Leading donors to the Clinton and Obama campaigns sat down together last night with DNC chairman Howard Dean at a meeting at the Fifth Avenue apartment of super-bundlers Maureen White and Steven Rattner.
According to the accounts of several attendees, things quickly got contentious when Clinton donors raised the issue of seating the delegates from Florida and Michigan. Dean, who was there to appeal for more fund-raising for the party, found himself on the defensive for not being aggressive enough in pursuing a solution to the problem.
The ostensible purpose of the event, co-hosted by White — a former DNC finance chair who supports Clinton — and billionaire Democratic activist George Soros, an Obama backer, was to make sure that the Democratic Party had enough money to hire staff and campaign around the country to defeat John McCain, no matter who the nominee would be.
The meeting, which started at 7 p.m. and lasted several hours, included, among others, Clinton supporters Rattner and White as well as Alan Patricof, Hassan Nemazee and Bernard Bergreen, and Obama supporters Soros, Brian Mathis, James Rubin, Michael Froman and Josh Steiner. Over appetizers of caramelized bacon and copious glasses of wine, they listened to a short address by David Boundy, a Dean ally and political director of the DNC, before the chairman himself offered remarks. According to one of the attendees, he talked broadly about the dynamics of the race and urged everyone to rally around the eventual nominee, before taking questions.
It only took two or three queries for the Clinton partisans to put Dean on the defensive about the Florida and Michigan delegate issue. Nemazee, a Clinton national finance chair, pointedly asked Dean why he and the DNC were not doing more to seat the Florida and Michigan delegates. Dean energetically defended himself, saying it was up to the states and the candidates to reach a solution, and that DNC involvement could be perceived as unfairly assisting one campaign or the other. As he spoke, some Clinton supporters protested, while the Obama supporters mostly sat quietly, according to the attendees.
Patricof, another of Clinton’s national finance chairs, sensed that things were going to get ugly, and left early.
"I went there to demonstrate that I’m supportive to the Democratic Party," said Patricof. "I just didn’t think that was the forum that I wanted to bring out my feelings to the fact that Howard Dean and the DNC has not exercised the leadership in terms of settling the Florida and Michigan situation and the role of the superdelegates. I have made my feelings clear in a letter to Howard directly, which was a respectful but firm letter asking him and the party to exercise leadership. People were very unhappy and I was certain they were going to express it one way or another."
Some participants grew so angry that Gail Furman, a Democratic donor who is neutral in the race, bemoaned the divisions in the party. According to a source, Furman said that as a psychologist, she was saddened and upset that some of the party’s leaders were displaying such raw and rancorous emotions.
White had a different take, saying that politics was a nasty and sometimes very unfair business. Nobody ever said democracy would be easy, she said, but called on all of those present as leaders in the party to reduce the level of rancor, even if it went to a convention.
According to the source, White’s intervention met with applause. At least from the Clinton donors.
UPDATE: More here on a particularly sharp exchange between Dean and Nemazee.