He was being swept along in the cheering, swirling, happy mob. Tall and strapping, he barreled along, down the dingy hotel corridor, down the steps to the lobby, hugging and being hugged by all who could reach him in that struggling mass. The banter and laughter never stopped around Dick Donahue, a figure from the past, one of John F. Kennedy's Irish mafia who came out of political retirement to help the younger brother, Teddy. And, finally, there was something for the Kennedyites to cheer about Tuesday: the stunning upsets in New York and Connecticut.
As he hit the lobby, Donahue, Kennedy's New York campaign director, was surrounded by bearded Hasidic and Orthodox Jews, wearing their black hats and yarmulkes. The Boston Irishman loomed over them, reached out for them. More hugs. "We broke it! We did it!" Shouted Rabbi Israel Steinberg, whose heavily Jewish district went 4 to 1 for Kennedy. The Jews of New York -- who represent one-third of the city's Democratic Party -- had flocked to Kennedy in a strong anti-Carter vote. The overshadowing issue for them was Carter's bungled U.N. vote.
"We were the only friends you had -- and now you'll have a lot of friends," said one rabbi, almost wistfully. Donahue put his arm around him and, in the outrageous humor of the moment that comes from a closeness born in an uphill battle, said, "Yeah, you were there when we needed you." But God forbid this should spill over into sentiment, and so Donahue tapped him lightly on the chin with his fist and said, "Now you're just a bunch of pushy Jews." No one laughed harder than the rabbis.
Out in the street, Kennedy workers who could not get into the crowded hotel reached for Donahue's hand. "Congratulations! You did it." Donahue responded with "We did it -- you and you and you."
Later, Donahue sits quietly in a dimly lit bar. "I'll have wine straight up, about three gallons of it," he tells the waiter. Donahue, who took over the failing New York campaign in December, had read the continuing sagas about it being a disaster operation and now he was having the last laugh.
"You know how we did it? I'll tell you how we did it. No one counted on the starkness of the ballot box. They had no place to hide."
There was no "uncommitted." There was no "no preference." Just Jimmy and Teddy to choose from.
"That was our best ploy," said Donahue, gloating slightly. He said that the Kennedy staff convinced the Carter staff that "uncommitted" or "no preference" no the ballot would be a refuge for Sen. Pat Moynihan and Gov. Hugh Carey to bring delegates loyal to them to the August convention. "So they spent $20,000 of their own money for lawyers to throw 'no preference' and 'uncommitted' off the ballot, thank God. We only had enough money to knock Brown off the ballot."
Donahue's theory was that when faced with the choice, the more liberal Democrats and those recently disaffected with Carter, not being able to vote "no preference," would swing to Kennedy.
Leave the voters no place to hide: Wasn't that strategy brilliant?
"No," said Donahue, his red moon-face triumphant. "That's Irish!" New York Romance
It is a tableau from the past; the kind of victory night the Kennedys once felt was their due but had not seen these 12 years now.
There are tougher primaries ahead and one victory night does not a nomination make. They are unorganized in many states; Pennsylvania is the next crucial test and questions about Kennedy's character may loom again. But Tuesday resuscitated a dying campaign, and for now that was enough.
The clan was everywhere . . . Bobby Jr., repeating for the clustering press his uncle's theme that Carter was living in a house of cards and that it was collapsing. "Over 700 delegates will be picked June 3 [in California, New Jersey and Ohio] and by that time 3 million more Americans will be unemployed" . . . Jackie Onassis moving in, wide-eyed, surrounded by the senator's aides . . . Teddy Jr. grinning under a mop of curls . . . Pat Lawford saying that she hoped the criticisms of Teddy's character would be lessened now. "People who hate my brother I just can't believe. He is the gentle, most loved person in the family . . . ."
For two hours, reporters fought for and guarded spaced in the crowded, cheapest hotel room the financially strapped Kennedy campaign could find. It had surely never seen five stars; it was thick with the muskiness of a thousand Willy Lomans.
Then came the senator. At first, the smile played softly as Kennedy said, "I love New York -- and I love Connecticut, too." Gone was the forced stridency, the forced heartiness that crept into his voice on losing nights.
He spoke seriously. "Voters of New York and Connecticut were voting for their families, voting for their children, voting for their jobs, voting for their parents. They were sending a very clear and powerful message across this country, they can no longer afford the inflation rate. They are questioning the whole quality of their lives. The message they sent is this administration has just failed them . . . .
"The Democratic Party has always been the party of economic democracy and social progress. The Democratic Party never be successful if it tries to out-Republican the Republican Party."
The light touches that emerged during the dark days of defeat were there in victory. Walter Cronkite slipped and called him President Kennedy; Kennedy then turned to an interviewer and, as if prodding her with a helpful hint, he said, "He, uh, said President Kennedy." Asked if this was a trend, he said, "I hope so." As laughter started, he cracked, "I like this trend better than the last one."
