A Woman Called Hope Installs Mrs. Clinton At Democratic Podium

For a while last week, life was sweet for John Kerry.

Crowds were big; polls were nudging up; money was pouring in (so much, the campaign was having a tough time getting rid of it before public financing kicked in); reporters were being nice; and Dubya, bless him, was continuing to be Dubya.

The latest: telling Cuban-American supporters in Tampa that the fiend Castro was turning their imprisoned island homeland into the destination of choice for sex tourists.

The proof: Fidel boasting to Oliver Stone that Havana hookers were the cleanest, best educated anyplace.

Mr. Kerry offered no reaction to the bearded Commie dictator’s slander against American whores. Having just finished using Mr. Bush as a hockey puck before 4,000 roaring members of the NAACP, he was focused on heading to Nantucket for a few days of sea, sun and scribbling his convention acceptance speech.

“I cut and paste, the old scissors and paste, write it out, have somebody type it up, read it, sleep on it, see how shitty it is in the morning,” he told the boys on the bus-except it’s no longer a bus, but a custom-fitted 757, on which plenty of girls ride, too.

According to ABC’s The Note , Mr. Kerry quickly amended: “Sorry, wrong word. ‘Bad,’ it is.”

Apology aside, it was a good sign. Anytime John Kerry allows himself to use “fuck it up” (as in describing what George Bush’s doing to Iraq in Rolling Stone ), “shitty” or ” Spaccare la faccia, porco! ” (a pungency picked up at a Swiss boarding school, The Boston Herald reports), he’s feeling great.

“Fabulous,” Mr. Kerry described his mood.

Oh-oh, boy-o. Didn’t Teddy tell you about the Irish curse? Soon as you say “fabulous,” hold on to your hat for “awful.”

Sure enough, the word was hardly out than Judith Hope blew her top.

If you’ve been reading the New York Post , listening to Rush or have Republican neighbors close enough so you can hear them hooting while watching Fox News, you’re aware of the reason. If not, a three-step recap:

The Kerry campaign failed to include on its roster of convention speakers the junior Senator from New York (you may recall she used to be First Lady of the United States).

Ms. Hope, the former chairwoman of the New York Democratic Party and a very good friend of the slighted Senator, was not happy.

Ms. Hope registered annoyance in a fashion calculated to attract Mr. Kerry’s attention.

“Total outrage” were the exact words she sputtered to the Associated Press. “A slap in the face, not personally for Hillary Clinton, but for every woman in the Democratic Party and every woman in America.”

Then, after faint-praising a female scheduled to speak-Christie Vilsack, spouse of Iowa governor Tom (“I’m sure [she] is a wonderful woman,” she allowed of Christie, whose endorsement was the first rock in the Kerry landslide)-Ms. Hope did her Tony Soprano impersonation.

She sure hoped Mr. Kerry would “correct this omission,” she said, because there was this e-mail message she’d composed to more than 1,000 New York women-just coincidentally, “many major donors to the Kerry campaign.” And, well, all it would take to send it was one tap of the “Enter” key.

Ms. Hope was probably mistaken about every person in America with XX chromosomes feeling dissed (Laura Bush and Lynne Cheney, one imagines, absorbed the news with equanimity), and in a bomb-damage-assessment chat with your correspondent, Ms. Hope-a good egg, once you get to know her-expressed sincere-sounding chagrin at the rhetoric employed. “I was mad,” she confessed.

The detonation, in any case, produced the desired effect: Not 24 hours later, Mr. Kerry was on the horn with Hillary, asking if she’d please be so kind as to introduce her boy Bill at the convention. And Hill, being a better sport than her husband (who was still going on about The Washington Post functioning as patsy for Ken Starr while hustling his book in Europe last week), said sure-then had her office tell Judy to shut up.

End of story? Au contraire , dear reader. Shakedown Season has only just begun.

It rolls around every four years about this time, when an interest group with an ax to grind presents whoever happens to be the Democratic Presidential nominee with a choice: Cough up, or face maximum political embarrassment.

The demands vary, never the outcome: Everybody pays; everybody swears they didn’t; and everybody-payer and paid alike-pretends they’re good chums afterward, just like Judy and John are doing today. That’s the game.

To see how it was played on this occasion-and how it will be multiple times the next few months-requires some CSI -style stage-setting, starting with a fill-in on Judy Hope.

An Arkansas transplant with Bill Clinton’s smile, Dick Daley’s elbows and more passion than the two of them put together, Ms. Hope made her initial splash as supervisor of East Hampton Town, where a Democrat getting elected anything is even rarer than a cheap summer rental. She performed ably and indefatigably, and in 1995 became the first of her gender to lead the state party, which was $750,000 in the hole and had just seen George Pataki whack Mario Cuomo. After an unpaid year at a borrowed desk in a borrowed office dealing with process servers, Ms. Hope dramatically rectified the situation on all fronts-in the bargain leading the charge to cleanse the 219-year-old New York State Constitution of a total of 170 gender-discriminatory references.

