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As President of the City's Housing Development Corporation, Russell Harding thoroughly enjoyed the perks of officethe fancy cars, free trips, and fine dining, all on someone else's tab. But when it came to the people he was supposed to be helping, lower-income New Yorkers in need of better homes, Harding would just as soon have been in "an all-white state like Idaho."
That was only one of the candid opinions offered by the former Giuliani administration aide in a series of chats on the Web with a man in the Midwest whom he had never met.
Harding, 38, son of Liberal Party boss Ray Harding, began his cyber-correspondence with Fred Sawyers, 33, an office clerk in Indianapolis, in 1998 after they met in an AOL movie-fan chat room. The men were from radically different backgrounds. Harding was raised in New York City and was student council president at prestigious Bronx High School of Science before dropping out of Clark University in Massachusetts in his junior year. Thanks to his father, Russell was around politics his entire life. He was familiar with many well-known public figures and had worked on Capitol Hill for Senator Alfonse D'Amato.
In contrast, Sawyers was raised in Virginia in a strict, conservative family of Southern Baptists. He moved to Indianapolis in 1991 to escape their influence. Sawyers's heroes were movie celebrities like Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly, and he never failed to voice admiration whenever Harding dropped names like Giuliani's in their conversations.
But it was Sawyers, the Southerner, who sounded notes of tolerance in their discussions, and Harding who enunciated an often virulent racism. Despite the political affiliations of his influential father, Russell Harding registered as a Republican as soon as he was old enough to vote, records show. One former co-worker described Russell's own political views as "to the right of Attila the Hun" and recalled Harding's excitement in the early 1990s upon his return from California, where he had enjoyed a visit to the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace in Yorba Linda.
Harding and Sawyers chatted online at least once a week, mainly about films, pets, and their personal lives. In September 2000, however, Harding's admiration for overwhelmingly white Idaho emerged after the topic of politics came up when Sawyers complained that nothing was on the local TV stations but the firing of Indiana University's then basketball coach Bobby Knight.
"That's right, I forgot, you must be inundated with Bobby Knight talk," typed Harding in response. "I think it's funny that the kid who ratted him out is going to get beaten within an inch of his life when he comes back to school."
"Sports of any kind is very big here," answered Sawyers, citing other local teams.
"Look at you . . . you're becoming a jock," teased Harding in his three-dot writing style.
Sawyers acknowledged he followed sports somewhat: "I just hold true to the fact that you never talk about sports, religion or politics. That way you never start a fight."
"I love to talk about all three," said Harding.
"Cool. Then how do you feel about Hillary using NY as just a jumping board I think to get in the running later for bigger things[?]" asked Sawyers.
"I hate her," snapped Harding, referring to the woman his father backed for senator on his Liberal Party line. "She's a bitch and a cunt . . . she's now leading the polls and may very well win . . . i think you know I'm a Republican . . . i think she may actually be the devil."
Sawyers allowed that he didn't like the Clintons either and mentioned that his mother had once taken him to a Republican women's group luncheon "where I got to meet Elizabeth Taylor while she was married to [Virginia Republican U.S. Senator John] Warner."
Harding continued about the Clinton family: "And her husband having his offices in harlem is a hoot . . . he and the blacks were made for each other . . . nothing but trash all of them . . . i think we need to move to a conservative all-white state like idaho."
The subject of race came up again a few weeks later, as the cyber-pals chatted about what they had done over the weekend. Sawyers said he had gone shopping on Saturday. The mall was crowded with college kids attending an annual Indianapolis event, the Coca-Cola Circle City Classic, which brings thousands of black students to town for a football game and a college fair.
"This was the weekend for the circle center classic so it was real busy and I did not feel like being around a lot," said Sawyers.
"What is it?" asked Harding.
"To be honest I do not know what it is for exactly. But whatever it is, it is all African Americans."
"Oh," responded Harding. "It's like that thing they have in atlanta . . . all damn black frats or something who shouldn't be allowed into school period just running around acting like [the] stupid monkeys they all are."
"Yes, it is a lot of young African Americans I know, so I would say it is for frats or something," said Sawyers.
"Yup black college monkeys acting there [sic] true selves then," said Harding.