What happens when a citizen actually believes a campaigning politician’s idle promises?
At a May 24 Democratic National Committee fund-raiser at the M.C.I. Center in Washington, D.C., Anita Drobny and her 16-year-old daughter, Jessica, found themselves sitting at a table next to Hillary Clinton’s. Jessica Drobny, a high school sophomore from Highland Park, Ill., who had met Mrs. Clinton twice before, took the opportunity to tell the First Lady about a project she was working on for history class; the subject was female genital mutilation (F.G.M.) in Africa. Mrs. Clinton had given speeches about it in the past.
“They had a dialogue for several moments,” Anita Drobny said.
“She was really interested,” her daughter gushed. Following the exchange, Mrs. Clinton wrote down Jessica’s name and address and promised to send her copies of her notes and speeches on the subject.
By Sunday, June 4, however, the promised material had not arrived. The project was due in three days. So Jessica’s mother, who had contributed $5,000 to Mrs. Clinton’s Senate campaign, did what any slighted donor would do: She called up the campaign’s Seventh Avenue headquarters to complain. Christopher Fickes, deputy finance director, took the call.
“She was really mad,” Jessica later recalled of her mother.
“I can’t imagine that Mrs. Clinton would promise you something and not deliver,” Anita Drobny said.
Mr. Fickes passed the problem along to Huma Abedin, Mrs. Clinton’s personal assistant at the White House. What followed, according to a source close to the campaign, was “an urgent and worried game of phone tag” between harried underlings.
The staff reacted swiftly to the mounting crisis. A search was ordered for the missing materials and for the staff member responsible for their disappearance. The task of mounting an attack against new Senate campaign opponent Rick Lazio was ever-so-briefly shelved so that Jessica Drobny could get her project in on time.
Eventually, the speeches on F.G.M. were discovered. The campaign staff faxed them to Jessica Drobny. But it was too late. She had finished her project.
A source close to the campaign said that the delay in sending the copies of the speeches occurred because Mrs. Clinton “had told someone on the White House staff, but she thought she had told someone else on the White House staff. It just kept passing from one person to another.”
Lissa Muscatine, the First Lady’s press secretary said, “I have a hard time seeing the importance of this, other than that somebody didn’t get information in a timely matter.” (That sounds familiar.)
After Jessica had delivered her report, an envelope from the White House containing Mrs. Clinton’s speeches arrived at the Drobny household. It was a poignant reminder of what might have been.
Without the First Lady’s timely help on the project, Jessica failed to get an A. “It’s very hard to get an A in that class,” she said.
Leslie Gray Levin, her teacher in the class (World History Since 1500), explained, “The reason why her grade wasn’t an A was she was missing some of the requirements on the requirement sheet.” Besides, Mrs. Levin had seen this kind of thing before. “I had a student last year and a student this year who hosted the parties for the Clinton-Gore benefits.”
Season in Stockholm
A few weeks ago, Karina Nordstedt came to Manhattan on a mission: to find a saucy New York actress to liven up her Swedish television program. As the producer of the popular Stockholm series Nya Tider (a sort of Nordic Melrose Place ), she was sick of bland Swedes and feared her audience would soon be, too. The character she had in mind was a brassy young Texan named Billie Jo, who would blow into Stockholm and mess up the love lives of her stars.
“Billie Jo is going to show up and turn everything upside down,” Ms. Nordstedt said. “She’s going to provoke the upscale Swedes. Swedes are very reserved and organized and perfect. And here she comes saying, ‘Come ooon, y’all, layet’s haf some fun!'”
Ms. Nordstedt found New York to be full of young actresses capable of playing Billie Jo. She chose four candidates and began following them around New York, filming them as they went about their business. Of the four, one will eventually be chosen to play Billie Jo. But in the meantime, they will be the stars of a five-part Real World -style documentary about the casting of Billie Jo, which will air prior to the new season of Nya Tider (which means “New Times”).
Over the course of the next month, the four women, all of them in their 20’s, will be living in Stockholm in a fancy apartment above Storstad, the hippest restaurant in town. For the amusement of their Swedish audience, they will take Swedish lessons, eat pickled herring and moose meat, and dance in clogs at the midsommarafton –a traditional solstice celebration. At the end of the actresses’ month in Sweden, the show’s producers will pick one of them to stay on to play Billie Jo.
On June 14, the eve of their departure for Stockholm, Hope Harris, one of the actresses, was in her Upper West Side studio apartment packing for the trip. A seven-person crew filmed her as she tried to figure out what to bring. “It’s going to be between 50 and 70 degrees,” she said, “so I thought I’d pack a leopard-print jacket and some sexy accessories.”
She stared at her cowboy-boot collection and asked whether she should pack a pair.
“Yaaa,” said Ms. Nordstedt. “The red ones. They are the hottest thing in Stockholm.”
“I got them at Buffalo Chips in Soho,” said Ms. Harris, who has long ringlets of blond hair and a Virginia drawl. “Ya’ll get what ‘buffalo chips’ means? That’s what they call, like, dung–like, cow dung or buffalo dung or cow paddies. Buffalo Chips is the name of the store.”
The Swedes nodded. They got it.
The next day was the big day: Not only was Ms. Harris off for Sweden, but she was going to be meeting the other three actresses–on camera, in the food court in the Finnair terminal at John F. Kennedy International Airport, just prior to boarding their flight for Stockholm. She was brimming with apprehension.
“What if they are kleptomaniacs–or mean bitch sluts from hell?” she wondered aloud.
The following afternoon, June 15, Ms. Nordstedt posted the four women at different spots in the food court and then kept the cameras on them as they came together. There were two brunettes (Melissa Hanson and Tanya Gingerich), a blond (Ms. Harris) and a redhead (Alex Sapot.) Ms. Hanson was the first to arrive; Ms. Nordstedt gave her a copy of a magazine called Stockholm Now and stuck her in the far corner of the food court, next to McDonald’s.
Once Ms. Harris had arrived, the women moved toward the center of the food court and introduced themselves. Then they ordered salads and sat down to get to know each other. With some awkwardness, they began talking about what makeup and travel guides they’d brought along. Ms. Harris realized she had forgotten her sandalwood Bobbi Brown lip gloss.
“They don’t have Bobbi Brown at all in Stockholm?” Ms. Hanson said.
Aware that they were aspiring to be cast in the role of an American cliché, the women also shared some of their impressions of Sweden and the Swedes.
Ms. Harris: “I think of the St. Pauli girl–is she Swedish? Or of Heidi with braids. Very pristine, very snowy.”
Ms. Sapot: “Blond-haired men, good looking. Lots of potatoes. Water. Tons of little islands and European architecture.”
Ms. Gingerich: “I always thought of them as avant-garde, a little too cool for school. You always hear about Scandinavian furniture.”
As they got acquainted, Ms. Nordstedt stood off to the side and observed them.
“Tanya is the sophisticated one–but also very tough,” she said. “Hope is comedic–she is very funny. Alex is like a little Pippi Longstocking, a character. Melissa is very settled, I think of her as the most country, from Oklahoma. Yaaa. And she do handle a gun quite vell. So we’re happy.
“It’s so funny. Yaaa. One month ago I was thinking it would be funny to have these American actors in Stockholm, and here they are–flesh and blood! Sweden is going to fall in love.”