Launched almost 20 years ago, the Wacko Awards are presented on a periodic basis to a wide array of nincompoops, boodlers, putzheads, and other undesirables. Just about everyone who is anyone in New York government and politics has a Wacko on their mantel, from A (l Sharpton) to Z (enia Mucha). As for the Wacko name, well, we appropriated it from then mayor Ed Koch, who was fond of using the term to describe his many critics (“Carol Bellamy? She’s a waaaaaacko!!!”).
This year’s Senate race between Alfonse D’Amato and Charles Schumer brought out the worst in many participants and observers. Which is a shame, since there are so many deserving candidates, yet a limited number of Wackos. These are the chosen ones.
The Alexander J. Butterfield “Taping-Is-a-Way-of-Life” Watergate Recorder goes to Hilton Hotel security, which leaked these Nixonian transcript excerpts. On election night, Al D’Amato, Ed Koch, George Pataki, and eight others were trapped for 20 minutes in a six-person elevator while a ballroom of diehards waited for D’Amato’s concession speech. A bug installed with the cooperation of the NYPD picked up this exchange:
D’Amato: Are the returns in from Oswego County? I don’t want to go down to the ball room unless we know how I did in Oswego.
Pataki: You won Oswego by 10,000 votes.
D’Amato: Thank God that fat fuck Finkelstein’s not on this elevator. We wouldn’t be able to breathe. You know what his problem is? Too many fees for too long. How about him taking off for Carolina the last two weeks of the campaign so he could bury Faircloth too? An absentee consultant who gave me nothing but an absentee campaign. Let’s send him to Mongolia.
Pataki: Wait a minute, Al, he did my campaign too. Wasn’t it nice of him to be so positive?
D’Amato: Ice the ice-storm fuck or I’ll ice you. You don’t know what mano a mano is, goulash-head. Debate me and I’ll make you eat Zenia’s script. I’m telling ya to make Finkelstein an offer he can’t refuse.
Elevator stops but no doors open. D’Amato, pressed against the buttons in the crowded elevator, claims to hit the open-door button without response.
Koch: You can’t count on an elevator in this town ever since Rudy instituted that new self-inspection system. When I was mayor…
D’Amato: Don’t mention Giuliani to me! He’s a curse. I was better off when he was trying to indict me than when he endorsed me. He’s a pasta-head.
Mama D’Amato (crushed against the back of the elevator): Al, watch your language about that prick.
Pataki: I hate being stuck. This is worse than a late budget. I wanted to be home in Garrison by midnight.
D’Amato: Quit whining. You even whine outta the side of your mouth. You need a lip operation. Remember, I made you and I can break you, you geek. How’d I do in Tioga County? I don’t want to go out there unless I know Tioga won’t put me over.
Pataki: You won by 5000. But Tioga’s no Brooklyn.
D’Amato: Speaking of Brooklyn, what the fuck happened to the Jews, Ed? Your king shtick is as tired as your judge show. Your three commercials got me exactly three votes. Swiss Bunk! Crown Pits! The only war between blacks and Jews is to see which one can deliver a bigger number to Chuckie. Fuck ’em both. Even the hats gave me nada.
Koch: I can’t hold. My bladder can’t take this shit.
A voice comes over the sound system piped into the elevator. It is the voice of Rudy Giuliani.
Giuliani: Our supersensitive security system has determined that someone in this elevator has his finger on the close-door button. This is worse than blocking an intersection. It’s worse than gumming up a sidewalk. A jammed elevator door is like a broken window. It is an attack on our quality-of-life.
D’Amato (suddenly on his tiptoes, lifting his index finger in the direction of Giuliani’s voice): UP YOURS, RUDY!
