In the 1988 presidential primary season, Al Gore had literally not even set foot in New York -- he was flying to the state later that day to begin his New York campaigning -- before he announced that America should move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. Also that year, Ed Koch declared that Jews "would have to be crazy" to vote for Jesse Jackson. In 1993, when he wrested the mayoralty from David Dinkins, Rudy Giuliani spent days on end in the Orthodox Jewish communities of Brooklyn, assuring this crucial constituency -- which tended to vote en bloc as per the rebbe's instructions -- that no rampaging black youths would be killing any Hasidic scholars when he was mayor, a reference to the murder of Yankel Rosenbaum in Crown Heights in 1991. In 1998, when Al D'Amato faced Chuck Schumer, he pointed to a vote on Holocaust commemoration that Schumer had missed as evidence that Schumer was soft on Israel. So New York elections go.
That Hillary would face special trouble on this front was always clear. Candidates who want to win elections in New York do not normally urge the creation of a Palestinian state, as Hillary had in 1998. Many, if not most, New York Jews support the peace process and, in logical progression, an eventual Palestinian state. But that's hardly what matters. Liberal, peacenik Jews do not control the debate on the question. The Post and the more vocal Orthodox communities do. Little room is left for nuance. A New York senator is not supposed to offer calibrated exegeses on the tangled history of competing Middle East land claims, or allow that maybe the Arabs have a point about the 1982 bombing of Sabra and Shatila. A New York senator is supposed to say one thing: Israel first, Israel always.
Ever since the "Jew bastard" flap, Hillary seemed to have begun to get this. Starting in late September, her campaign took care to place her alongside prominent Jewish leaders. She finally had a joint appearance with Joe Lieberman at a public school in Coney Island on September 15, where he praised her character and vouched for her on Israel. (The Clinton team was filming as Lieberman spoke, but the Board of Education maintains a strict rule that nothing that happens in a school can be used for political purposes, so the footage remained in the vaults.) Elie Wiesel, the Nobel Prize-winning author, had endorsed her on September 25 at Hunter College on the Upper East Side, where they jointly denounced Palestinian textbooks. Former treasury secretary Robert Rubin appeared at her side shortly thereafter. On Thursday, October 6, she appeared at a forum sponsored by the Jewish Week newspaper and held at an East Side synagogue, where she acknowledged for the first time that visiting Suha Arafat was a mistake in the first place. The night before that event, one source told me, Hillary and several advisers were on a conference call preparing for the event. When the conversation turned to how to handle the Suha question, it was Hillary who said, "I think I'll just say I was wrong."
It seemed, for a while, that Hillary just might skate through to election day without having to face another Jewish crisis. Her poll numbers among Jews were going up as the temperature went down. Hillary and key staff people were meeting quietly with individual Jewish leaders of all denominations -- Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox. Ann Lewis, Bill DeBlasio, and Matthew Hiltzik met privately with Dov Hikind twice during the fall. Hillary met him privately, one last time, on Monday night, October 30. It was just the two of them in a room, with no aides. Hillary emerged from the room saying to aides waiting outside that Hikind had asked her for a commitment she couldn't make. She didn't say what it was, but surely it was that she press for Jonathan Pollard's release. She would not get Hikind's endorsement, but neither would Lazio. Coordinating their efforts with Lewis and Hiltzik, leading Jewish Democratic politicians -- most notably Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, but also connected party operatives like George Arzt -- had successfully intervened with other Jewish elected officials and prominent rabbis, urging them at least to stay neutral, even if they could not bring themselves to endorse her.
More generally, the race, in mid-October, again hit one of its periodic walls. Things were fairly quiet. Robert Ray was not going to get New Yorkers' juices flowing, and Lazio, try as he might, could do nothing to shrink the small but by now very steady lead that Hillary had held for weeks. Mark Penn and Bill Clinton had a conversation around this time, in which the president asked Penn not whether Hillary would win, but by how much. Penn said five points. The president said it looked to him more like eight or nine. (After the election, the president relayed this conversation to his cabinet, declaring the numerical impasse "the only time I've ever disagreed with Mark.") Hillary just needed, for the final two weeks, to play ball control.
Then, on Wednesday, October 25, thirteen days out: fumble.
