POLITICAL SCENE: September 30
Politics Is A Party When The President
President Clinton and Massachusetts
Sen. John F. Kerry were in great spirits at the packed benefit
concert for Kerry's campaign Saturday evening
at Boston's Fleet Center. Kerry joked to the largely Boomer crowd that they would have been surprised
if 30 years ago someone predicted they would all be at a "political rally and everybody
kept their clothes on."
When Mr. Clinton spoke at the end
of the concert, he mentioned that Kerry had told the joke. And
then the President said: "We had all these
people from the '60s play, and we kept our clothes on. Next thing
John Kerry will be doing the Macarena with
The concert featured Carly Simon,
Peter, Paul, and Mary and aging rockers Joe Walsh, Don Henley,
and Crosby Stills & Nash. As a concert
it wasn't all that great, except for Peter, Paul and Mary, who
did a nice job with trademark '60s numbers
"If I Had a Hammer" and Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in
the Wind." And the trio played "Puff the Magic
Dragon" as Mr. Clinton, the president who didn't inhale,
was sitting in the first row, right next to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.
Carly Simon made the evening's biggest
gaffe, referring to Mr. Clinton as "President Kennedy."
Crosby, Stills and Nash dedicated
their song "Helplessly Hoping" to Bob Dole's campaign.
That was the highlight of a mediocre set.
Besides Boomers, the crowd was well
sprinkled with the Alanis Morissette generation. Hundreds of college students, among them 55 members
of Brown University's College Democrats, were at the Fleet Center. After the concert, Sarah Havens,
a Brown sophomore who is president of the College Democrats, was both tactful and incisive.
"The music was aimed at an older
crowd, but that is natural because they are the ones who give
the most money," said Havens.
Kerry supporters paid as much as $1,000
per ticket for the event.
During his Saturday swing through
Rhode Island and Massachusetts, Mr. Clinton said little that was
new or of substance, studiously avoided
the press -- except for a limousine interview with a Boston Globe reporter -- and raised lots of campaign
cash for Democrats.
At this point, Mr. Clinton's campaign
seems mostly gloss and showy spectacle, resembling nothing so much as Ronald Reagan's 1984 reelection
campaign, which featured the famous "Morning in America" television ads.
In the Saturday events, there was
nary a word from the President on what he plans to do in what
is beginning to look like an inevitable
Masterful public relations
Not for nothing did Laborers' Union
president Arthur A. Coia put public relations high on the list
of strengths that he trumpeted last week
at his convention in Las Vegas.
The four-day show in the shadow of
the famous neon Strip was a monument to campaigns pioneered by another great union man: Ronald Reagan,
once the president of the Screen Actors Guild.
Like Reagan (and another successful
imitator, Bill Clinton), Coia has entrusted his reelection message
to skilled professionals. Coia's longtime
Washington consultant Vic Kamber uses PR techniques like those of Reagan's backstage genius, Michael
Behind the pyrotechnics -- glossy
videos, a laser show, a rock music score -- the formula is basic:
Keep the message simple and repeat, repeat,
The message from Vegas put Coia in
the bosom of a united, God-fearing family whose cause is the American worker.
The cause links every Laborer -- from
Coia to the rank-and-file worker at Providence City Hall. It also enfolds Democrats from President Clinton
to the most obscure candidate for Republican-held seats in Congress.
The enemies -- Republicans, business
leaders and some in the media -- traffic in what Coia called "vicious lies."
A sense of family tradition was part
of the recurring theme first sounded when Coia rolled a scroll
on the big screen behind him that memorialized
the Laborers departed since the last convention, in 1991. His father, Arthur E. Coia, and his predecessor
and sometime rival, Angelo Fosco, were at the top of the list.
Like Reagan's State of the Union addresses,
Coia's State of the Union address included a cavalcade of ordinary heroes who stood for applause.
Coia credited one Laborers organizer with the greatest labor victory in decades, the unionization
of a 1,700-member bloc in New York. (The Teamsters and nurses
who organized 1,800 workers at Rhode Island Hospital in 1993 were
not on hand to dispute that.)
