night in Thanh Phong". New York Times Magazine. p. 7. Retrieved 2006-01-24. 
  14. ^ Gregory L. Vistica (April 25, 2001). "One Awful Night in Thanh Phong". New York Times Magazine. p. 1. Retrieved January 24, 2006. 
  15. ^ . War Remnants Museum, HCMC. Wikimedia Commons. Retrieved 19 January 2013. 
  16. ^ See photo of display
  17. ^ "NE US Senate- D Primary Race - May 10, 1988". Our Campaigns. Retrieved February 29, 2012. 
  18. ^ "NE US Senate Race - Nov 08, 1988". Our Campaigns. Retrieved February 29, 2012. 
  19. ^ "Pennsylvania Democrats Nominate Lt. Gov. Singel; Yeakel Among Those Defeated in Gubernatorial Primary". The Washington Post. May 11, 1994. Retrieved February 29, 2012. 
  20. ^ "NE US Senate Race - Nov 08, 1994". Our Campaigns. Retrieved February 29, 2012. 
  21. ^ "Official Results of Nebraska General Election - November 6, 2012". Nebraska Secretary of State. p. 12. Retrieved 2013-01-02.
  22. ^ Labaton, Stephen (November 5, 1999). "Congress Passes Wide-Ranging Bill Easing Bank Laws". The New York Times. Retrieved April 1, 2010. 
  23. ^ Kerrey, Bob (December 10, 2014). "Partisan torture report fails America". Retrieved October 31, 2015. 
  24. ^ Morton, Joseph (August 19, 2012). "Kerrey: New School tenure brought needed, if controversial, change". Omaha World Herald. Retrieved August 20, 2012. 
  25. ^ Williams, Audrey (2008-12-10). "New School Faculty Senate Votes No Confidence in President Bob Kerrey - Graduate Students - The Chronicle of Higher Education". Retrieved 2010-07-30. 
  26. ^ Moynihan, Colin (December 19, 2008). "The Columbia and New School Sit-Ins, Compared". The New York Times. Retrieved April 1, 2010. 
  27. ^ "Executive Compensation at Private Colleges, 2010". Chronicle of HIgher Education. 
  28. ^ Goddard, Taegan (2011-12-27). "Nelson Expected to Retire". Political Wire. Retrieved 2011-12-27. 
  29. ^ Blake, Aaron (2011-12-27). "Sen. Ben Nelson won’t seek reelection". Washington Post. Retrieved 2011-12-27. 
  30. ^ Joseph, Cameron. Crossroads goes after Kerrey in Neb., The Hill, January 12, 2012.
  31. ^ Joseph, Cameron. Bob Kerrey returns fire on Karl Rove, The Hill, January 13, 2012.
  32. ^ Davis, Susan (February 27, 2012). "Bob Kerrey may run for Senate seat from Nebraska after all". USA Today. Retrieved February 29, 2012. 
  33. ^ Senior, Jennifer (22 February 2009). "Why the New School Insurrection May Be Bob Kerrey's Greatest Battle".  
  34. ^ Bruni, Frank (10 December 2012). "The God Glut".  


  • "The New School's website of president Bob Kerrey". Retrieved October 5, 2010. 
  • Vistica, Gregory L. (April 25, 2001). "One Awful Night in Thanh Phong,". The New York Times. Retrieved October 5, 2010.  by Gregory L. Vistica, New York Times Magazine, April 25, 2001
  • "2002 Interview on Education". Retrieved October 5, 2010. 
  • "CNN Story on the Thanh Phong Incident". April 25, 2001. Retrieved October 5, 2010. 
  • Clinton, Bill (2005). My Life. Vintage. ISBN 1-4000-3003-X.
  • "Saddam, Al Qaeda Did Collaborate, Documents Show". Retrieved October 5, 2010. 
  • , published April 26, 2001"New York TimesThe War Within Bob Kerrey", "". The New York Times. April 26, 2001. Retrieved October 5, 2010. 
  • , September 12, 2002"The Wall Street JournalFinish the war. Liberate Iraq. " by Robert Kerrey, "". Retrieved October 5, 2010. 
  • My Perspective on the New School Commencement", blog by Bob Kerrey, Huffington Post, posted May 23, 2006""". March 28, 2008. Retrieved October 5, 2010. 
  • Why I'm Not Running Again for the US Senate" blog by Bob Kerrey, Huffington Post, posted October 24, 2007""". March 28, 2008. Retrieved October 5, 2010. 

Further reading

  • Kerrey, Robert. When I Was a Young Man: A Memoir. New York: Harcourt, Inc., 2002.
  • Vistica, Gregory L. The Education of Lieutenant Kerrey. New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2003.

External links

Party political offices
Preceded by
Gerald Whelan
Democratic nominee for Governor of Nebraska
Succeeded by
Helen Boosalis
Preceded by
Edward Zorinsky
Democratic nominee for U.S. Senator from Nebraska
(Class 1)

1988, 1994
Succeeded by
Ben Nelson
Preceded by
Bob Graham
Chairperson of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee
Succeeded by
Robert Torricelli
Preceded by
Ben Nelson
Democratic nominee for U.S. Senator from Nebraska
(Class 1)

Most recent
Political offices
Preceded by
Charles Thone
Governor of Nebraska
Succeeded by
Kay Orr
United States Senate
Preceded by
David Karnes
United States Senator (Class 1) from Nebraska
Served alongside: James Exon, Chuck Hagel
Succeeded by
Ben Nelson
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