Under the headline ISRAEL FOES GIVE HIL 50G, the Daily News reported that Hillary had raised $50,000 at a fund-raiser in Boston in June sponsored by a group called the American Muslim Alliance. The AMA's leader, the News said, "backs the Palestinians' right to use 'armed force' against Israel." It also said that another Arab-American, Abdurahman Alamoudi, who was affiliated with a group called the American Muslim Council, had made a $1,000 contribution to the Clinton campaign in May. Alamoudi had been invited to White House receptions honoring Muslim holidays, and had boasted, the article charged, that "we are the ones who went to the White House and defended what is called Hamas." Finally, the article -- most unfortunately, from the Clinton team's perspective -- quoted Tahir Ali, the chairman of the Massachusetts chapter of the AMA, as saying the following apropos Hillary's newly buffed fealty to Israel: "The idea is to win the election. She must change her tune. But that doesn't mean anything. It's just at the spur of the moment that she must say these things, and we understand that."
It would emerge over the next couple of days, mostly through the reporting of the Times's Dean E. Murphy, who had replaced Adam Nagourney on the Hillary trail, that these men hardly spent their lives marching through the streets waving scimitars and praising Allah. Tahir Ali was a software engineer. Yahya Mossa-Basha, the Michigan-based president of the American Muslim Council, was a radiologist. Agha Saeed, the president of the American Muslim Alliance, was a political-science professor at the University of California, Berkeley. Faroque Khan, the chairman of the American Muslim Alliance's New York chapter, was a Lexus-driving doctor who lived in Rick Lazio's congressional district and had contributed to his campaigns. But none of this mattered as much as their surnames. And the fact that some of them had made statements that stated the Palestinian case forcefully, sometimes suggesting that armed struggle against Israel was appropriate. Alamoudi in particular would become the focus of much controversy, and the star of one of Mike Murphy's last commercials.
The New York political establishment can be slow to evolve, like one of those creatures that roam the sea bed and have undergone no genetic change in six thousand years. The three I's -- Israel, Italy, and Ireland -- have long made up the New York establishment's core DNA. Slowly the establishment admitted blacks, and then Latinos. But for Arab-Americans, New York was a uniquely hostile environment. The idea that they might be trying to exercise legitimate political influence was one that most people could not -- or would not -- grasp. Least of all in support of Hillary Clinton.
The same day the Daily News story hit, Hillary was scheduled to hold a press availability on a nondescript street corner in Queens. She was to appear with officials of the building-trades unions to argue that Lazio's contributions from home builders' groups had compromised his integrity on housing issues. Some of Hillary's advisers hoped that the story could blunt the impact of what came to be called in shorthand "the AMA thing." Wolfson informed them otherwise. "Uh, I hate to tell you, but I kind of doubt housing will be the issue of the day," he told his colleagues. Wolfson was impervious to crisis; it was a quality Hillary evidently admired, since Wolfson's influence with her grew and grew over the course of the campaign, and it was a quality she shared. "It was never panic with her," says one aide. "It was always, 'Okay, let's figure out how to deal with this one.' " This aide remembers that on the morning of that press conference the Clinton motorcade was on its way to Queens from her endorsement interview with Newsday's editorial board on Long Island. The motorcade neared the site, but the aide got a call from someone saying that the podium had not yet arrived. The motorcade had to pull over a few blocks away and wait for fifteen minutes. As she faced what promised to be the most important press conference of her campaign, Hillary "just sat there and read the paper."
The press conference was beyond strange. She said, right off the bat, that she was returning the entire $50,000 she had raised in Boston, and the $1,000 from Alamoudi. (The day before, Wolfson and other aides had urged her to do this.) She then, under questioning, went into a lengthy and somewhat convoluted discussion of the Boston fund-raiser itself. As far as her campaign knew, she said, the event had been sponsored by two Arab-American businessmen. She'd never heard of the American Muslim Alliance. The group was now claiming that it had taken over sponsorship of the event a week before it took place. Hillary claimed her campaign never knew that. But, reporters interjected, you received a plaque at the event inscribed "American Muslim Alliance." And you posed for a picture with your hosts, holding the plaque up (the picture had appeared in the News). "You know, I get handed thousands of plaques," she said; she confessed that she'd long since quit looking at them.
Present at the press conference was one Steve Emerson, a conservative freelance journalist who specialized in the study of terrorist organizations, and who had fed the Daily News most of its information. Here, on a street corner with eyesore-ish aluminum-sided single-family homes and attached houses, which recalled the opening credits of All in the Family, with a few confused and eavesdropping local residents sprinkled in, Emerson passed out what he called firm documentation of terrorist sympathizers who had been invited to the White House during the Clinton years. He held his own counter-press conference after Hillary finished.