Giving the invocation one day was
the Rt. Rev. Galliano Cavallaro, who in Coia's words, "buried
my father" and presided at his daughter's
wedding. The Federal Hill priest also vouched for the late New England boss of organized crime, Raymond
L.S. Patriarca, at a parole hearing. Cavallaro also solicited
contributions for the legal defense of the two Coias when they
were indicted for racketeering in 1981, along with Fosco and Patriarca.
Cavallaro denounced the case against the Coias, which was eventually
thrown out, as part of a federal campaign "to repress individual
Coia was nominated for reelection
by his cousin, Ronald M. Coia, of Local 271 in Providence. Seconding was James Merloni Jr. of Framingham,
Mass., who compared Coia's "dream" to that of Martin
Luther King Jr. Merloni and Local 1033 president
Joseph Virgilio of Providence were called on several times during the week to defend proposals
by the Coia forces.
Another repeat performer was Armand
E. Sabatoni, the son of a Rhode Island Laborers leader who is
a rising star in the union and active
in state politics. He was elected as a regional officer to the
union's executive board.
During his speech accepting nomination
to the fall ballot for general president, Coia was surrounded
by family: his wife, Joanne; his son
Arthur E. Coia II, a Georgetown Law School graduate who recently
passed the bar; his daughter Chrissie and son-in-law Darren Corrente
-- who is the son of longtime Coia business partner Frank Corrente.
The elder Corrente is also administration director for Providence
Mayor Vincent A. Cianci Jr. Corrente negotiates municipal workers'
contracts across the table from Virgilio.
Rolling the boulder uphill
Republican Giovanni Cicione may not
have much money or any chance of defeating Congressman Patrick Kennedy, but most voters would probably
agree that Cicione deserves at least one televised debate on a major market Rhode Island station
to make his case. Channel 10 has invited both Cicione and Kennedy
to debate. Cicione quickly agreed, but
there has been no word yet from Kennedy.
"We're going to do a TV debate,
we just don't know which TV debate," said Larry Berman, Kennedy spokesman. Berman said the debate
may not be on one of the area network stations that draw a large number of viewers. Kennedy may decide
to accept only a local cable access debate or one on Channel 36, which would keep down the number of
By the way, Berman has no compunction
answering campaign questions while remaining on Kennedy's taxpayer-financed congressional payroll.
When asked last week about the Channel
10 invitation, Berman said: "Why should we do it? We would
just be giving him expousure. Nobody knows him."
This is in sharp contrast to Jack
Reed, whose press secretary, Todd Andrews, moved off the public
payroll and onto the campaign staff in August when the political
season got rolling.
Berman says press spokesmen are given
"wide latitude to discuss" a congressman's record during
Cicione, who faces a Sisyphean challenge
if there ever was one, says he sometimes feels as though "I'm running against Larry Berman, not
Kennedy has not bothered to hire a
campaign press secretary this year, a role Berman filled in 1996.
Perhaps the biggest suprise in this month's General Assembly primaries was the upset of Sen. Helen Mathieu, one of the Senate's leading opponents of abortion. It was the Portsmouth Democrat who last year bucked Senate Majority Leader Paul Kelly to spring from committee a bill that would require a
24-hour wait for an abortion. The
measure passed the Senate but died in the House.
The veteran lawmaker blames her defeat
by a political novice on low voter turnout and efforts to unseat her by organized labor and advocates
of abortion and gay rights.
"Primaries are dangerous to an
incumbent," says Mathieu, who had not faced a primary contest
since her first Senate race a decade ago. Mathieu
held her own in her hometown, but lost to Karen Nygaard of Bristol in the parts of Bristol and
Warren included in her district.
Mathieu says that unlike Pawtucket
Sen. John McBurney, who mounted a successful drive to defeat an opponent backed by Kelly, she did
not realize she was in trouble until too late.
But the lawmaker vows not to disappear
once she leaves office in January. "I'm not going away,"
Meanwhile, back at the bar . . .
Clinton Kickin' Donkey Lager is running
way ahead of Dole's Pachyderm Ale in the Trinity Brew House brewpub poll. Through yesterday, 952
pints of the President's lager have been sold. Only 568 pints
of Dole's Ale has been downed by Trinity
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