Lansing lobbyist, former reporter Ken Cole dies at 55

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

From an impressive list of connections across Michigan to mentoring other professionals and an engaging personality, lobbyist Ken Cole left an impression on those he encountered.

“Ken Cole was a Michigan icon and embodied the professionalism and congeniality that is rare to find in politics today,” said Mary Sheffield, Detroit City Council president. “His service to the City of Detroit was nothing short of remarkable and made a real difference in the lives of our residents.

"We will be hard pressed to replace the institutional knowledge, relationships and true love for the City Ken brought as our lobbyist. He will be sorely missed.

Kenneth A. Cole

Mr. Cole, a former Detroit News staffer and longtime member at Governmental Consultant Services Inc., died last weekend after months of health issues, colleagues said. He was 55.

In more than 22 years at GCSI, one of the state’s largest lobbyist firms, he rose from an account executive to senior vice president.

Mike Hawks, the company’s CEO, remembers him as a “master” in balancing demands and forging relationships as well as a trailblazer in inspiring other African American professionals.

“He was able to learn from many of the people who were on our professional team, and our professional team learned from Ken with his background in journalism, his affable personality and his ability to understand complex issues and pursue our goals within the confines of a changing political environment,” he said. “He had a skillset that was unique to him.”

Mr. Cole also was committed to advising others in the field and inspired them with his work ethic, said Adrian Hemond, CEO of the Lansing-based consulting firm Grassroots Midwest. “Ken really had a heart for people.”

That touch was noticeable in his interactions with lawmakers in Lansing.

State Rep. Cynthia Johnson, D-Detroit, recalls him as “a kind soul” who respected her positions on issues such as changes to auto insurance policies.

“He was a listener and a friend.  Yes, really a friend,” she said. “… He was just a tremendous human being.”

A graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism at the University of Missouri, Mr. Cole started his career in journalism. 

He worked at the Ypsilanti Press and the Jackson Citizen Patriot before joining The Detroit News in the 1990s.

Mr. Cole was a reporter in the Lansing bureau for five years then spent two covering the politics of the auto industry in the Washington, D.C., bureau, according to his biography.

His work earned honors from the Washington Automotive Press Association, the National Safety Council and the Detroit Press Club Foundation. He also was a former adjunct journalism professor at Michigan State University.

Ken Cole, a Lansing lobbyist for the city of Detroit, explains legislation to a crowd of angry residents in 2009.

Mr. Cole joined GCSI in 1999.

Crain’s Detroit Business once named him among its “50 names to know in lobbying.”

He “had a Rolodex bigger than anyone I knew,” Hawks said. “I think that’s why he transitioned well from journalism.”

Survivors include his wife, Debi, and a daughter, Payton.