The door springs open. —Wayne Barrett
The DJ working election night at Republican headquarters at the Hilton is the recipient of the That Shit Is Wack Wacko for his performance on the one-two’s. With tunes bouncing from the Rocky theme to Van Halen to KC and the Sunshine Band, we thought we had been transported to Leonard’s of Great Neck (minus the flaming cherries jubilee, of course). But, on the night of a crushing—and rare—GOP defeat, we did give the DJ some props for slip ping “New Sensation” into the playlist a couple of times. We saw this not only as a tribute to departed INXS frontman Michael Hutchence (rumored to have dropped via autoerotic asphyxiation), but as a hint at what may have been keeping D’Amato from conceding. For his work, the GOP DJ receives Kid Capri’s new album, Soundtrack to the Streets. Study up, cuz. —William Bastone
Also performing at the Hilton was Queens Democratic assemblyman Anthony Seminerio, there to salute D’Amato and George Pataki. While pundits have mocked Schumer for his klutzy two-step when Hillary Clinton was in town (it was as if Chuck danced like Elaine on Seinfeld), the portly Seminerio gets the Gene Gene The Dancing Machine Cup for his rump-shaking onstage dance with GOP hotty (and Westchester County district attorney) Jeanine Pirro. It would be best for all involved if the tubby turncoat restricted such movements to the area in front of his bedroom mirror. For his efforts, Tony gets a free class at Arthur Murray (not redeemable, however, for lambada or macarena lessons). —Bastone
Putting out for D’Amato
The Wacko Committee would probably have to rent a Ryder truck if we gave awards to all the deserving folks at The New York Post. So, apologies to Andrea Peyser, Bob McManus, and Ray Kerrison, whose zealous and loopy columns supporting D’Amato and the GOP cause would normally be recognized. Instead, they are merely runners up to these tabloid titans:
Steve Dunleavy, the kooky and often in comprehensible columnist, copped his Wacko for a November 1 story saluting D’Amato for coming to the rescue of a Long Island family fighting with its health insurance carrier. This supposedly was further proof of Senator Pot hole’s remarkable constituent services. In fact, Dunleavy noted, he himself had once called D’Amato “and got my son, Pete, a better job.” Fourteen years ago, Pete was 17 and “raking leaves in a park in the summer and wanted a better job,” wrote Dunleavy. Usually, this type of arrangement—politician gets job for journalist’s son—might raise a few eyebrows, make you wonder if that reporter’s copy had been bought. But nobody at the Post shares such concerns.
For years, Dunleavy has diligently put out for D’Amato. Unless there are other treats Steve has yet to disclose, D’Amato made a good investment based on the patronage-fellatio ratio. For his devoted servicing of D’Amato, we are proud to present Dunleavy with the prestigious Cheap Lay Futon.
John Podhoretz, the paper’s editorial page boss, did what he could to save D’Amato’s ass. But not even The Poddler’s avalanche of editorials, op-ed pieces, news stories, and columns could rescue his beloved Alfonse. Podhoretz’s and the Post‘s conduct was disgraceful and outrageous, which is not to say it wasn’t expected by everyone in town. Podhoretz apparently even tried to suppress the putzhead –Jerry “Waddler” story, failing to report the D’Amato remarks though he was present when the Republican made the slurs.
Only after D’Amato was toasted—and the Post suck-up to Schumer had begun—did The Poddler criticize the “poisonous cynicism” of the D’Amato campaign, as run by consultants Arthur Finkelstein and Kieran Mahoney. The duo, Podhoretz gravely noted, “think voters are morons.” Gee, we guess these keen observations would not have worked during the campaign. For his slavish devotion to The Cause, Podhoretz gets the Speak No Evil Award. Along with an XL gag, The Poddler gets a copy of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the original chronicle of the Pod People. We also have a request: John, think about a return to the television beat. We liked you so much better when you were penning incisive analyses of Urkel and the Olsen twins.
The Posties had to be crushed when their “good for the Jews” argument failed to help D’Amato. In fact, the paper’s political positions were entirely repudiated by its readership. With that in mind, we present a Wacko to the editor who headlined a story on one Borough Park rally “D’Amato dives into adoring Jewish crowd.” By Election Day, the mosh pit had dissipated and D’Amato ended up planted face down on the dance floor. —Bastone
Better predictions from the psychic hotline
The Jeanne Dixon Crystal Ball goes to John Zogby, the pollster for The New York Post who predicted D’Amato’s victory the Sunday before the election. Even though Zogby’s final tracking poll said that 51.4 percent wanted a new senator, that number was buried at the bottom of the Post story way behind photo-finish digits that depicted a slightly ahead Fonz, who’d allegedly come back in the final days from a deep hole.
