Friday, October 13, 2006

Gov. Warner gets a life
Former Va. Gov. Mark Warner, probably one of the top tier of the potential 2008 presidential candidates on the Democratic side, sent out an email yesterday telling folks on his news list that he wasn't going to run for president.
There wasn't much of a buzz about it - there was little on the Warner fan site Daily Kos - but it did make the cable talk shows. That seems a bit strange since he seemed to be on the darlings and the anti-Hillary. Here is a compelling part of the email:

This past weekend, my family and I went to Connecticut to celebrate my Dad’s 81st birthday, and then we took my oldest daughter Madison to start looking at colleges. I know these moments are never going to come again. This weekend made clear what I’d been thinking about for many weeks - that while politically this appears to be the right time for me to take the plunge - at this point, I want to have a real life. And while the chance may never come again, I shouldn’t move forward unless I’m willing to put everything else in my life on the back burner.

This has been a difficult decision, but for me, it’s the right decision.

Wow, imagine that: Choosing to have a life over running for and possibly winning the highest office in the land. Can you think of anyone more qualified to actually be president?

Now flip to the hapless Sen. John Kerry - long face, smirk, and all - shaking hands at the Center of New Hampshire tonight, after the Jefferson-Jackson dinner, which was broadcast on C-Span 2.

A woman from Manch said to him, "You're running, right?" Kerry smiled and said, "I'm putting my heart out there. We'll see what happens ..." I'm putting my heart out there and we'll see what happens? What the hell does that mean? Gosh, he is so sad, so pathetic.

My former city councilor
I lived in Boston for many years and during a good chunk of that time, I was represented by David Scondras, an openly gay city councilor. Time has not been kind to David, who allegedly just can't stop hitting on under-aged boys: ["Ex-Boston City Councilor Scondras nabbed in underage sex sting"].
During the time he was a councilor, I respected David and I thought he was a good guy. I would later find out that he wasn’t really that good of a guy.

First, some political history: Scondras lost a tight reelection campaign in 1993 against the insipid Tom Keane by a measly 28 votes, mostly driven by the high turnout of the mayoral race that year.

It was a classic, nasty Boston brawl with Keane attacking Scondras for being too focused on national issues and Scondras pulling every cat out of the hat to try and salvage his job. Keane had the backing of yuppies and the old wealth of the Back Bay and Beacon Hill while Scondras had the backing of gay activists in the Fenway and minorities in Mission Hill.

After winning the seat, Keane did little for the district and a few short years later, he was on the short list of potential candidates to replace then-Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy II when "The Wizard of Uhs," as Howie Carr deemed him, was rumored to be running for governor. When Joseph's brother Michael got caught sleeping with his under-aged babysitter, Joe's campaign for the corner office ended. Months later, Joe would decide not to run for reelection and Keane, and others, geared up to run for the open Congressional seat. Keane would later place 9th out of 10 candidates in the Democratic primary, spending more than $500k in his effort.

Sidebar: According to Keane's April 2006 FEC filings, he still owes $236,000 from his Congressional race from eight years ago. A good chunk - about $100k - is money he lent his own campaign. But there are still pages and pages of vendors and campaign workers who still haven't been paid, even after all these years. One of those vendors is Trippi, McMahon & Squire, made famous for helping launch Howard Dean into American homes in 2003-2004, which is owed almost $10k].

Keane's congressional run was a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black since he won the council seat by using Scondras' desire to run for Congress against him.
Scondras, meanwhile, took a personal nose-dive. He became the butt of talk radio after the Boston Police released audio tapes of him calling 911 while allegedly intoxicated. He was later beaten to a pulp by a teenage boy he picked up in Copley Square and took to the Cheri theater movie house after Scondras allegedly put the moves on the boy when the lights went down.
After Keane’s disastrous finish in the 8th race, Scondras and others encouraged me to take at run at Keane for the council seat. I didn't know if I was up for another race but I toyed with the idea thinking that at worst, I could get 35 or 40 percent of the vote and possibly gear up for one more at-large race in 2001; at best, I might win the district seat. Some actually thought that I might win because so many people in the neighborhoods had grown weary of Keane’s inaction on a multitude of issues, including unregulated development projects and the massive Red Sox megaplex looming on the horizon [Keane would later come out and endorse the Sox project - essentially endorsing public eminent domain land takings for private use]. Others hadn't forgotten the nastiness of the Scondras battle and the hypocrisy of how Keane got the seat in the first place. It was a hard decision to make but my girlfriend, who had helped me through previous political activities, thought I would do well and suggested I go for it.

