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Mover, Shaker, And Cranky Caller?
"I can't even give it a shot!" he says. "I mean, if I were to listen to him for a while, I could. But I just haven't heard his voice. I understand why I'd be a great alibi, and I can't tell you for sure that that is Roger's voice on that tape. But I know it's not me."
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It's hard to say which group of political hands has been most delighted by the Stone Cold Call. But it would be hard to top the giddiness of Stone's rival Republican consultants and pols, many of whom were calling each other this week to savor the news. Everything about Stone seems to grate on them: his clothing; his penchant, they say, for exaggerating his connections to the powerful; his Machiavellian streak; his reluctance to actually serve in any kind of government position, favoring jobs that will make him the fastest money; his daredevil love for the line that separates the bare-knuckled from the insane.
"He has a tendency to play Russian roulette with five bullets in the gun," says Ed Rollins, a longtime Republican consultant. "He's got a tendency to set himself on fire from time to time."
Most memorably, there was a 1996 story in the National Enquirer, reporting that he and his wife had placed notices in magazines and on Web sites in search of swingers. Stone denied it, was forced to resign from the Bob Dole presidential campaign -- which he was then advising -- and went on "Good Morning America" to clear his name:
"An exhaustive investigation now indicates that a domestic employee who I discharged for substance abuse on the second time that we learned that he had a drug problem is the perpetrator who had access to my home, access to my computer, access to my password, access to my postage meter, access to my post-office box key."
For long stretches of Stone's career, it should be noted, he has worked without having to defend himself against humiliating accusations. Rollins hired Stone to handle parts of the Northeast during Reagan's 1980 and '84 campaigns, but he made sure that a trusted ally was never far away, to keep an eye on the guy. Other bosses have offered very favorable reviews, among them Tom Kean, who called Stone dependable, totally committed and very smart.
In the '80s, Stone parlayed his connections, however strong, to the Reagan administration into lobbying and consulting gold as a partner in the D.C. firm Black Manafort Stone & Kelly. The company had links to clients such as the government of Nigeria and former Philippines president Ferdinand Marcos. Stone cultivated a reputation with Washington reporters as a chatty source, and drove a Citroen. He became a Certified Washington Character, memorialized in a 1985 cover story in the New Republic titled "The State of the Art Washington Sleazebag." He later claimed he loved the story because it enhanced his profile.
More recently, he has been credited in books with orchestrating the so-called "Brooks Brothers Riot" at the Miami-Dade County Courthouse during the 2000 election recount in Florida, widely considered a turning point in that drama. He would later claim that the goodwill he earned with Bush administration officials in the Sunshine State led to connections with the Interior Department, which in turn led to some lucrative deals advising Indian tribes on casinos. He lives in Miami Beach and keeps an apartment in New York.
"I have a wife, five dogs and I drive a Jaguar XJR, which I'm about to have repainted," he says.
The why-oh-why question that both detractors and fans are now asking about the Bernard Spitzer call is better left to the shrinks. Let us note here only that Stone has been mixing politics and chicanery for so long that the combination seems woven into his DNA. He was raised in rural Lewisboro, N.Y., the son of a well digger and a mom who wrote for a local newspaper. He became obsessed with politics as a kid when a neighbor handed him "The Conscience of a Conservative," by Barry Goldwater. He was 11 years old and a game of catch was, apparently, not a possibility.
"Well, you have to understand, there were no kids my age, male or female, for 25 miles. I suppose I could have thrown a football with my dad," Stone says, "but my old man left at 5 a.m. and came back at 9 p.m. But he ate his supper and fell to bed and he was covered with grease from head to foot and he never complained a day in his life. You have to amuse yourself."
Stone did. In the 1960 election -- before he could spell the word "ideology" -- his school held a mock vote. He was a Kennedy fan and he campaigned for the guy just the way he would for others in the future.
"I remember going through the cafeteria line and telling every kid that Nixon was in favor of school on Saturdays," Stone says. "It was my first political trick."
Kennedy won, in a landslide.