There were bumps en route, however.

She proved, for starters, to have a mouth on her, saying of Al D’Amato, “He would have a carnival at a Holocaust memorial if he thought it would get him another vote.” (Overstatement, but not by much.) Unlike her mostly invisible male predecessors, who tended to keep favorites to themselves, she also took noisy sides about who ought to run for what. When Senator Pothole seemed vulnerable in 1998, for instance, she proclaimed Bobby Kennedy Jr. “the best guy” to take him on, and moaned that one of the “frustrations” of her job was having to sort through lesser others. (As events bore out, second-stringer Chuck Schumer substituted just fine.)

Two years later, Ms. Hope backed registration-switching former Republican incumbent Mike Forbes over tireless Democratic vineyard worker Regina Seltzer to run for Congress in her home district against fireworks-family son Felix Grucci. The upshot was bipartisan distaste for Mr. Forbes, who disappeared in a light show that would have awed George Plimpton. Undeterred, Ms. Hope then called upon Carl McCall and Andrew Cuomo-who were vying to be sacrificial lamb for Mr. Pataki-to be big boys, sit down and figure out which of them ought to withdraw, so as to avoid a repeat of the Mark Green–Freddie Ferrer mud-sling. Neither appreciated the advice; Ms. Hope turned in her resignation two days later, saying she was worn out and planned to, anyway; and it was left to Bill Clinton to force the hemlock cup upon his Housing and Urban Development Secretary, saving Andy a lot of money he’d later need for divorce proceedings.

Ms. Hope is best known, though, as the seed-planter who suggested Hillary Clinton’s Senate run, as attested to in Living History by the author herself. Ms. Hope succeeded, of course, but not before drawing the ire of Common Cause for messing around with federal campaign-finance laws by using state party money to create television commercials urging the First Lady to run. Once Hillary suited up, Ms. Hope publicly urged her to “give up her day job.” Maybe, she added, Hillary should “put a cot in that house in Chappaqua and move in there”-prompting the Republican National Committee to thoughtfully dispatch a cot to the White House west gate.

Hillary didn’t take the advice (you wouldn’t leave a husband like Bill alone, either), and won anyway when Rudy Giuliani’s prostate cancer made cluck Rick Lazio her opponent. She hadn’t been in her new job long before Ms. Hope was pushing a run for President, a cause endorsed by Mr. Clinton. When, after protracted teasing, Hillary finally declined, Ms. Hope switched to Howard Dean: “Harry Truman with a medical degree,” she hailed him. Democrats in Iowa, New Hampshire and numerous elsewheres disagreed, but Ms. Hope was a bitter-ender, urging Mr. Dean to drop plans to make Wisconsin his last stand and crash his Zero into the New York primary-forget about John Kerry getting cut up.

Ms. Hope, in short, was no great fan of the person who’ll be accepting the Democratic nomination next week. Nor, until extremely recently, was Bill Clinton-and the jury’s still out on his sincerity. The timing of his memoirs gives pause, as does his less than ringing endorsement (Mr. Kerry has a shot at being “a good President,” says five-star 42); his kind words for Dubya on everything from Iraq to the recession; and-best evidence yet that the conspiracy theorists may be right and he wants Mr. Kerry to lose so the missus can run in ’08-the advice he’s been dispensing. Dutch-uncled Bill to John, according to The Boston Globe : “Campaign as though Iraq was stable, the economy was going great guns, and bin Laden was dead.” And, while you’re at it, “avoid cultural issues.”

In other words, run on your dazzling personality.

Add it all up, and you can understand why the Kerry campaign decided that having one Clinton addressing the Democratic National Convention was quite enough, thank you.

Mr. Kerry’s people didn’t come right out and say so, of course-stupid, they’re not. Instead, they fibbed that the reason for not having Hillary on the prime-time podium was that she “hadn’t asked.” When it was pointed out that bashfulness hadn’t prevented Illinois Senate candidate Barack Obama from getting an invitation to deliver the keynote address, a new explanation issued, namely that the Democratic women Senators decided they’d appear en bloc, with their senior member, Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, doing the orating. This had the benefit of being true. Mostly, at any rate. Unmentioned, but even truer, is that Hillary’s popularity doesn’t exactly extend the length and breadth of the land. She’s also not Queen of the Senate-that title goes to Dianne Feinstein of California.

In the end, though, Judy Hope’s willingness to burn the house down trumped, and John Kerry caved.

Net-net: Hillary Clinton will likely be greeted by applause stormier than that which meets John Kerry, and Karl Rove has new material for flip-flop commercials.