Many New York politicians who had urged Kennedy to run had gone for cover when the polls showed Carter winning 2 to 1, Carey and Moynihan among them. Had Kennedy finally heard from them Tuesday night? The twinkle starts before the smile. No, said Kennedy. The smile broadens. "But they gave me very good advice up in Brockport this August." That's when everyone was with front-runner Kennedy, including Carey and Moynihan. "They said I could carry New York -- and by God they were right!" A roar of laughter followed from the press.
As they were leaving, Joan Kennedy, in electric blue and shocking pink, who had been standing silent with their children Kara and Ted, was asked how she felt. "Very happy. I feel like singing." Go ahead, yelled a reporter.
In a slight singsong she paraphrased the line, "I love New York in June, how about you?": "I love New York in March." As the laughter rose, she said: "How about August?" to more laughter. Backlash
In New York and Connecticut the currents finally shifted kennedy's way -- at least for the moment, in this ever-changing, dramatic election year. There were several elements in his win.
The strong Jewish backlash to Carter.
The fear of inflation was eroding support for the president.
The embattled-president-in-the-Rose-Garden theme was becoming tiresome as hope for the hostages in Iran faded once again.
Kennedy had an excellent field organization of several thousand volunteers headed by the few New York political pros who stuck with Kennedy.
New York is a traditionally liberal Democratic haven.
To be sure, the disenchanted were still everywhere. Black cab drivers, Italian waitresses, middle-class businessmen, Catholic housewives for whom Chappaquiddick will simply never end. But there was also some backlash to the endless sifting of Chappaquiddick, the endless personal questions. The press had changed its tune; the story out of New York was Kennedy's gallantry in defeat. The Village Voice -- one of the few papers to endorse Kennedy -- wrote, "As for the question of character, Chappaquiddick troubles us. A lot. But Carter's lying, after promising so often that he would never lie to us, reveals an even deeper moral flaw." The press spoke of endurance and courage. Kennedy was emerging as a resilient, plodding, hang-in-there fighter.
In these final days there was one of those strange shifts in moods, gusts of opinions that seem borne by the wind and sway the last-minute voters, a feeling that enough was enough for questioning Kennedy's character. 'Enough Is Enough'
Two scenes from the Enough is Enough Brigade:
Scene 1: Monday night at the Shubert theater she strides onstage, a defiant, feisty, fire-breathing loyalist. This will be no cute showbiz number, no little song and dance. Lauren Bacall flips the text onto the stand, warms up her husky voice and lets it roll.
She had a lot of things to say about Kennedy, and a lot of things to say about Carter too, "only my lawyer wouldn't let me." Then Bacall went on to blister the walls anyway about Carter. "Contrary to what he assured us, he turned out to be just another politician willing to abandon any principle for a handful of votes; promising to lower the defense budget to placate the liberals and then raising it to satisfy the hawks. Ordering a vote against Israeli settlements to butter up the Arabs, and then weaseling out to placate the Jews. And worst of all, he is using an international crisis -- mostly of his own making -- to protect himself from participating in honest and useful debates."
Bacall said that Kennedy was "never accused of dishonesty by the poor, the sick. But still the accusations persist. You find them every day in the press, every night on TV. As a member of the acting profession, I have more or less become accustomed to such scandalmongering, but I am appalled, outraged by their obession with gossip and innuendo at the expense of the real issues." The Kennedy loyalists at the fund-raiser erupted in sustained cheers. "Just as I am filled, really filled with admiration for the way Ted Kennedy has borne it with dignity, patience and an even disposition. Anyone who says he is not responsible in a crisis ought to look more closely to his reaction to the low level of the campaign that is being waged against him." There are stomps and cheers and applause that goes on seemingly forever as she shouts to the corner where the press is, "Ladies and gentlemen of the press -- enough is enough!"
Scene 2: In the bedford-Stuyvesant ghetto, where empty faces stare from third-floor windows in broken brownstone tenements, Kennedy went to church on Sunday. Inside the church, women wearing hats, men in their Sunday best listened to a gospel choir and then a hellfire-and-brimstone endorsement of Kennedy by Rev. Samuel Austin. "A lot of things have been said in this campaign about morals, about weakness. Who is there that has not made some mistake?" As Kennedy sat by, getting redder in the face, Austin shouted that Kennedy had made a mistake but was man enough to admit it. "No man is all halos and no horns, all plus and no minus. No man is all good and no bad. There are some skeletons in all of our closets." The old gospel shout of amen, amen was heard. People started saying yes, yes.
Kennedy was a man, he said, "not a god, not a saint, but a man, a true man who has stood up for the black people. He took a stand for us and today I'm going to take a stand for him." He may have been swaying his congregation but it seemed too much for Kennedy who sat there stoically as the reverned talked about the adulteress who was brought before Jesus Christ. There were those who had hoped he would condemn her, shouted Rev. Austin, but "let he who is without sin cast the first stone."