And most bizarrely: the international press was a constant on Hillary's campaign. Always, wherever she went, even in the humblest upstate burg, there was one British or French journalist, or one Japanese television crew. This day it was a German television crew. With New York reporters heatedly pressing her about the donations, and about why she didn't look at her plaques, and how that should make all those plaque-givers feel, the German correspondent got his question in. Mrs. Clinton, for zuh German television, can you say, campaigning with the president, has it brought you closer together? Her press aides generally turned up their noses at the foreign press. If your readers or viewers or listeners weren't in New York, the Clinton people had less than no use for you. This one day, at least, they must have appreciated it.
Lazio, meanwhile, was in Westchester County and the Bronx, and all eyes were fixed on him for his reaction. It is a rule of thumb in politics that, if your opponent is being scorched in the papers, you hang back and just let the papers do the scorching. Hillary had observed this rule religiously during Rudy's Time of Troubles. Would Lazio do the same? The night before the AMA story broke, when the Clinton people knew it was coming, Bill DeBlasio and Harold Ickes called around to local operatives like George Arzt and John LoCicero, Harold's old and close friend, for ideas about damage control. Arzt recalls his conversation with DeBlasio. "I told him, 'Hey, you got nothing to worry about,' " Arzt says. "'Why?' 'Because they're going to overdo it, hold a press conference, and say something stupid instead of just ripping it out of the paper and mailing it to everyone in the state.'" And sure enough, Lazio, speaking in the Bronx, called the donations "blood money." This phrase, like the "blood libel" charge tossed at Hillary after she kissed Suha Arafat, has a deeply resonant and particular meaning among Jews; in Israeli politics, these are the worst things you can say about someone. Clearly, he was going to push the issue hard.
The Clinton war room quickly lined up Ed Koch, Mark Green, and Ray Harding, the Liberal Party chairman who had endorsed Hillary after Giuliani left the race by invoking the great names of Wagner and Lehman and Kennedy and Javits, to hold a press conference. Harding had been mostly silent since that June endorsement. Now he roared back into the picture, appearing on New York 1 that night and giving as forceful a performance as he had ever given, even including those on behalf of his great friend, the mayor. "Now all of a sudden that group claims, after Hillary Clinton has been saying strong pro-Israeli things, that they were the hosts....What I say is there is a conspiracy at hand by these groups to bring Hillary Clinton down!" he thundered. It may or may not have been that. But whatever it was, it was just getting started.
The Gaffe of the Campaign
By Friday, October 27, the story was dying down a little. We were into "reax" pieces -- how Muslims felt being tossed about on the mad sea of New York politics. The day after Hillary was in Queens dealing with her plaque problem, she received the endorsement of the Forward, probably the city's leading Jewish newspaper. She also turned 53 that Thursday, an occasion commemorated by, what else, a fund-raiser, at Manhattan's Roseland Ballroom, featuring Robert De Niro, Nathan Lane, Cher, Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz, the president, and Chelsea. The Clinton campaign released a television ad featuring Nita Lowey, the Westchester congresswoman who had bowed out when Hillary decided to seek the nomination, vouching for the first lady's record of accomplishments. A New York 1 poll showed her ahead among white women, 49 to 44 percent. As one read the papers that Friday morning, one could be forgiven for thinking that the AMA thing was floating away.
That afternoon, Lazio did his best to keep it alive, returning at several points to Hillary's supposed link to terrorists at the third and final debate, moderated by WNBC veteran Gabe Pressman and held in the studios of Saturday Night Live. The location was perhaps fitting, because the debate was memorable mostly as comic relief -- at one point, when Pressman asked the combatants to say three nice things about each other, Hillary averred that Lazio had a nice family, worked very hard, "and, um, you know, he's an attractive young man." There was also, one source says, an amusing moment leading up to the debate, during one of Hillary's prep sessions. The president, again, was interrupting and telling her how to answer. But this time, instead of shrinking, Hillary cut him off: "No, Bill, that's not the way we do it in New York."
That Saturday morning, Hillary was beginning her last lengthy upstate swing. She had continued to run ads heavily upstate, including a widely praised one that used an image of an ostrich as a way of telling voters that, when it came to upstate economic woes, Lazio had his head in the sand. (The ad was the creation of Ellis Verdi; finally, he got his shot of humor in the race!) Apart from the ads, though, Hillary had been concentrating her efforts on the suburbs and the city for the previous two or three weeks. Meanwhile, Lazio, finally acceding to the demands of nervous GOPers, had devoted almost all of his time to upstate. He had launched, in mid-October, a series of fund-raising lunches and dinners whose gustatory rubrics -- "Rigatoni with Rick," "Lasagna with Lazio" -- conveyed both the right timbre of folksiness sought by the man challenging a candidate who could snare the likes of Robert De Niro on a moment's notice, and the candidate's Catholic roots. Gigi Georges and Hillary's other top advisers decided that the upstaters were in need of one more "touch."