There’ve been other backtrackings at gunpoint of late, shakedown being a pastime any Democrat who’s aggrieved and organized can play. A few weeks ago, Donna Brazile-who did such a swell job managing Al Gore’s Presidential campaign-took her turn by announcing, “Don’t expect me to go out and say John Kerry is a great man and a visionary if you’re not running ads on African-American or Hispanic cable networks.” Mr. Kerry, who’d already been taking heat for not having the requisite number of black and Hispanics on his staff (“He is generally surrounded by white folks, and that concerns me,” South Carolina Democratic Congressman James Clyburn groused to The Times ), got the message: Last week he unveiled a $2 million advertising campaign targeted at blacks.

Did this hush the grumbling? It did not. Because Mr. Kerry neglected to pay the necessary obeisance of first running the ads past the members of the Congressional Black Caucus. They made their displeasure loud and clear. “Lackluster to say the least,” caucus chairman Elijah Cummings of Maryland adjudged the effort to the L.A. Times . “Very disappointing,” agreed Representative Barbara Lee of Oakland; “Horrible,” chimed Representative Gregory Meeks of New York.

Result: The ads are being recut.

The good news for demographically minded Democrats is that having been burnt, John Kerry’s fireproofing himself in every conceivable way. He now has a woman as campaign manager and as press secretary (added plus: The gals are sharper than the guys were). “All-stars” of color have been added to the middle reaches, The Washington Post ‘s Colbert I. King reports; ditto the “community outreach senior leadership.” A Latino is now one of the national co-chairs (presumably, he prescreened the just-launched, largest-ever Hispanic ad buy in Presidential campaign history). And separate apparatchiks have been designated to attend to Asian-Pacific Islanders, blacks, Hispanics and Jews-not to mention the lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender community.

Closer to home, Mozambican-native Teresa is responding to insensitivity charges by no longer referring to herself as “African-American”; convert to Judaism Cam Kerry is off in Israel, assuring co-religionists that his goy brother won’t get pushed around by Arabs (they don’t have a separate “outreach” person); and Mr. Kerry himself has professed being “fascinated” by rap and hip-hop. “There’s a lot of poetry in it,” he told MTV viewers. “A lot of social energy …. It’s important.”

It remains to be seen whether this will be enough to placate P. Diddy, whose latest empire expansion is into political king-making, via a candidate question show he’s creating for MTV, featuring “real people off the streets.”

“I want to be disruptive, because it seems Kerry and Bush are already counting their votes,” the Puffster boasted to the New York Post . “I’m going to pull the rug out from under them-they need to work.”

Shakedown has been going on a long time in Andy Jackson’s party, be it in the guise of anteing up staff positions, paying off pastors for “get-out-the-vote” drives or forking over “expenses” for “community leaders” while they traverse the hustings-such as the $36,000 Jesse Jackson and two bodyguards collected for nine days’ work on behalf of George McGovern in 1972, when 36 grand was real money. California Assemblyman Mervyn Dymally used to be a master of the art, but at 78 he’s lost a step or two. Not that he’s misplaced his roar. Last week, still-Assemblyman Dymally demanded the firing of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s commissioner of education, ex-L.A. mayor Richard Riordan, for making a typically ham-handed joke at the expense of a 6-year-old girl he was reading to during a photo op. “Would he have done that to a white girl?” Mr. Dymally thundered about Mr. Riordan, whose foundation has donated millions to reading programs in minority areas. With that, he announced he was getting the NAACP on the case, and would be staging a press conference the next day at the state capitol for further denunciations.

The press conference never took place. Turned out, the girl was white. (Blond hair was the first clue.)

The NAACP-which has adopted bad manners as a marketing strategy-ain’t pure, either. Left out of most stories about why Mr. Bush declined its speaking invitation, for example, is that senior NAACP officials have accused the “illegal president” of treating blacks like “prostitutes”; likened his social policies to the Taliban’s; and termed his black supporters “ventriloquist dummies.” For good measure, the nation’s oldest civil-rights organization has also run an ad suggesting that then–Texas Governor Bush sympathized with the two white assailants in the infamous dragging death of a black man in 1998 because he opposed hate-crimes legislation.

Lucky Dubya didn’t show up; the welcome would’ve made for a terrific Karl Rove commercial.

As for Mr. Kerry, he’s in the final stages of readying himself for next week’s Boston convention, where enforcing ruliness among congenitally-disposed-to-the-opposite Democrats will be up to D.N.C. chairman Bill Richardson. He’s a charmer, and Hispanic to boot. If you’re keeping a box score, the A.P. says that the 4,300-plus delegates Governor Richardson will be calling to order are 20.3 percent black, 11.3 percent Hispanic, 3.9 percent Asian/Pacific Islander, 1.7 percent Native American. Altogether, that makes for 40 percent minority, a record number-and way more than in the U.S. population. So there.

By the way, John, Judy Hope’s going to be in attendance, too.

So watch your step.