MARK HELMKE, 1951-2014

Present at the Creation of CIMA

Guest post by Marguerite Hoxie Sullivan

Mark Helmke, a CIMA Advisory Council member and a prime mover behind the idea for the center, died Saturday at his Indiana home. He was just two days short of his 63rd birthday.

Mark, a former journalist and longtime senior aide to Indiana Senator Richard Lugar, worked with the senator in advocating for democracy and displayed a passion of his own to raise the visibility and improve the effectiveness of media development around the world. Mark’s concept for the center was not that it would compete with existing media development organizations but rather that it would bring the stakeholders together, share information, track government media-support efforts, and encourage the private sector to be more involved.

“Mark and Senator Lugar believed strongly that CIMA could expand the impact of the U.S. media assistance by providing a forum and acting as a convener for those with on-the ground roles in expanding free expression,” said Kurt Wimmer, a CIMA Advisory Council member and a partner in the law firm of Covington and Burling.  Wimmer, who has worked on freedom of information globally, was a key player in the discussions leading up to the creation of CIMA with Mark, Lugar, and the National Endowment for Democracy, where CIMA is housed.

A strong advocate of freedom of speech and freedom of the press, Mark was also a bulldog about supporting democracy.  He appreciated the centrality of these freedoms to the creation and development of sustainable democracies and hence how CIMA could contribute to the critical mission of the NED, about which he cared so dearly. He was behind the 2004 legislation that called for CIMA’s creation and placement at the NED.

“Mark worked closely with the National Endowment for Democracy in the creation of the Center for International Media Assistance,” said Carl Gershman, president of the  NED.  “It was a great collaboration and led to the establishment of a very important center to highlight the importance of media in democratic development and to advise the governments and others on the best way to provide assistance in that field.” Gershman called Mark “informed, imaginative, and passionate in his commitment.”

When I got to the NED to launch and then run CIMA, I soon met the passionate, fast-talking and energetic Helmke and was blasted with ideas. “Get CIMA up fast,” he urged, “talk to the private sector. Here’s someone who might be interested.”  Then typically followed his wonderful belly laugh drawing you into his great sense of humor.

An example was his “prized possession,” as he called it, which he would bring up at every meeting.  It was the last Soviet uniform of a three-star general from Ukraine whom  Mark said he had lobbied to join the Nunn-Lugar program to reduce the threat of nuclear weapons.

Mark’s career always centered on communications. He began as a journalist on the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, then moved to Senator Lugar’s staff. He later became an international business and political consultant, building a company that grew from 5 to 450 employees, and for many years he served as press secretary for Lugar and as a staff member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He left the Senate in 2012 after  Lugar’s primary election defeat and returned to Indiana to teach at Trine University. Communications was among the subjects he taught.

“Mark Helmke was a talented public servant, communicator, teacher, and political observer with whom I was privileged to work for many years,”  Lugar said in a statement.  He commended him for the roles he played in the fights against apartheid in South Africa, for democracy in Latin America, and to create a post-Soviet government in Ukraine.

And to this I would add his work with CIMA.

It was perhaps Mark’s strong commitment to freedom of expression and journalistic independence that framed “his determination to expand that essential freedom to countries that lacked it,” CIMA Advisory Council member Wimmer said. “The strong and sustainable role that CIMA has played in the international media stage should be seen as one of Mark’s key accomplishments.”

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