Zogby’s D’Amato surge dovetailed serendipitously with Post cover stories saluting the senator, just as it flew in the face of every other public poll, which had Schumer up by margins as big as 8 points. Zogby’s final pre-election polls also had D’Amato charging up ward among Jewish voters, in sharp contrast with postelection exit data that put Al at a measly 24 percent. The Jewish-jump prophecy gets Zogby another coveted prize—the Murdoch Mensch-of-the-Year Mezuzah, given for the first time to a Lebanese Arab.
A usually competent pollster who came close to picking Pataki in 1994 against the stream of Cuomo numbers in other polls, Zogby had such a bad year he told reporters that the last-minute national GOP ads going after Bill and Monica were smart and would “encourage GOP core voters and help pick up some undecided voters in tight races.” That earns him a third Wacko, The Speckled Newt, awarded for the best fish story of the year. —Barrett
While it seemed like these kids were a perfect match, Betsy McCaughey Ross and Wilbur Ross are now headed for what will surely be a messy divorce. But we’re certain the bust-up will not deter the energetic lieutenant governor from looking for her next life partner. In fact, here’s a draft of Betsy’s personal ad:
DWF, fmr GOP, seeks wlthy financier not afraid to share. Liquidity a must. Looking for commitment through November 2000. You must be breathing (w/ or w/out help). I enjoy making speeches, TV appearances, and taking long rides on the New York State Thruway. Make me an offer I can’t refuse.
Spitzer (left) and his award’s namesake
Hands-down winner of the Robert Young Father-Knows-Best Classic Boxed Set is Eliot Spitzer, who got so much more than the Friday night keys to the family car from Papa Bernie.
The senior Spitzer wins the IRS’s rarely-awarded Gift Tax Avoidance Accolade for his $10 million bankrolling of his son’s two campaigns for attorney general without having to pay a nickel in generosity levies.
The father-and-son team also walks away with this year’s Buddhist Temple Fundraising Fiasco Basket, having collaborated on the most obscene campaign financing scam of 1998. After months, in fact even years, of lying, Eliot finally admitted that papa was loaning him the money to repay the bank loans he took out to cover the tab for the biggest television buys in AG campaign history.
This transparent end-run around state law, which limits Bernie’s campaign loans or donations to no more than the cost of Eliot’s Princeton degree, was not cited by any editorial boards as grounds to deny him endorsements for the state’s highest law enforcement office. In fact, the austere New York Times traded its endorsement for an exclusive confession of Spitzer’s grimy loan arrangement. For that, the editorial board gets the Flashlight-in-the-Eyes-Interrogation Notebook, the only journalism prize that comes with a pair of plastic knuckles. —Barrett
We never imagined a sweater could get such good press! But Schumer consultant Hank Morris and his trusty pullover have recently scored more column inches than the travails of Kate Moss. Still, Gotham’s newest “rumpled genius” is in desperate need of a makeover (we fear that his blazers may have elbow patches). The Wacko Committee awards Morris a GQ subscription and a Maven Makeover at Paul Stuart, where salesmen will help Hank put some sartorial distance between himself and other schlubby Svengalis. —Bastone
We hate to kick a guy when he is down, but D’Amato takes home the coveted Wacko of the Year Trophy for his pitiful Senate campaign. If it isn’t already, this Arthur Finkelstein–orchestrated debacle will soon become the model of how not to run a reelection campaign. Binging through millions like a couple of dope fiends, D’Amato and Finkelstein were left with a monumental ass whipping to show for their troubles. After a successful 18-year run, this twosome got abruptly canceled and now people snicker at them as if they were Lenny and Squiggy or Milli and Vanilli.
