Postcards From the Ledge


Dear De Blasio,

Wish you were here!! All your political pals out here are saying how, despite your current status as Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign manager-and your perpetual status as the Voltaire of schmoozing-you don’t wish you were here. Indeed, word at the open bar is that you wouldn’t mind keeping the North American land mass between you and your demanding, micromanaging, favorites-playing candidate and this whole lot of demanding, meddling, card-playing, knife-wielding New York political hacks. But it’s still kind of a shame you’re not getting to see your gal up close.

It was the task of Bill Clinton to open the convention with the triumphant blare of a trumpet. It is the task of Al Gore to close it with a roaring crescendo. But it falls uniquely to Hillary Rodham Clinton to play appropriately all the way through. In a sense, her political dilemma is Mr. Gore’s political dilemma-times 12.

It is almost eerie in its perfection, the parallel between the political challenge that now faces both Mr. Gore and Mrs. Clinton: Both are seen as “right” on the checklist of issues by their respective pools of voters. Both are widely seen as more intelligent and illustrious than their respective opponents. But both are also suffering from the same elusive and perhaps illusory, but absolutely definitive, form of what might be tagged “non-specific humanity-deficit disorder,” which clings to them like the stink in a smoker’s clothing. And of course, both must conjure the selfsame bit of magic: throwing off what is sordid in the shadow of the President, while yet absorbing all that is still golden in his glory.

Much has been made of the minefield this presents to Mr. Gore. For Mrs. Clinton, the mines are closer and much more likely to blow. Think about it: The Vice President inserts Joe Lieberman between himself and the President, and the nation hails his bold bid for independence and moral probity. The First Lady puts Chelsea in between herself and the President to have a picture taken, and the country wonders what, if anything, she might mean to signal.

At her speech on Monday night, Mrs. Clinton had to strike her now-familiar-but-still-awkward straddle between the role she has and the one she seeks: Placed in prime time, directly before her extremely significant other, she appeared to be-and, let’s face it, she was -skimming off the cream of her husband’s prominence. But venturing, in part, out of the supportive speech of a candidate’s spouse and into the stridency and self-centeredness of the candidate, she came in for criticism for focusing too much on herself, and not enough on her party’s leaders.

But it was Sunday evening’s luminary-larded “Tribute to President William Jefferson Clinton”-at which, incidentally, live performances were interspliced with segments of the 1992 convention biopic A Man from Hope , which the average Democrat has now seen more than Casablanca -that provided the most succinct metaphor. It was a tribute to him that raised money for her.

That’s good. That’s bad. And for you and your team, De Blasio, that’s life.

Don’t worry, though. In her speech to the convention, Hillary was great. Well, not great in the home-run-with-bases-loaded way that the President pulled off. (“A great fucking mother of a speech,” Local 1199 chief Dennis Rivera pronounced it at the after-party at Spago, complete with champagne, celebrities and a mermaid-adorned raw-seafood bar, thrown by communications czar–turned–caterer extraordinaire Michael Bloomberg). It was not even particularly great for her, in fact. Basically, she unpacked her stump speech and put some Gore and Lieberman references into the suitcase. It was the crowd that was great. Having seen her in the crossfire of New York politics, the standing ovation was nothing short of revelatory: One could not, of course, see for sure whether her shoulders were relaxing, her features defrosting. But one could certainly sense that the invisible roller-coaster guard rail that locks her in as she rides through her every public engagement was lifted by the force of adulation. No wonder it’s hard for you to get her to toss off the girdle aspects of her personality and be a damn candidate, De Blasio. Who wants to be a contender when you can be a goddess? Who wants to take tough questions when there is still at least one stadium’s worth of people who will go nuts-in a good way-for the soggy if defiant cry, “It still takes a village.… ”