She started on Saturday, October 28, in Ithaca. She flew up from the city in the company of the actor Ben Affleck, who was to appear with her at a rally at Cornell that afternoon. She was also armed with copies of The New York Times and the New York Post, which were offering competing versions of a very interesting story. In the Times, Cliff Levy was reporting that the state Republican committee was conducting a telephone campaign to Jewish voters in which the callers asked questions like, "Did you know that Hillary Rodham Clinton had been a supporter of a Palestinian state before she decided to run for Senate?" The line of questioning rang alarm bells in the mind of a Manhattan man Levy interviewed, who asked to speak to a supervisor, who "eventually disclosed that the call was being paid for by the Republican State Committee." In the Post, Gregg Birnbaum had an even more explosive version. Birnbaum had a script, "provided by GOP sources," saying that Hillary had accepted money from an Arab organization that "openly brags about its support for a Mideast terrorism group, the same kind of terrorism that killed our sailors on the USS Cole." The Cole had been sunk on October 12 by a terrorist bomb in the Red Sea port of Aden, Yemen, killing seventeen Americans. The script urged recipients of the calls to phone Hillary "and tell her to stop supporting terrorism and give the money back." Hillary had many "firsts" as a first lady. She was surely the first to stand accused of supporting terrorism.
The calls had started Thursday, the day after the Daily News story broke, and were intended to go to 500,000 voters. The Lazio camp, one source says, had sensed the race slipping away the previous week and had asked the state Republicans to do something. The calls are what they did. The state GOP was initially quite pleased with its efforts. But once the story broke, especially the part about the mention of the USS Cole, Lazio and the Republicans were put on the defensive, and Hillary wasted no time in playing offense. Shortly after she landed in Ithaca, in one of those side buildings common to small airports, Hillary met us in a small room at 10:48 A.M. and let go. She was quiet and controlled, and suffering from a terrible cold, but she was letting more emotion show through, and using more direct language, than was her custom. "They have stooped to a level I never thought we'd see," she said. "I just really never thought I would see this kind of tactic used. This hits a new low."
At Cornell, Hillary introduced the Cole calls into her speech to about fifteen hundred students scattered across a sloping lawn. She had attended the memorial service in Norfolk, Virginia, she said, and had talked with the dead sailors' families, who "represented every shade of skin color, every texture of hair"; she linked their deaths to vigilance on liberty's behalf and to the obligation of everyone to vote. Later that Saturday, at a feed store in Elmira, where mountains of pumpkins were arranged in various displays, Chuck Schumer materialized, as if rising out of the pumpkin patch. For a year or more, the political class had sniggered about Schumer's real feelings regarding Hillary's candidacy. Hillary's election would make him New York's second-best-known senator by some distance, and Chuck had never been exactly shy about publicity (once, in the 1970s, when he was a young, unknown assemblyman, he was mugged, and somehow or another it made the Times). But he joined her side that Saturday, ten days before the election, and never left it. He, too, denounced the Cole calls, saying, "No, it doesn't work, it backfires, and thank God it does."
Hillary was succeeding in making the calls, not the fund-raiser itself, the issue -- most political observers agreed that the mention of the Cole crossed a line. But it was not yet clear, that weekend, that the calls would backfire. After all, the AMA story had begun to die down on Friday; the calls kept it alive. Hillary's constant mention of them kept Lazio on the defensive, but it also kept alive mentions in the press of Hillary and the $50,000. Republicans sensed this; far from backing down, they continued to push the issue. The same Saturday that Hillary was talking about "a new low," Lazio, while making it clear that the calls were not being made by his campaign, asserted that they were fair. And Bill Powers, the state GOP chairman, said the language about the Cole was absolutely in bounds. Her association with Hamas, GOP spokesman Dan Allen said, is "something Mrs. Clinton has to answer for."
In Washington, meanwhile, Mandy Grunwald was working on two commercials responding to the calls. One used footage of the Cole itself. Another went one step further, using footage of Hillary wiping away tears at the memorial service. Both ads tested very well, and Grunwald was inclined to go with the one featuring Hillary, clearly the more powerful of the two. But a consensus quickly developed within the campaign that the ad featuring the first lady could backfire, making it seem that she was exploiting the tragedy with an overly maudlin image. Wolfson was against using it. The president saw the ad and agreed. "No," he said. "It's too powerful." Still, the campaign was about a half-hour away from shipping copies to television stations when Hillary, traveling upstate, agreed that it was too strong and told her advisers, "Let's wait until we have editorial support."