By the time Kennedy got up to speak, he seemed unable to put aside that introduction, and he gave a brief, lackluster performance. Kennedy's Reasons
Riding in the back of a limousine Monday afternoon on the way to a television taping, Kennedy smoked a cigar and said what he had been saying for days now. "I'm just convinced the reasons for running are more apparent and more necessary than the time that I announced. I'm absolutely convinced about what I'm talking about in economic and foreign policy. Our policies that are going to be accepted and adopted. I am just so convinced of the justification of my candidacy."
He refused to speak to the personal defeats. "You see the problems people are facing and these issues become very human. You can't help see it walking through the Spanish Market and meeting the fellow who ran that little shop and their friends, even selling their little homes in order to pay their medical bills. You see the concern a student expresses at Columbia about whether he's going to be able to continue his education. You see it in the show of hands in senior-citizen centers of elderly persons who just can't make ends meet. Those human concerns, for me, override the kind of personal aspects of the campaign." If that sounds like a replay of a '60s liberal prototype, then so be it -- that's Ted Kennedy's campaign with all its attendant pluses and minuses, tugging at heartstrings in a familiar fashion.
He allows only a slight slip of the mask when asked if he was annoyed at the Carter ads which stressed that the president is a good family man and a good husband, the unmistakable nuance aimed at Kennedy. "Yeah . . ." quickly slipping back, "not really." The look is of slight disgust even as he turns immediately back to, "I've been in politics long enough to sense that people are going to ultimately make up their mind on the basis of what they believe is going to be the most important for themselves, their families, their children and the future of our country . . ." Glee and Bitterness
Loyalty is a rare commodity for political losers. At Monday night's fund-raiser old Kennedy regulars like Comden and Green, Bacall and comedian Alan King performed side by side with unknowns on the way up and unknowns on the way down. Asked if he had trouble getting performers. King said at a party afterwards: "Absolutely. There are a lot of s- - -s in this world. They go with those 2-to-1 polls."
There were no heavies in the audience, while across town at a Carter-Mondale bash New York Mayor Ed Koch and several previous mayors and other of New York's top Democrats were circulating. In Kenndy's corner were stalwarts like Manfred Ohrenstein, the Democratic minority leader of the New York Senate, nicknamed "lonely Freddy" by some of the grateful Kennedy clan. Bob Abrams, the state attorney general, also "stuck his neck out and he did not need that," said Herman Badillo.
Badillo, in the front row center, was the only politician at the fund-raiser -- and he is an ex-congressman and ex-deputy mayor of New York. He explodes rather easily about his "major disappointment in my colleagues who went to Carter -- after Carter has abandoned South Bronx. It's a national scandal. They promised they would send money [for South Bronx projects]. One hundred million a year over 10 years. They backed off. That was no misunderstanding and neither was the vote on Israel. There's just been too damn many misunderstandings.
Badillo has a special anger for "closet conservatives like Koch who jumped on Carter's bandwagon." At the Kennedy headquarters Tuesday night there were several cries of "Down with Koch" erupting from the Democrats who had stayed with Kennedy. Badillo grinned at the fortunes of a Koch who had backed Carter. "It couldn't happen to a nicer guy." The PT109 Salute
It had been a long winter of Kennedy's discontent and even the most optimistic could not have dreamed of Tuesday miserably in the polls. He had stuck his neck out on the issue of the shah. Carter looked presidential. His New York organization was in shambles and on a cold, early December night, Donahue had come on board to try to shape it up.
He met Kennedy at the airport. Off they went in a limo. The walkie-talkie crackled that there was possible trouble at the Pierre hotel where Kennedy was to speak. One of the bomb-sniffing dogs had sniffed out dynamite. They would shift to another entrance. And so it went.
Kennedy turned to Donahue. "Did Jack ever lose 20 points in 30 days?"
Donahue, filled with Irish bravado, said, "Ah, if you were ahead all the time all you'd have is a bland victory. This makes it exciting." Kennedy threw him a derisive thanks-a-lot look.
Tuesday made Donahue a hero, but he will not be along on the rest of the campaign. As a show of gratitude he turned to his field organization director at one of Tuesday's many parties, Dick Brevoort, and give him a "most valuable player" award. He took off his tie clasp and gave it to him. It was one of JFK's famour PT109 tie clasps. For the young Kennedy volunteers it meant nothing; one young woman shouted, "What does that mean?"
But for Donahue it meant a lot. It meant the memories of working in the White House 17 years ago. He had not been [TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE] again and now it was time to go home. He has 11 children [TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE] law practice that he literally abandoned four months ago to have his nonpaying job with Kennedy.
He knocked back the glass of wine before heading off for one of his last nights on the Kennedy campaign. He was remembering what the candidate had said to him at the victory party Tuesday night at Steve Smith's.
A buoyant Kennedy shouted across the room, "I know what you're going to tell me. You knew it all along. We could do it."