The Fonz’s failed campaign will prove to be the converse of the “Shot Heard ‘Round the World.” Whereas everyone now claims to have been in the Polo Grounds the afternoon Bobby Thomson went yard, soon nobody will own up to working for D’Amato ’98, the Lost Weekend of this election season. While L’Affaire Putz head was a classic, and the missed votes ads were spectacularly specious, D’Amato’s Sunday morning press conference in front of Manhattan’s Holocaust Memorial was particularly gross. The desperate junior senator tried to paint Schumer, a Jew, as bad for the Jews. Like so many other crass D’Amato angles, this one exploded in his face. For his troubles, we award him a copy of Shoah and a new yarmulke bearing the inscription “Alfonse Marcello D’Amato, Former U.S. Senator.” —Bastone
Safir and Giuliani
Giuliani and police commissioner Howard Safir have developed into quite a little team. Nowadays, when wooden Howie speaks, you can barely see Rudy’s lips moving. A day before the November 3 vote, the Dyspeptic Duo further distinguished themselves by helping to organize a D’Amato campaign event featuring dozens of cops as props. With the Fonz’s campaign flagging, Safir and Giuliani staged a ceremony thanking D’Amato for helping to secure an abandoned Coast Guard facility for use by city police. The timing of the event at Floyd Bennett Field, Giuliani insisted, had nothing to do with the following day’s vote, but was “really the last opportunity” to salute D’Amato (read: the last opportunity to bathe D’Amato in a blue light before polls opened).
Because of their behavior, we are calling on the NYPD’s public morals division to investigate Safir’s and Giuliani’s obscene pimping operation. Soiling the shield for D’Amato’s benefit, these two jokers look worse than any Midtown South cop caught cooping in a whorehouse. This travesty earns both men copies of Xaviera Hollander’s The Happy Hooker. For his continued subservience and McCarthy-like behavior (Charlie, not Joseph), the lighter-than-air Safir also wins the coveted Shari Lewis Sweatsock. —Bastone
Norman Rosenbaum, whose brother Yankel was killed during the Crown Heights riot, flew in from Australia to do some last-minute campaigning for D’Amato. Rosenbaum, who this time dragged his mother along, is the GOP’s favorite mourner. Maybe he doesn’t realize it, but Republicans call Rosenbaum to New York like he was some kind of relief pitcher, the closer who provides a degree of moral authority. Maybe the next time he gets that late-inning call, Rosenbaum, winner of the Frequent Flyer Wacko, will think twice before entering the game. He also gets one Qantas upgrade (good only for westbound travel). —Bastone
If you didn’t think D’Amato’s campaign was of international importance, check out these headlines from Corriere Della Sera, Italy’s leading newspaper. Roughly translated, they read:
Loose Tongue Derails Senator Schmuck
Exit Polls Also Show Voters Think His Mamma’s Sauce Sucks —Bastone
Having already blown 21 of his 34 mostly New York endorsements in his first four years in office, Rudy “Deathkiss” Giuliani roamed the earth this year, blessing the candidacies of Republicans from South Carolina to South Central L.A. Thirteen of his 23 candidates bombed, earning him the Mal Occhio (Evil Eye) Lens.
The mayor who last year tried to pass himself off as a nonpartisan, issue-obsessed statesman also picks up the Randall Terry Fetal Photo, a prize annually awarded to the nation’s most hypocritical prochoicer. Seventeen of Rudy’s 23 choices thought women should have no choice. But abortion wasn’t the only issue taking a backseat to Rudy’s hunger for the national stage. Most of his candidates opposed gun control .
One Giuliani-backed candidate was California gubernatorial loser Dan Lungren, described as Newt Gingrich’s “ideological soul mate” during their dozen years together in the House. Lungren was one of a handful of House members to vote against Head Start, the Clean Water Act, and meals for seniors. So antiabortion, he even cosponsored the Human Rights Amendment, which would criminalize all abortions. Rudy’s candidate for governor in Iowa, Jim Lightfoot, championed the teaching of creationism and voted against the Americans with Disabilities Act while in Congress. Matt Fong, the Giuliani Senate choice in California, gave $50,000 to the Traditional Values Coalition to help its campaign to quarantine people with AIDS in “cities of refuge.” And the South Carolina GOP that sponsored Rudy’s visit “considers homosexuality a lifestyle detrimental to the health and well-being” of everyone.
