What will be the lasting image from Alfonse D’Amato’s swan song last week at the Hilton?
Sure, that episode in the elevator with Ed Koch and George and Libby Pataki may be a keeper (the doofus governor probably made jokes about the ups and downs of politics).
Of course, an inconsolable Fonz— weepy and probably in the fetal position— barricaded in the hotel’s penthouse is a strong contender. Knowing he had already lost, the senator must have cringed when, at around 10 p.m., winging it, Conservative Party boss Mike Long told NY-1 that it was the bottom of the ninth, two outs, the bases were loaded, and “Al D’Amato’s coming to bat.”
And you gotta give it up for the way Team D’Amato imposed a blackout on televised election results. For more than an hour after the polls closed, the only image broadcast on the Hilton’s TV sets and widescreens was a static shot of the New York State seal. Like any good revolutionary would advise, D’Amato-Pataki factotum Zenia Mucha knew to immediately seize control of the broadcast facilities.
But for us, we will forever cherish the memory of a moving episode that took place moments after the Fonz finished his gracious concession speech and began shaking hands and exchanging hugs as he slowly exited stage right.
About 20 feet from the senator on the Hilton stage, a young couple in their twenties— we would guess that one was a D’Amato relative— began to embrace. Then they started to kiss. But this was not your run-of-the-mill buss. No, it was a torrid From Here to Eternity doozy (think vertical and replace the swimsuits with the finest threads Daffy’s can offer). As the clench was entering what seemed like its fifth uninterrupted minute, a rapt onlooker wanted to call out, “Hey, get a hotel room!” But then he realized that the duo already had one.
As the senator was fighting back tears nearby, these oblivious smoochers had found a special way to deal with the loss of a loved one. Yes, their mourning period was brief, but people have different ways of coping with grief. For hours, the Hilton ballroom was dead, filled with 600 mopey Republicans coming to terms with the end of a GOP era. But then, with that overheated couple dry-humping and slipping each other the tongue onstage, you could suddenly feel the love in the room.
To a jaded observer, it might have seemed— considering the circumstances— out of place, perhaps even a bit tacky or undignified. In fact, the make-out session was a wildly inappropriate visual accompaniment to the Pothole Senator’s farewell address. But to us, it just felt right.
The Watch is not embarrassed to admit that when D’Amato bounded onstage Tuesday evening, we jockeyed to get close to the politician’s lectern. In New York’s permanent government, nights like these are a rarity to be treasured. It had, of course, been almost a decade since Ed Koch, another New York titan, had been similarly shitcanned by voters. But memories of that glorious September evening remain sharp.
Tuesday was history, the night they drove old Tippy down. And for such a momentous event, balcony seats just would not do. It would be like watching a Kiss concert from the Garden’s blue seats when all those flashpots start exploding and flames shoot from Ace Frehley’s guitar. You need to be close to feel the burn.
In the shadow of D’Amato, we were joined by an old colleague, an original chronicler of Alfonse’s Hempstead hijinks. We both simultaneously began to applaud the Fonz, with the Watch tossing in a few Arsenio Hall “woo-woo-woo”s and the accompanying fist-pumps. But this was no ironic salute to the Island Park Padrone, the Long Island Lothario, or Senator Shakedown (sorry, but we wanted to trot out our trademarked nicknames one final time since we soon won’t have the Fonz to kick around anymore). No, this was a well-deserved acknowledgment of three terms of endearment— more scandal, sleaze, and perfidy than an average senator can pack into one six-year stint. No wonder the junior senator looked tired, like a dishrag from his beloved Mamma’s kitchen.
In his concession remarks, D’Amato noted that he never expected to serve 18 years in the Senate. What a fucking coincidence: neither did we! Still, the Watch is confident that the 61-year-old Republican will find a more fulfilling— and certainly less lonely— life outside of Washington. He claims to want to spend more time relaxing with his family and playing cards with his buddies. Of course, the ex-senator’s poker winnings are bound to plummet without the help of the sycophantic, dive-taking lobbyists with whom he plays inside the Beltway. (Frankly, you have to wonder about the Fonz when he chooses to spend precious after-work hours with such schnorrers. What, were all the wiseguys busy?)
Despite the tears and fears, we think D’Amato will quickly rebound from this loss and become a more ubiquitous presence. In fact, a psychoanalyst might conclude that D’Amato, with his uncharacteristic last-minute blunders, purposely helped speed his own electoral demise. These were self-inflicted wounds that a forensic pundit might classify as evidence of a political suicide. As his campaign spent weeks and untold millions hammering away at Chuck Schumer for missing some meaningless House votes, didn’t D’Amato realize that his own 1980 AWOL act in Nassau County was a time bomb? Perhaps he did, but was beyond caring. Maybe we will have to wait for the sequel to Power, Pasta and Politics to learn if, deep down, the Fonz wanted to get caught.
So, where does he go from here?
The Ed Koch route (minus the lousy movie reviews) seems the natural choice. Personally, we would love to hear an “Alfonse in the Morning” radio show or an afternoon drive time talkfest (remember, the Fonz was doing Chris Russo’s shtick when WFAN’s “Mad Dog” was in diapers). Of course, a weekly column in the Post would seem appropriate, since the Fonz’s politics dovetail nicely with the tabloid’s pragmatic conservatism.
In fact, we would wager that D’Amato would prove a more lively and coherent read than Steve Dunleavy, a sorry skell whose columns get more bizarre by the day. In his dispatch from D’Amato’s gloomy Hilton aerie, published in last Wednesday’s Post, Dunleavy described himself as a “pathological supporter” of the Fonz, while noting that “this frightening, bitter election, was about as useful as mammaries on reindeer.”
Sweet Jesus, if a reader did not know any better, he might wrongly conclude that Dunleavy gets liquored up right before he begins to compose this priceless stuff.
So don’t worry, Alfonse. In company like this, you’ll do just swell, baby.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on November 17, 1998