That support came Tuesday, October 31, from The New York Times and from Newsday. By then, there had been enough pressure on Republicans that they had announced they were stopping the calls. Still, Lazio, now being pressed at every news conference to denounce the calls, refused to do so. The Times blasted him on this point, accusing him of trying "to be cute" about accepting responsibility for the calls. Newsday called them "reprehensible" -- more than a little ironic, since it did so inside an editorial that endorsed Lazio as its candidate. Nevertheless, Grunwald was able to use quotes from both editorials, and she had an ad up within hours.
In the end, it was a radio ad that did the most to undo the damage the campaign had sustained over the Cole fracas. Speechwriter June Shi discovered an e-mail to the campaign from a man who lived in Queensbury, a town near Lake George, and who identified himself only as "Mike." He wrote: "Until today, I said nothing would make me vote for Hillary...And I said that all Rick Lazio had to do was show up and not be Hillary." But, he continued, his son had served on the U.S.S. Stethem and had trained some Cole crew members. He found it "totally unacceptable" for the Republicans and Lazio to "trade on the deaths" of American soldiers. "Okay, you've got my vote, and I hope you win," he concluded. Shi forwarded the e-mail to her colleagues, who decided it would make a great commercial, and Wolfson tracked down Mike from Queensbury. At first hesitant, Mike finally agreed to allow an actor to read his e-mail for use as a radio spot. That this anti-Lazio statement came from someone who was clearly a regular citizen, and who had originally been dead-set against Hillary, made it among the most powerful ads of the campaign. And the fact that Hillary's team was willing to acknowledge in an ad that there were people who had not always been Hillary fans showed that both the candidate and her campaign had come a long way from those early days when they were loath to admit that Hillary-haters even existed.
By now, the election was only a week away. And, by now, it was more than clear that the calls were backfiring, as Schumer had predicted. And Hillary was picking up steam on other fronts. Editorial endorsements were now in and, Newsday notwithstanding, Hillary was faring well. She had the Times. She got the Westchester Gannett papers, something of a surprise. Upstate, she corralled three of the major four: The Buffalo News, The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, and The Albany Times-Union. Only the paper in Syracuse, a Republican stronghold, went for Lazio. And, finally, after all the wooing of Mort Zuckerman, and sitting at his table at the Inner Circle dinner, and getting whacked by his page over soft money, she got the Daily News. Obviously, she didn't get the Post, but the mere fact that the Post hadn't run its Lazio endorsement on its front page, as the paper had with its endorsements of George Pataki in 1994 and Al D'Amato in 1998, was something of a moral victory for the Clinton camp.
The Cole-call screw had one more turn. On Thursday night, Governor Pataki was appearing on New York 1. Pataki was, by now, making many appearances with Lazio, clearly putting his own reputation on the line. Mayor Giuliani, too, was doing whatever Lazio asked -- he'd made a commercial for Lazio on Israel, and appeared with him several times in the city. But Pataki had committed himself to this race to an unusual degree. He and his people, sources said, made many calls toward the campaign's end -- to newspaper publishers, to key rabbis -- to try and move them toward Lazio. Now he wanted to appear on New York 1 -- he hadn't been to the station's studios since his reelection campaign in 1998 -- to make his best case for his candidate. For about ten minutes, he did so. Then host Andrew Kirtzman asked him point-blank if he thought the state party's telephone campaign was wrong. "Yes, it was wrong," he said. "I didn't know of it. Rick Lazio didn't know of it. The minute he heard of this and I heard of this, we said, 'Stop this.' It's not the right thing to do." But Lazio had said no such thing, for six days, since the story broke. If he had, the story's momentum would have slowed or even died; but until he acknowledged that calling the first lady of the United States a friend of terrorists was perhaps going over the line, the story kept bouncing.
And now the governor, his chief sponsor, had cut his knees out from under him. It seemed unintentional. He had said it innocently and offhandedly, so quickly that a typical viewer might not even have noticed. But it was the gaffe of the campaign, and any insider watching would have realized it immediately. Now Lazio was going to have to denounce the calls, shifting away from the position he had held for nearly a week. His argument about Hillary "cavorting" with terrorists, as he had put it at the third debate, was dead. And the governor had killed it. Ann Lewis followed Pataki on the show, and she wasted no time in seizing on the governor's denunciation of the calls. The Clinton campaign had e-mailed a press release quoting the governor before the show even ended at eight o'clock.
The race wasn't over. Hillary still had one more crisis to negotiate. But the governor had certainly cleared her path.
