Before Vice President Gore zipped to back-to-back meetings with powerful bankers and business leaders here today, he took a half hour to hold the kind of news conference that doesn't make much news, but is an almost daily ritual for a presidential aspirant with his hands on the levers of power in the federal government.
Seated on one side of Gore was Robert Rubin, who imparted some kind words about the vice president, in what is probably his last public speech as Treasury secretary. To Gore's right was Luis Bracero, 69, a delicate Puerto Rican immigrant.
Gore unveiled a system through which everyone -- immigrants and low-income Americans shut out by big business -- could open a bank account. And Bracero was on stage to illustrate the problem.
After Bracero warmed the audience with a poignant speech about the travails of cashing his Social Security check every month, Gore announced the government's solution: $3-a-month direct-deposit accounts for anybody who receives a check from the government.
This resonated with the intimate clutch of community and immigrant leaders who sat in attendance. "There are millions of people who need this," gushed Roy A. Hastick Sr., chief of the Caribbean-American Chamber of Commerce.
Never mind that outside later Bracero was being told by a Chase Manhattan Corp. representative that he would have to wait until next year, when the new system kicked in. "Have you tried our lifeline account?" the Chase representative said.
Meanwhile, Gore already was walking into another financial district building, where he met with a mishmash of more than 40 high-tech figures (Cablevision Systems Corp.'s president and chief executive, James Dolan), major corporate honchos (Forstmann Little partner Erskine Bowles) and stars (Billy Baldwin).
The brainstorming continued in a smaller group at New York University Law School, where Gore opened the floor to personal discussions. Attendees included prominent Democratic supporters and a smattering of Republicans. John Corzine, the former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. co-chief executive, who is running for Senate in New Jersey, chatted afterward with David Shaw, a prominent hedge-fund manager.
Participants said that, in response to a question, Gore said he disagreed with Republican efforts to reduce the cost of inheritance taxes, adding that his position may not please his well-heeled audience. Despite the business heft in the room, many in attendance said the talks did not touch on economics.
"It focused more on issues such as education," said Steven Rattner, a banker at the large investment firm Lazard Freres & Co., who has been a key force in introducing Gore and his ideas to the business community.
CAPTION: Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin took a seat next to Vice President Gore.