After serving five years as president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, Paul Helmke has announced he will step down. Helmke, the former mayor of Fort Wayne, Indiana, broke the news in the run-up to his five-year anniversary with the Brady Campaign.
The news has some gun rights advocates cheering, as the Brady Campaign is generally viewed as a foe to Second Amendment groups. But it’s yet unclear what Helmke’s departure will mean for both proponents and opponents of gun control. First of all, Helmke is a Republican, and at the very least, it’s unlikely that his predecessor will be too. Granted, the word RINO (Republican in name only) has been regularly fired across Helmke’s bow by his critics, especially with respect to his views on gun control.
Of course, it’s unlikely that gun rights activists will find much common ground with any Brady Campaign president. But the flip side of Helmke’s resignation is that he could be replaced by a liberal hardliner. Although Helmke’s gun control views leaned to the left (to say the least), there are far more liberal and – for lack of a better word – hard-ass candidates that the Brady Campaign could have selected. What remains to be seen is whether the organization will look to move more toward center with their choice of a new president, or whether the Bradys will use Helmke’s resignation as an opportunity to go on the offensive.
Said Helmke in a memo to staff, “When the Brady Boards hired me as President in 2006, I committed to remain in the job for at least five years. July 10 will mark the end of five busy, active, challenging, exciting, and fruitful years – and will be my last day as President.”
It appears that Helmke is leaving the organization on good terms with the organization, as he did not cite any specific grievances or reasons for leaving outside the fact that he’s fulfilled his previously-stated five year commitment. Although Helmke’s announcement came in early July, he has indicated that he will remain with the organization through the end of the month to assist with the transition phase.
In a statement, Sarah Brady – chair of the Brady organizations – thanked Helmke for his half-decade of service: “Jim [Brady] and I thank Paul for his wonderful work over the past five years. He has poured his life and soul into both the Brady Campaign and Brady Center … He is a man of the highest integrity who has worked tirelessly to keep Americans safer for so many years, long before his tenure with us. His accomplishments are too numerous to mention, but we are delighted that he has made our voice louder and our movement stronger. We both will miss him as a friend and a leader.”
Helmke’s hire in 2006 represented a modest change in direction for the Brady Campaign. Traditionally an organization mostly comprised Democrats and those on the political left, the Brady’s hiring of Helmke was seen by many as an attempt on the part of the organization to attract a broader audience and make inroads among conservatives. Helmke replaced former Maryland U.S. Rep. Mike Barnes (D-8th District) as president in 2006.
Helmke’s list of accomplishments with the Brady Campaign include, among others, broadening the organization’s donor base, initiating an aggressive national media outreach strategy, presiding over operations such as the Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence initiative, and enlisting the services of high profile pro athletes like Plaxico Burress.
In the interim, Brady vice president Dennis Henigan will serve as acting president.