In Hillary's war room, whence the timely e-mail was launched, they were celebrating Pataki's blunder. In Mark Penn's office on Pennsylvania Avenue, however, the mood was considerably more vexed. Penn had been running nightly tracking polls for the previous few nights. Hillary's lead was six, seven, eight. Suddenly, on Thursday night, it was three. Jeff Garin was doing tracking polls for the state Democratic committee. His polls, like Penn's, had shown Hillary ahead by six or seven. But he, too, on Thursday night, found her ahead by just three points. What was happening?
Penn and Grunwald were on the phone with Hillary until two in the morning. "What's happened?" she asked. "Is it the calls?" Penn and Garin had examined the cross-tabulated results of their polls, which break the findings down by sex and religion and region and demographic. It seemed that it wasn't the calls, and it wasn't even anything having to do with Israel. It was suburban women. Earlier in the week, Murphy had put up a shrewd ad featuring two actresses, looking very suburban-housewife-ish, talking in a yard. They complained of Hillary's sense of entitlement, wondering why she hadn't started her electoral career with the House of Representatives or the city council, until one said of Lazio, "Sure, he's a scrappy guy. But, hey, that's New York. I like that." Another ad unveiled that week showed Lazio and his wife helping their two daughters with their homework, an everyday ritual in which, fairly or not, few voters could imagine Hillary having taken part. Evidently, the ads were working.
Grunwald, Penn, and Hillary hung up that night having reached no firm conclusion about how to respond. The next morning, they spoke again. Hillary asked if they should "go back to Eshoo." Anna Eshoo, a congresswoman from California, had long ago taped an ad for the Clinton campaign about Lazio and the breast-cancer bill that President Clinton had signed privately earlier in the month. Eshoo and Lazio had been original cosponsors, and she had long complained that Lazio -- once he saw that the House leadership wouldn't get behind the bill -- backed off and sponsored a weaker version. Then, after the breast-cancer lobby went to work and lined up enough votes for the stronger bill, Lazio, Eshoo charged, put his name back on the original legislation and tried to take all the credit for it. At several points, the campaign was on the verge of releasing the Eshoo ad. Each time, someone thought the moment wasn't quite right, and the ad was pulled. Now maybe its time had come.
Ann Lewis was also on the Friday morning call. Lewis said she had just received an e-mail from a woman named Marie Kaplan, a breast cancer survivor who worked on the issue and, as fate would have it, lived in Lazio's district. Kaplan, a Hillary supporter, had told Lewis in the e-mail about her anger at Lazio's pirouette on the legislation. Hillary remembered meeting Kaplan not long before. "Well," Hillary asked, "why don't we just see if we can use Marie Kaplan in an ad?" That was around ten in the morning. Lewis called her. Within an hour, she was on a Long Island Rail Road train heading into the city. Two hours later, the ad was in the can. The next day, it was on the air. "I'm no actress," Kaplan said, referring to Murphy's suburban housewives. "I have friends with questions about Hillary. I tell them, 'Get over it! I know her.'"
Campaigns unfold in a kind of false time. They seem to last -- this one especially -- forever. At so many points, this event or that one had seemed crucial and decisive. But time asserted its power over events, and it revealed that those presumed crises were not, in fact, decisive. Something else always happened next. But by this day, Friday, November 3, there wasn't much "next" left. In the next ten hours, Hillary's fate would be decided.
At 10:20 that morning, Hillary appeared on a boardwalk in Long Beach, Long Island, with Schumer and Robert Kennedy, Jr. Kennedy gave a slightly overlong but brilliant speech detailing, among other things, a piece of 1996 legislation that Lazio had voted against that "would have cleaned the Long Island Sound." At 11:30, Hillary did a Q&A on the boardwalk. Lazio, that morning, had finally said -- now having little choice in the matter -- that the Cole calls were wrong.
"I appreciate Governor Pataki yesterday saying the calls were wrong," she said. "It's taken my opponent a week to get around to the same conclusion."
At 12:45, she appeared at Hofstra University with Schumer and Alec Baldwin. The university having decided that students needed tickets to attend the event, it was strangely low-key and sparsely attended. The next stop was North Shore Towers, a seniors' housing complex on the Queens-Nassau County line where Schumer's parents lived, and where she spoke to a packed auditorium. It's one of New York's charming characteristics that politically like-minded people group themselves in such tightly packed clusters that, with only minimal tutoring, one can draw a precise ideological map of the city and its environs. North Shore Towers is old-line liberal Jewry, the sort of people for whom the old Post, back in its pre-Murdoch, Dolly Schiff days, was the delivered word. They may or may not have stuck with the Post, but they probably listened to Bill Mazer's radio show on WEVD-AM, the station whose call letters stood for Eugene Victor Debs. And they loved Hillary.
