By Jared Chausow
By Katie Toth
By Elizabeth Flock
By Albert Samaha
By Anna Merlan
By Jon Campbell
By Jon Campbell
By Albert Samaha
Smoke, Mirrors, and White Noise
At a welcome-back-to-New Hampshire rally last week, the crowd of poised Ivy Leaguers surrounding Bill Bradley enthusiastically applauded their candidate and even screeched their support a littlesort of like the political rally they'd once seen on TV. The candidate himself does convey a sort of electricity, even though he clearly is uncomfortable amidst the crowds. To counter his naturally aloof nature, Bradley sometimes now sounds a little like Garrison Keillor. At his Manchester HQ he managed to kiss one woman, give a grizzled old-timer a bear hug for the cameras, and even briefly put on a pair of smoky dark glasses. Girls do scream a little when he comes in the room. The people around Bradley are control freaks, micromanaging the tiniest details. "Sir," an aide will say to a reporter, "sir, you must stand behind the red rope. Please, sir, get behind the red rope!" One aide blew up at a cameraman who placed a mike on the podium to record the candidate's speech, because, he said, it would make Bradley go nuts. "It's impossible," said one reporter in exasperation. "He hates us." Even with a boomthe long stick with a microphone at the end which TV crews stick out over the crowd to pick up what a candidate is sayingyou couldn't hear the little nothings Bradley was saying to his supporters because his campaign was playing old Michael Jackson records as white noise. Gore plays Patsy Cline, lest reporters overhear choice remarks to his supporters. . . . * While Bradley's press people are getting the hang of things, Bush's Texas Ranger detail has become adept at steering cameras into the right shot for the governor. They move the cameras around like players on the board, gently pushing one camera forward, tugging another back. . . . * Alan Keyes may be the hands-down orator of the campaign, but people shy away from sitting down to a meal with the former ambassadoran underling to Jeane Kirkpatrick at the UNbecause he won't make table talk and is a pill to be around. . . . * In a torturous lecture to the New England Community Action Association last Thursday, Al Goreall dressed to kill in casual brownlaunched into one of those deadly college-style lectures you wish you'd skipped, on reconfiguring life for the new workfare mom: how we have to help mom get into the habit of turning up for her first job on time and making sure she wears clothing appropriate for the new workplace. As for the lousy money she'll earn, Gore said he would be for raising the minimum wage by $1. Gore also promised he would fight to make government responsive not just to the special interests but to ordinary people.
The Buying of the President 2000, the latest installment of election-year revelations from Charles Lewis and his Center for Public Integrity, delves into Bill Bradley's enthusiasm for high finance, a subject the Rhodes Scholar had ample time to explore as a member of the powerful Senate Finance Committee in the 1980s. While Bradley's ideas may originally have been influenced by his Princeton professors, he has always preferred consulting investors themselves. In 1984, he told a reporter: "I like to talk to people who are betting their own money. That doesn't mean I don't talk to economists or money managers, but I like people with their own money at risk."
And as Lewis recounts, the New Jersey senator surrounded himself with corporate raiders who became experts in so-called leveraged buyouts, where high-flying financiers, putting up small amounts of their own cash, bought substantial old-line companies, reorganized their finances so as to take advantage of large-scale interest deductions, and then dumped the gutted firms on the market at hugely inflated prices.
For readers who may have forgotten how the leveraged buyout works, consider the example of Wesray Capital, a firm started by William E. Simon, President Ford's Treasury secretary, and tax accountant Raymond G. Chambers. In 1986, Wesray bought out the Simmons Mattress Co. for $120 million. Wesray proceeded to sell off the firm's overseas operations and cut the workforce from 4000 to 2500. It then sold the company to new investors for $249 million. The new investors were Simmons's employeesand, as Lewis recounts the story, most of them never had a clue as to what was going on. Wesray did away with their 401(k) plans, instituting an employee stock-option plan (ESOP), then borrowed $249 million from banks, most of which ended up in the pockets of Wesray investors. The workers then undertook to pay off the debt over 10 years. In return they got company stock valued at $10 a share. By 1990 the stock was worth 50 cents a share. Simmons couldn't pay the debt to the banks and defaulted. The employees, finally catching on to what was happening, sued the corporate raiders, and eventually Merrill Lynch took a 60 percent interest in the firm, bailing it out. By 1988, when this deal was put together, Simon had broken ties to Wesray, and while Chandler ran the firm for two more years, he also moved on, devoting himself to philanthropy.