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Profile of public relations guru Matt Hiltzik, a former Democratic operative
The ribbing and occasional opprobrium of his friends is something Hiltzik -- who also represents Katie Couric, Alec Baldwin, Annie Leibovitz and Don Imus -- said he has no problem weathering.
"As a general rule," Hiltzik explained, "I stand by people and don't make decisions based on what other people think."
An election maestro
Little in Hiltzik's background suggests he would end up at Beck's side. He grew up in the affluent New Jersey suburb of Teaneck, and commuted to the exclusive Manhattan Jewish day school Ramaz, where other future Clinton operatives Phil Singer and Philippe Reines also matriculated. He graduated from the industrial labor relations school at Cornell University, where in 1993 he eagerly attended the first of many speeches by Hillary Clinton.
As a law student at Fordham, Hiltzik became politically active: He volunteered for Carolyn McCarthy's successful 1996 bid for Congress, inspired by her commitment to gun control. He got to know people in politics and scored a gig as spokesman for the New York State Democratic Committee, helping Chuck Schumer unseat Sen. Al D'Amato and laying the groundwork for Clinton's listening tour in Upstate New York.
His success in getting Democrats elected caught the attention of Weinstein, the co-founder of Miramax Films, who wanted to widen his footprint in Democratic politics. He invented a hybrid job for Hiltzik that would put the movie honcho in the middle of the action. "Matt's job was half P.R., and mostly politics," Weinstein said. With Hiltzik's contacts, Weinstein threw a star-studded fundraiser for the first lady at his home on Martha's Vineyard, with Jimmy Buffett on the bill. A few days later, Hiltzik took a leave of absence from Miramax and went to work for Clinton.
Right around that time in October 1999, Hiltzik's father, George, took a call during an business trip in Zurich. On the other end was Beck, an obscure disc jockey toiling in New Haven, Conn. Beck had done his research and informed the former NBC executive and high-powered agent of his conclusion: It should be Hiltzik, who has brokered the radio gigs of blogger Matt Drudge and Fox News host Bill O'Reilly, to lift Beck's career to a new level.
"He's in New Haven probably spinning Britney Spears records," George Hiltzik recalled thinking at the time. But he admired Beck's tenacity and sized him up. His scouting report: Beck, a recovering alcoholic, was talented but not without issues. But the elder Hiltzik recalled that something about the way Beck spoke about his new wife convinced the agent, a devoted family man himself, that Beck would turn things around. He gave Beck a shot.
Beck moved to a radio station in Tampa in 2000, and after some iffy first weeks, started drawing in listeners with his nakedly personal style and stunts like broadcasting from treehouses.
As the elder Hiltzik brokered a lucrative syndication deal that gave Beck a much wider audience, his son was neck-deep in New York Democratic politics.
The younger Hiltzik was tasked with positioning Weinstein, his brash, polarizing boss, as the uniter of a Democratic Party torn apart by a nasty mayoral primary. And Hiltzik had to manage some outsize, infighting personalities.
On the eve of the mayoral election between Democrat Mark Green and Republican Michael Bloomberg, Hiltzik and Weinstein attempted an eleventh-hour unity news conference with Green, the vanquished Democratic primary opponent, plus local machers Bill Clinton and Al Sharpton. In a Four Seasons hotel suite, Hiltzik and his crew worked the phones furiously while Sharpton ate shrimp cocktail and Weinstein gobbled entire pizzas. The whole room nervously awaited Clinton, who was circling the hotel in his motorcade waiting for the final details of the news conference to be worked out. Negotiations collapsed and local television cameras captured Clinton's car speeding off. Hiltzik and Weinstein decided to ring up Bloomberg with Weinstein's endorsement.
"At 11:45, Matt said, 'Call Mike and tell him you're supporting him,' " Weinstein recalled.