Next, at 4 P.M., Lefrak City, a housing project in Queens. A black and Latino audience had congregated in front of one of the massive complex's buildings, and tenants gathered on their small balconies, astonished that Hillary Clinton had come to their neighborhood. Harrison Lefrak, scion of the family that built the complex, welcomed her. As she worked the rope line, people grabbed at her, frantically reaching for their disposable cameras.
Back in Washington, Penn and Grunwald learned that the next day the Lazio campaign would begin running a Murphy ad that featured Abdurahman Alamoudi, the American Muslim Council member who had boasted about representing Hamas in the White House. Usually during campaigns, Friday was the cut-off date for new ads. But the television stations had told both campaigns that, for this race, they would accept ads through Saturday morning. Murphy had footage of Alamoudi in Washington's Lafayette Park, across the street from the White House, shouting into a microphone, "I wish they added that I am also a supporter of Hezbollah!" Grunwald learned of the gist of the ad and immediately asked: "Where's Ed Koch?"
Koch had done everything the Clinton campaign had ever asked of him. In July, when Hillary still faced intense skepticism from voters, he had cut an ad in which he told viewers that he was confident Hillary would be good for New York. Shortly thereafter, Lazio had requested, and been granted, a meeting with him. But when word of the meeting appeared in the Post, Koch was furious. It was supposed to be private. "Ed already just liked Hillary," says a source, "but from then on, Ed was resolved. He'd do anything for her." Grunwald called DeBlasio. DeBlasio got to Koch. Within two hours, Koch was in a studio, filming an ad that may have been the best of the campaign. "Rick," Koch said, "stop with the sleaze, already!" Koch then produced the photo of Lazio shaking hands with Yasir Arafat. "This means Lazio supports terrorism? Come on!" Koch said in his gleeful way. So there was a last-minute ad featuring a photo of an Arafat after all.
Back to Hillary: From Lefrak City, she headed into Manhattan. She was to speak at the Plaza Hotel to the annual conference of the Anti-Defamation League. The commitment had been made long before the AMA story broke, and even though the Cole calls had moved the story in a direction more favorable to her, she still could not count on unanimous goodwill from this audience. As Hillary was on her way to the Plaza, Howard Wolfson was starting to get some press calls. Apparently a letter had surfaced, written on White House stationery, from Hillary to the American Muslim Alliance, thanking the group for the fund-raiser. But hadn't she said that she didn't know the AMA sponsored the event? The letter, which bore Hillary's signature, seemed to blow a huge hole in her story. I learned about it from a source as we arrived at the hotel. She had fought her way through Suha Arafat, and through the "Jew bastard" allegation, and, it seemed, through the AMA story, thanks to the Republicans' clumsy use of it. Did New York's Jewish community have the patience for still one more flap, and one more explanation?
Hillary had learned, before she gave her speech, that this final twist on the AMA story was on the way. She plowed ahead with her speech. It was a standard expression of her belief in tolerance and her dedication to Israel. Then she said, "If I may be permitted a personal reflection." In recent days in the campaign, she said, "terrorism has cropped up as a crass political tool." Lazio, she told her audience, had finally denounced the Cole calls that morning. But this afternoon, she learned, her opponent's campaign had prepared an ad that tried to tie her to Hamas. "It is disgraceful," she said, "it is beneath him, and it should be beneath anyone who wants to go to the United States Senate, who wants to replace Daniel Patrick Moynihan." Rarely had she spoken that directly and personally, not since the March event at the Harlem church where she accused Giuliani of dividing the city.
The speech was well received, but as soon as it ended she was in a back room with aides figuring out what to do about the letter. Her public schedule for the day was over, but aides told reporters to stick around. Forty minutes later, Hillary reappeared at the same podium from which she had delivered her speech. Howard Wolfson arrived on the scene -- a rarity since he had locked down in the war room in August. Just before Hillary spoke, Wolfson distributed copies of the White House letter to reporters. Dated August 8, the brief missive was addressed to Tahir Ali and mentioned the American Muslim Alliance, thanking the group for the plaque and the event. Hillary said it was a form letter generated by the staff at the White House gift office and signed by an auto-pen machine.
Since the idea that Hillary Clinton personally writes thank-you notes for every plaque and coffee mug she receives is rather absurd, most reporters found this explanation plausible, once they fought past the image, so easy to mock, of Hillary blaming some nameless basement staff person and a machine. There lingered the question of whether, as she asserted, she had never known of the letter until that day. But in the absence of proof to the contrary, what was more important was the fact that the campaign released copies of the letter preemptively. Most reporters clearly hadn't even heard about the letter, so they didn't know what they were being handed, or why. Indeed the confusion was such that, after Hillary finished and Wolfson stuck around to take questions, the first few inquiries he received dwelled not on whether the letter proved Hillary knew that the AMA had hosted the event, but on the fact that it was written on White House stationery. "Folks, if the use of White House resources is tomorrow's story here," a bemused Wolfson said, "that's fine by me."