Even goddesses need editing, though. “Franklin Roosevelt thought that his generation had a rendezvous with destiny,” the First Lady told the convention, as she has been telling audiences up and down the state of New York since her candidacy was a gleam in the eye of Rep. Charles Rangel. “I feel that our generation has a rendezvous with responsibility.” Thud . Do you hear that thud , De Blasio? This line has been driving various of your colleagues nuts for over a year. She keeps putting it in, though. And that, my friend, is your universe in a grain of sand. It contains your candidate’s propensity for micromanagement; it reflects her campaign’s unwillingness to use the N-word, which is “No,” or her refusal to hear it; and it evinces that humanity-deficit disorder business. It’s up to you to tell her, Bill: No one wants a rendezvous with responsibility . For a rendezvous with destiny, you douse yourself in Chanel No. 5, swathe yourself in slinky black silk, and spirit yourself off to a clandestine location under cover of night. For a rendezvous with responsibility, you get a good night’s rest, slip on your orthotics and floss. Maybe you can work it in as you’re re-emphasizing the fact that candidates in 50-50 races do not get days off when the election is only two months away. (Were you in on that recent multi-tiered interface between White House staff, former First Lady–turned–Senate candidate staff, and plain old New York campaign staff, where someboy or other, to the horror of the harder-core New Yorkers, suggested otherwise?)

Don’t worry, though. I ran into Bronx County Democratic chairman Roberto Ramirez in the lobby. He denied the whole little rumor that’s been circulating about telephoning Hillary and telling her that if she kept running the way she’s running, she would lose. Well, he didn’t deny it exactly. Actually, for him, he kind of confirmed it. “I have had a number of conversations with the First Lady,” he said. “I have never sugarcoated it. I have always been straightforward.” And it’s pretty clear what he was not sugarcoating: the tension, which bubbles in all New York campaigns and is about to boil over in this one, between the spending of time and money on revving up the base, and spending time and money on co-opting swing voters. “I suspect that this is about turnout, turnout, turnout,” said Mr. Ramirez, who seems to have adopted a penchant for speaking in Gertrude Stein triplicate. “A vote is a vote is a vote. A vote in a Fordham Road neighborhood that is definitely going to vote for her will offset a vote for the suburbs that may or may not vote for her.” Translation: As the pressure intensifies upon the campaign to counter Rep. Rick Lazio among the white moderates in his Long Island backyard, an equal and opposite pressure will intensify upon the campaign to turn out the African-American and Latino voters in New York City who no longer have the thought of Senator Rudolph Giuliani driving them straight into the polling booths.

Don’t worry, though. At the Bloomberg party, when everybody was talking about how impossible it would be to measure up to the President’s charisma, they were not dissing Mrs. Clinton’s performance, but rather pre-dissing Mr. Gore’s.

And then there are the little glimpses you’re missing:

Long, tall Assemblyman Herman (Denny) Farrell, fresh from his three-day drive here from New York in a red Pontiac convertible, arriving in the lobby of the Westin Century Plaza in open-toed sandals. Sunsetting maverick Senator Bob Kerrey, on his way into the Staples Center for Clinton night, giving a friend a unique perspective on the historic introduction of an Orthodox Jew to the Democratic ticket: “Chris Dodd said you can half convert and get Saturday and Sunday off!” Harold Ickes wandering around at the “Tribute to President William Jefferson Clinton” in a straw hat as if on a plantation. The fact that the tribute occurred in the context of, um, night made the sun hat look a little odd, but as you know, Mr. Ickes has not exuded the aura of perfect normality for quite some time. Paul Anka, on the other hand, appears to have gone completely bonkers. Memo to Warbling Mr. Royalties: A Clinton-specific rendition of “My Way” is one thing. A brand-new tune about the Middle East peace process called “Freedom for the World” (and featuring such lyrical stylings as “Look at the madness / The faces of sadness … I can’t believe some of the stuff goin’ on / It’s wrong”) is quite another. And while it is arguably sane to perform it as a duet with the cantor from Steve and Edie’s synagogue, or with vocal support from several risers’ worth of a black gospel choir, doing both at the same time is grounds for medication. Then down on the convention floor, there was actor James Woods triangulated between Labor Secretary Alexis Herman, and his brother, Michael Woods, a Democratic candidate for mayor of Warwick, R.I., and a former publicist for Oliver Stone.

So it’s fun. Don’t worry, though. Your colleagues will fill you in-and if not, ask Andrew Cuomo, who has, of course, been here seeding his run for Governor. I know you guys still talk all the time. I know some of your colleagues think that means you may be putting Andrew’s gubernatorial aspirations ahead of Hillary’s Senatorial ones. But I would never say that about you. Cheers! Postcards From the Ledge