The mayor’s endorsements make his beliefs as phony as his Sammy Sosa bat. —Barrett
rudy’s endorsement/abortion stance
contested races since january 1, 1998
George Pataki, NY 1 Prochoice
John Engler, MI 1 Prolife
Tommy Thompson, WI 1 Prolife
John McCain, AZ 2 Prolife
Pat Toomey, PA 3 Prochoice
Lincoln Almond, RI 1 Prochoice
John (Jeb) Bush, FL 1 Prolife
J.D. Hayworth, AZ 3 Prolife
Bob Livingston, LA 3 Prolife
Vito Fossella, NY 3 Prolife
Ellen Sauerbrey, MD 1 Prolife
Jim Ross Lightfoot, IA 1 Prolife
David Beasley, SC 1 Prolife
Lauch Faircloth, NC 2 Prolife
Curt Pringle, CA + Prolife
Dan Lungren, CA 1 Prolife
Matt Fong, CA 2 Prochoice
Linda Lingle, HA 1 Prochoice
Gary Franks, CT 2 Prochoice
Alfonse D’Amato, NY 2 Prolife
Chris Mega, NY 4 Prolife
Glenn Yost, NY 4 Prolife
Douglass Prescott, NY 4 Prolife
Candidate for Governor (1), Senate (2), House (3), State Legislature (4), State Treasurer (+)
Well, the folks at the Human Rights Campaign sure do know how to pick ’em! After a protracted internal battle, the country’s largest gay rights group voted to endorse D’Amato. Actually, it was the HRC’s board—in a 15-7 vote—that chose to support the Fonz. Most members backed Schumer, who romped in the gay community. For instance, in Manhattan’s 66th Assembly District, Schumer routed D’Amato by about an 8-to-1 margin. This Greenwich Village district was the first to send an openly gay woman, Deborah Glick, to the state assembly and provided Schumer with his biggest vote total of any city A.D. In recognition of HRC’s misguided endorsement, we present the group’s board with the Out of Touch Plaque and a global positioning system, so they are better informed when they next get the urge to veer right. —Bastone
The Voice has learned exclusively, relying on the latest in communications search technology, that the New York Daily News endorsed Alfonse D’Amato in the recent senate contest. The endorsement was so buried in the Sunday edition before the election that Sam Donaldson actually held up the cover of the paper on that morning’s “This Week” and claimed that the News had endorsed Chuck Schumer. No mention of the endorsement was noted on the cover or even on the page with news stories about the campaign.
The headline on the endorsement, squeezed between a glut of department store and supermarket ads, was simply “The race for the Senate,” and Alfonse wasn’t explicitly endorsed until the last line of an 838-word editorial. The News also did not print its customary palm card of all endorsements on election day for fear of revealing that it had secretly backed Al.
Mort Zuckerman, the owner of the paper who reportedly ordered the stealth endorsement even after his dear friend Bill Clinton asked him to back Schumer, denied in a Voice interview that any endorsement had actually occurred. DNA samples, however, indicate that Zuckerman may actually have typed the original with his own hand. For making an endorsement like the fully clothed Clinton has sex, Zuckerman wins the Presidential Implausible Deniability Necktie. Here’s what he told us:
Voice: At any time were you and Al D’Amato alone at the News office?
Zuckerman: I don’t recall, but it’s possible that he, while he was visiting there, brought something to me and that at the time he brought it to me, he was the only person there. That’s possible.
Voice: If Al D’Amato says that while he was in the News office you patted him on the back, would he be lying?
Zuckerman: That is not my recollection.
Voice: If Al D’Amato says that after you wrote the endorsement the two of you hugged in the News office, would he be lying?
Zuckerman: I’m going to revert to my former statement.
The definition of endorsement, prepared by Zuckerman’s lawyers, is when a newspaper publisher “knowingly causes contact with a reader’s eyes, hands, ears or buttocks with an intent to arouse or gratify the electoral desire of any person.” —Barrett
Mort Zuckerman’s camouflaged D’Amato endorsement came in word 837 (“recommend”) of an 838-word editorial
other photo credits: Spitzer by AP/Wideworld, Morris by Richard B. Levine, Giuliani, Safir, and Zuckerman by Frances M. Roberts.
Research assistance: David Kihara, David Shaftel, and Nicole White
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on November 24, 1998