It was a gutsy, smart move to release the letter that day. Had she waited until it was in the next day's papers to respond, she would once again have been surrounded by cameras and faced intense questioning about her credibility. But the woman who six years before had ordered that Ken Starr be stonewalled and congressional Republicans be steamrolled decided, this time, to put potentially damaging information out there before she was asked about it. The letter was a story in the next day's papers, but nothing on the order of what it might have been if she'd tried to ignore it that Friday evening.
Essentially, the campaign ended then. She had handled a potential crisis in a way she would have been completely incapable of just a few months before. One also had the feeling that this was her last one. That night, she privately attended a service of the Congregration B'nai Jeshurun on the Upper West Side. Jerry Goldfeder, the chairman of the synagogue's social action committee and a West Side district leader (from Harold Ickes's old political club, no less), introduced her. Earlier in the year, when Goldfeder was out on upper Broadway asking passersby to sign petitions for Bill Bradley, he'd been astonished at the number of people -- women in particular -- who had said things like, "I'll sign for Bradley, but don't ask me to sign anything for that Hillary!" But this night, Goldfeder says, she received an ovation "so warm and sustained that it surprised me, and I could tell by looking at her that it even surprised her." Also, that night, Mark Penn's and Jeff Garin's polls stabilized. Suburban women began to come back, and undecided voters -- whom the conventional wisdom, again incorrectly, had pegged for Lazio -- started breaking toward Hillary.
There were three more days of campaigning. Saturday, the president came to the city for three appearances. (The same day, Dick Morris, true to the bitter end, lobbed his final, sputtering grenade: "Hillary's bold bluff gets called on Tuesday," he thundered in the Post.) That night, with no press, Hillary paid a call on the Bobover rebbetzin, the wife of the rabbi of the Bobover Hasidic sect in Brooklyn's Borough Park, where she all but received an endorsement. Sunday, Hillary hit seven black churches. On Monday, she made the customary final lap around the state, starting in Buffalo, where Bills quarterback Doug Flutie endorsed her at a rally, and winding up, as New York Democrats traditionally do, at the West 43rd Street headquarters of Dennis Rivera's health and hospital workers' union. With Pat Moynihan on one arm and Chuck Schumer on the other, she left the stage of her final public event of this eternal and tumultuous campaign just before nine o'clock. But even then she wasn't finished: Upstairs, in a private room, she met with the parents of three Israeli soliders who had recently been kidnaped in Lebanon. It was a fitting coda for a candidate who left nothing to chance.
The next morning, Hillary, Bill, and Chelsea voted in Chappaqua. They spent most of the day in their adopted home, making phone calls to thank supporters and check up on turnout figures. The first exit polls came in around one o'clock. They showed Hillary up by ten, but no one quite believed them. The second round came at 2:30 and showed Hillary ahead only by four. Penn had to break the news to her that, against all their knowledge and expectations, the race seemed to be tightening. But by the time of the third and final wave, around five o'clock, the margin was back to eight. Hillary was on another line, so this time when Penn called, he spoke with Bill. "Thank God!" the president shouted into the phone.
The networks declared her the winner the moment the polls closed at nine o'clock. Some commentators, ever on the lookout for signs of gracelessness on Hillary's part, clucked about the fact that she began her victory speech before Lazio, in a hotel just a few blocks away, had finished his concession speech. No one thought to mention that Lazio didn't call her to concede until 10:40 (she was, at that exact moment, having her hair blow-dried); given the results, he could have phoned at 9:05. She ended up taking the stage just after eleven. It's the winner's prerogative to speak while the local newscasts are on. She'd waited long enough -- two hours that night since the polls had closed; sixteen months to the day since she first set foot on Pat Moynihan's farm; or, counting all the time she'd spent playing political spouse instead of political candidate, twenty-five years. It was fairly, and finally, Hillary's turn.
Excerpted from HILARY'S TURN © 2001 by Michael Tomasky. Reprinted with permission by The Free Press, an imprint of Simon and Schuster. All rights reserved.
Hillary’s Turn: Inside Her Improbable, Victorious Senate Campaign
- Genres: Nonfiction
- hardcover: 320 pages
- Publisher: Free Press
- ISBN-10: 0684873028
- ISBN-13: 9780684873022