(Bloomberg) -- Herman Cain, the pizza chain executive who rose to prominence in Republican politics with a catchy plan for tax reform before being felled by a sex scandal, has died after being hospitalized this month with the coronavirus. He was 74.
Cain’s death was announced on his website, which said there had been “hopeful indicators” for Cain in his Covid-19 battle as recently as five days ago. Cain was treated in 2006 for colon cancer, which may have increased his risk of complications from Covid-19.
Cain released a statement via Twitter on July 2 that he had been hospitalized in the Atlanta area after contracting coronavirus, less than two weeks after attending President Donald Trump’s indoor rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
He didn’t know when or how he contracted the disease, the statement said. Covid-19 cases were rising in the area at the time, prompting local officials to ask Trump to cancel the event.
“Trump Tulsa Rally - I was there! The atmosphere was exciting and inspiring!” Cain wrote on Twitter after the June 20 gathering. He also tweeted a photograph of himself there, not wearing a mask, in a group of other Trump fans who were also maskless.
President Donald Trump called Cain “a Powerful Voice of Freedom and all that is good” in a pair of Twitter messages of condolence. “Melania and I loved Herman Cain, a great man.”
Cain spun his success in the pizza business and as a lobbyist, along with his charismatic personality, into a long-shot run for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination. He was briefly the front-runner -- before any votes were cast -- on the strength of his 9-9-9 tax plan.
“There are generally three kinds of people in the world. People who make things happen, people who watch things happen, and people who say, what in the heck happened,” Cain wrote in “This is Herman Cain! My Journey to the White House.”
Cain was working for Pillsbury’s restaurant and foods group in Minneapolis in the early 1980s when he was assigned to manage hundreds of Burger King sites in the Philadelphia area. The success of that venture led Pillsbury in 1986 to appoint Cain as president and chief executive officer of another division, the under-performing Godfather’s Pizza.
Cain swiftly returned Godfather’s to profitability and then helped engineer a leveraged buyout of the chain in 1988. He stayed with the company until 1996, when he moved to Washington as CEO of the National Restaurant Association, a lobbying and trade group. The stint with the NRA gave Cain valuable contacts in and around the political scene.
While his 2012 White House run captured national headlines, Cain also briefly ran for the 2000 Republican nomination, and for a U.S. Senate seat in Georgia in 2004.
As a Black man he was a rarity in the highest levels of the Republican Party, and his positions sometimes put him at odds with Democratic President Barack Obama.
“People who oppose Obama are said to be racists -- so I guess I’m a racist,” Cain once said.
The 9-9-9 plan that propelled Cain to the top tier of 2012 candidates would have replaced the prevailing, endlessly complicated tax code with a 9% business transactions tax, a 9% personal income tax and a 9% federal sales tax.
“If 10% is good enough for God, 9% ought to be good enough for the federal government,” Cain said, referring to the tithe sometimes paid as a contribution to a religious organization.
“St. Peter will soon hear ‘999!’ Keep up the fight, my friend,” Republican Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, with whom Cain vied for the 2012 Republican nomination, said Thursday on Twitter.
Tributes flowed in from other Cain friends and colleagues, including HUD Secretary Ben Carson, another prominent African-American Republican who followed in Cain’s footsteps with a run at the 2016 Republican nomination.
Cain dropped his White House bid in December 2011 after a woman, Ginger White, claimed to have had a 13-year affair with the married father of two. Politico in October 2011 also reported that Cain had been accused by two women of sexual misconduct while at the NRA in the late 1990s.
Cain was born Dec. 13, 1945, in Memphis, Tennessee, to Luther Cain Jr., who worked as a driver and barber, and Lenora Davis Cain, a domestic worker. He graduated from the historically Black Morehouse College in 1967 with a degree in mathematics, and from Purdue University in Indiana in 1971 with a master’s in computer science.
“He was a philanthropist, a successful business executive, a political activist, a media personality, a caring father, and a son of Morehouse,” David Thomas, president of Morehouse College, said in a statement.
Former U.S. Housing Secretary Jack Kemp became a fan of Cain when the two met in 1994. Kemp would say later that Cain has the “voice of Othello, the looks of a football player, the English of Oxfordian quality, and the courage of a lion.”
Cain was chairman of the Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank from 1989 to 1991 and deputy chairman from 1992 to 1994 before a second stint as chairman. He resigned from the regional Fed as he became active in politics.
Cain was back in the national eye in April 2019, when Trump said he intended to nominate him for one of the vacant seats on the Federal Reserve Board. Cain withdrew from consideration less than three weeks later, after acknowledging that his past sexual misconduct allegations would make the nomination process “cumbersome.”
Despite that setback Cain has been a vocal supporter of Trump and conservative causes through frequent radio and TV appearances and a lively Twitter feed. On June 22 he declared it a “shocker” that a “rampaging socialist mob” tearing down statues of historical figures was “ignorant of history.” He came out against Susan Rice, a potential vice presidential pick for Democrat Joe Biden, as a “corrupt hack.”
Cain was diagnosed in 2006 with Stage IV cancer in his colon that had spread to his liver, and underwent surgery and chemotherapy. At that point the cancer was said to be in remission.
Cain is survived by his wife, Gloria Etchison, whom he married in 1968, and two children.
(An earlier version corrected to the state of Trump’s rally in second paragraph.)
(Updates with Trump tribute in sixth paragraph.)
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