Ken McGhie, B.A. ’79 serves as the general counsel for the Washington D.C. Board of Elections
Member of Adelphi University’s Profiles in Success program.
General Counsel for the Washington D.C. Board of Elections
Favorite Professors/Mentors: Hugh Wilson, Bob Robinson, Malcom Valentine
Advice for current students/new graduates: “Take advantage of as many different activities as you can and meet as many people as you can. Don’t be scared to go somewhere where you don’t know anybody. Network with people. Adelphi is a great institution. There are alumni all over the country. Find them reach out to them.”
When Ken McGhie, B.A. ’79, accepted a job with the Washington, D.C. Board of Elections, he intended to stay for approximately one year. “I didn’t have any election experience. I was a tax lawyer,” he said. “But, they needed a litigator and I had experience.” Life had different plans for McGhie however, and over 20 years later, McGhie still proudly serves the Washington D.C. Board of Elections as its general counsel.
Over the course of his career, McGhie has played an integral role in many important cases, some of which garnered national media attention. “About 15 years ago, the incumbent mayor of D.C. was trying to get on the ballot,” he said. “I reviewed his petitions and found fraudulent signatures and recommended that they not be accepted. He was thrown off the ballot and there was a trial that got a lot of media attention. The courtroom artist even sketched me and gave me a copy.” The case was one of many instances in which McGhie assisted in shaping the political landscape in D.C. He credits Adelphi for helping to ignite his passion for politics.
McGhie came to Adelphi in 1977. His father was a Jamaican immigrant and his mother hailed from Louisiana. He and his two twin sisters were raised in the working-class neighborhood of Bushwick, Brooklyn. As an avid track runner at Christ the King High School, he followed Adelphi’s track program closely. “Adelphi had the world record for the one-mile relay,” he recalled. “I was a big track rat and I was following them. Some friends from high school went to Adelphi; guys I looked up to. And, I liked the coach at the time, Ron Basil.”
Although he originally came to Adelphi for the track program, he soon discovered other interests on campus. He became a member of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity and later was appointed to be its dean of pledges and president. He also served as the treasurer of the Pre-Law Society, the secretary of the Inter-Fraternity Council, was a member of the University Appeals Board, and even sang in the University Choir.
He first enrolled at Adelphi as a history major, but after a conversation with Professor Hugh Wilson, he decided to switch his major to political science. “In the back of my mind I always wanted to go to law school but didn’t know where to begin,” said McGhie. “But [Professor Wilson] encouraged me to enroll in political science. Then I started to become interested in politics.”
McGhie first thought about going to law school when he was a student working for the investment banking firm Lehman Brothers. “In my junior year of high school, New York City had a program where they matched up underprivileged kids with businesses,” McGhie said. “They placed me with Lehman Brothers in the accounting section. They liked me and brought me back. They eventually switched me to the legal department and took me under their wing and mentored me. They told me I could do anything I wanted to do and they’d be there for me. So, every summer, Easter, and Christmas break I worked there. I ended up being there for almost ten years. They convinced me I could be a lawyer just like them.”
When McGhie earned his degree from Adelphi in 1979, his family was ecstatic. “I was the first person in my family to get a college degree,” he said. “So, my mom was thrilled and her sisters drove up from Louisiana.” After graduation, he applied to Northeastern University after a fellow Adelphi alumnus went there and recommended it to him.
While at Northeastern University, he had several internships. His final internship was with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Diego where he made very valuable connections. “I met a lot of people on all sides: U.S. attorneys, public defenders, and even judges,” McGhie said.
When he graduated from Northeastern, McGhie didn’t have a job lined up but was studying for the New York State Bar Exam. After sending out some resumes, he received an offer from a public defender’s office in San Diego. “The New York Bar was a week away and I got an offer for a job in San Diego. So, I had to take California Bar too,” he said. “I took the New York Bar and then took the California Bar and passed both.” He spent the following four years in San Diego, working with the public defender’s office handling things like prisoner exchanges in Tijuana, alien and drug smuggling, and various other cases. However, despite enjoying his life in San Diego, he longed to return home to the east coast.
He joined a real estate law firm in Manhattan but after two years the firm downsized and he found himself without a job. But rather than let it discourage him, he learned from the minor setback. “I noticed that the lawyers who specialized in securities or tax weren’t let go,” he said. “I thought maybe I should specialize also so I went back to school to get my LLM in tax. I got accepted to Georgetown and went to school at night.” During that time, he also started working with the Washington, D.C. Department of Finance and Revenue. He then moved on to the D.C. Treasurer’s Office. When he earned his LLM degree from Georgetown, he was working as the debt manager in the D.C. Treasurer’s Office. “Anytime D.C. issued any bonds or notes I was responsible,” he said about his role there.
McGhie was then approached by someone he went to law school with. “He said a congresswoman needed someone to do appropriations,” recollected McGhie. He then went to work for Detroit Congresswoman Barbara-Rose Collins on Capitol Hill as her deputy staff director.
He followed up his work on Capitol Hill with a short stint as an independent lawyer. But then another friend from law school came to him with an opportunity at the D.C. Board of Elections. They needed an experienced litigator and at the time they didn’t have many lawyers on staff. He went to work at the D.C. Board of Elections believing he would only be there for a short period of time. But within a year, the rest of the staff had either retired or taken other positions and he was named the interim general counsel. The D.C. Board of Elections then conducted a national search for a new general counsel. However, they couldn’t settle on a candidate and in the meantime, McGhie had done an exemplary job in the role. Therefore, they decided to give him the job permanently.
Now, over 20 years later, McGhie looks back proudly on all that he has accomplished during his tenure. As far as his personal life, he says his greatest accomplishment has been getting married and having two children; a twin boy and girl. In his free time, McGhie coaches the track team at his kids’ school.
When asked how his time at Adelphi transformed his life, McGhie said, “When I think about Adelphi, I think about my fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha. I was mediocre [before I got there] but that put me into a leadership role. I was doing public speaking and I had never done that before. It drew me out of my shell and then I had no problem standing in front of big crowds. That later helped me in my career. I’m very grateful for that.”
Published December 2017
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