Right after I started lining up support for a run, Keane mysteriously dropped out, with some, including the editor of a weekly newspaper I later went to work for, speculating some problems behind the scenes. It was strange that he would quit because Keane openly spoke about bigger things he wanted to do, like running for mayor, something he would really only be able to attain from another elected position.
Keane’s exit created a frenzy, and Scondras made his move for a comeback all but sucking the life out of all the other potential campaigns. As I tried to build a campaign, every time I turned around, there were comments about moving aside to allow Scondras to take the seat back. Over a period of weeks, Scondras and some of his fans pleaded with me [and others] to stay out of the race, especially after Republican real estate agent and big money candidate Suzanne Iannella decided to drop her bid for an at-large and run for the Back Bay district seat. A Republican in the council would be a terrible thing, the thinking went [I would later openly endorse Iannella over the other finalist, Mike Ross, who would go on to win anyway]. There was a collection of people regularly emailing each other about the race and discussions raged back and forth for days [This was the days before Daily Kos and other posting boards]. Scondras later claimed that he had placed more than 100 people in good city jobs and he could do the same for me. But my point was always firm: It wasn't about getting a city job for me. It was about trying to fix things and make them better for everyone. Nothing had changed whether Keane was there or not. Maybe Scondras should stay out and allow someone else to have a shot at it.
Scondras then commissioned a poll and in a blazon attempt to push me out of the race, asked me to come over to his house to look at the results. I agreed but I didn't think the poll results would change my mind.

The poll showed that people in the Back Bay - not the Fenway - were more worried about a new Red Sox stadium. It also showed that most of the issues I was bringing up - better constituent services, better control over development, and reigning in the universities - were popular.
But as I took a look at the results, I noticed something glaringly missing from the poll: My name wasn’t in it! It was a name recognition poll and nothing more and Scondras completely rigged it to make himself look good by limiting the names to only a handful, including his, Iannella’s, and a couple of other candidates who probably weren't going to run. At this point in the campaign, there were as many as 10 people considering a run. Why limit the names to four or five?
After that, I pretty much decided I wouldn’t give up. I looked at Scondras' motives logically and decided that he really hadn't made a strong enough case for me not to run. While I would never ask someone not to run, hypothetically, if I were to do so, I would have handled the whole thing differently. I would have commissioned a poll with everyone which would then show that the people I didn't want to run had low name recognition, proving they wouldn't win. Not including my name in the poll and then asking me to come and look at it, was completely illogical for the end result which was me moving out of Scondras' way. Had my name been included in the poll, and I only garnered a handful of points, it might have influenced me to stay out. The end conclusion was that either Scondras had me in the poll and didn't share the results with me, or he kept me out of the poll which was just plain stupid on his part for the reasons I stated above. Scondras isn’t stupid - although looking at his recent arrest and the Cheri beating - maybe he is stupid after all. I wasn't biting though and I stayed in the race.

A few weeks later, Scondras announced he wasn't going to run which shocked everyone involved. Thankfully, most of the people who had urged me to run against Keane in the first place, came back into the fold to help me. Scondras continued to play political tricks during the campaign from the sidelines - pitting campaigns against each other to curry his favor. It was all so junior high. But that is expected of people who really need to be a part of something even if they aren't.

In the end, it was an interesting race and a microcosm of the problems in big cities these days. It was also a difficult race to run because there were limited opportunities to really get out and meet people, especially when holding down a full-time job. Unlike other neighborhoods around the country, it was difficult to door-knock brownstones and towering apartment buildings, which means you are relying on controlled forums, direct mail, and newspaper advertising, all of which is extremely expensive. One neat thing about this race was that I was actually taken seriously by the major media in the city, garnering some pretty good press mentions which I was thankful for. The Boston Herald and the Boston Phoenix were especially positive, with the Herald using my anti-stadium quips every chance they could to rile Boston Mayor Tom Menino and the Phoenix giving me equal play with the richer, better-organized candidates. The Phoenix also mentioned my campaign in its endorsement for another candidate.

I managed to wiggle out a fifth place finish out of eight candidates, which wasn't too bad considering I was out-spent by most and was constantly under attack by the mayor's minions. But it didn't matter that I lost because I believed I was doing the right thing at the time. The experience also made me decide to rule out any future runs for office and I even thought of swearing off politics altogether but that didn't last long.

Interestingly, this wasn’t the last time I had a run-in with Scondras over something.

A year after the council race, my then-fiancée and I were at a fund-raiser for a local non-profit when a woman from my old neighborhood came up to me and started chatting. I recognized the woman but I couldn't place exactly where. Then I realized that she worked for David in his council office. She looked at my future wife and asked, "Is this your sister?"
We both laughed.
"No," I said. "This is my fiancée."
“Fiancée?” she questioned. “You can’t have a fiancée.”
“Why can’t I?,” I asked.
You’re gay!” she blurted out to the entire room.
My fiancée and I looked at each other and starting laughing.
“What the hell are you talking about?” I asked.

She kept arguing with me, insisting I was gay, despite my protestations, as well as my fiancée's. After awhile, it turned from amusing to annoying but I had to know, Who the hell would tell you such a thing? The former Scondras staffer told me that David said I was gay and she believed him. I assured her that I wasn’t but it was no big deal.

My wife and I still joke about this incident but it just goes to show you what some people will go through to hurt others.

In the future, I may have to sit down and share more stories because it is clear that I'm never going to get around to writing that book!

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