Welcome, Democrats, to hospitality, Big Apple style: "Where ya goin' buddy?" bellows a fat woman on a Honda to a fatter driver in a semi-truck that stretches across the entire Park Avenue intersection. "Loving" hand signs -- made famous by that old pol Nelon Rockefeller in a "salute" to a heckler -- are exchanged.
Traffic snarls and sneers, jeers and an incessant orchestra of taxi horns; just a taste of the tintinnabulation backdrop for next week's Democratic convention.
And there is the major cause of the traffic jam, Ted Kennedy, giving his last rally of the campaign yesterday. Meanwhile, across town at Madison Square Garden, Bob Strauss -- the president's chief spokesman -- tanned and confident, is prepping the press for Glory Days, Carter style. -
For the moment, it is still a House Divided. Kennedy is bellowing and braying to the more than 5,000 who clogged the street by the Waldorf-Astoria that he was going to win. But in the past, during losing primaries, all that forced heartiness was a sure indication he wasn't quite buying the pitch himself. "I LOOOVE New York," he says. "I'm going to love New York all the more next WEDNESDAY when they call the roll on the ballot. In the next two days we are going to close the gap in delegates."
Across town the subject of Kennedy is brought up. Strauss, the jokester and backslapper, turns unbelievably sweet -- displaying the kind of largesse that comes from a politician only when all the political cards are moving his way. "Kennedy is winding down . . . coming to an end of what some have termed a valiant campaign." Why, Strauss is "glad" that the senator will have the opportunity to "go to the convention and state his case" Tuesday night. "Let him have a good hour."
Sure there'll be a "massive demonstration" from the 1,243 Kennedy delegates. But everyone in the Carter camp is going to be "as cooperative as he can." At the Waldorf, Kennedy is calling to the last for an "open" convention and talking about how hard it is for a challenger to wrestle mikes and floor passes from the Carters.
But Strauss stresses that the tradeoffs were clear -- prime-time Tuesday night for Teddy, such bonuses as 100 more floor passes in exchange for a scaled-down schedule of floor debates on the platform and rules fight.
And a love-in at the last.Strauss would bet his bottom dollar there will be a reconciliation. Anything else is "beyond my conception -- based on my prsonal knowledge of Senator Kennedy -- a 20-year history."
Clunk! and crash! go the beams and stanchions and the workmen preparing for Monday night walk indifferently through Strauss' press conference and the mikes don't work and Strauss is a half-hour late and he sloughs it off with a joke about having to have enough time for his luncheon martinis.
Strauss feints, dodges and jabs. There's so little slippage of delegates there is absolutely nothing to worry about on the rules and "we can't find a delegate we're losing on the nomination." There is absolutely no way Carter would release his delegates, he repeats over and over.
It is time to get a few licks in about -- remember him? -- Ronald Reagan. He's the man Carter is running against, not Kennedy, says Strauss. The major question to ask in the campaign is "does a Ronald Reagan care about people like me?" says Strauss. "The average man in this country?"
The thought of Strauss, the Texas millionaire as Mr. Average, sets off howls in the press bleachers. Strauss' eyes glint and twinkle. "You've talked to me before -- you all told me I was average -- well we'll debate that later."
Strauss prepares the way, Carter just might lose on some of the platform planks. But so what? That's the Democratic way, he indicates. What about the counter-convention -- protesters who are already flowing into New York? "Hell, I didn't know they even had a convention. I'm for 'em." He turns to a grinning reporter, "Young man you're just sittin' there smiling. Glad you're enjoying yourself."
And so it went -- twice saying Hamilton Jordan as in Barbara, then catching himself and pronouncing correctly -- Jerdon -- and laughing both times.
Then he snaps at a reporter who asks him some obscure question about whether he ever talked to the IRS to squelch some investigation of a New York politician. Strauss stops smiling and berates the reporter. "That's a stinking question in my judgment." Forceful and angry denials and then the ultimate dismissal. "I haven't talked to the IRS in five years -- but I'm tired of talking to you."
Strauss swirls around and points for another question.
Finally, there is a question about the balloon drop.
You know, the balloons -- a constant staple of conventions -- just waiting to float, in a "spontaneous" show of affection for the chosen one. Isn't that all just a bit too much?"
Strauss smiles. "Let me tell you one thing. I've been through a lot of things been more heinous than those balloons -- and you can quote me on that."
"Booo!" "Boooo!" Two magazine salesmen, Raymond Quirk and Bruce Helmis, waft Bronx cheers Kennedy's way as he shouts his campaign slogans. Four years of Carter's policy is "four years too many." The poor, the elderly, must be heard, Kennedy says.
As Kennedy traveled across the country this year, he recounts, "not in my lifetime have I seen such distress. Do you want four more years of double-digit inflation?" Although the crowd is largely pro-Kennedy, Quirk and Helmis don't let up their jeers. A woman with Kennedy buttons on her T-shirt looks at the two -- "What is this? A father-and-son team?"
Between boos, Quirk shouts, "I been a Democrat for 28 years, honey, and let me tell you this guy was not nominated. Now he wants to change rules. He cheated at Harvard, been chasing women all his life. Is this the guy you want for president?"
Now a counter-group steps in to shout cheers for Kennedy. "He must be the candidate. Carter hasn't proved himself as president," says Frantz Lanoix, a paralegal. "You got no reason to elect Carter."
And so it goes, boos and countering cheers float into the muggy afternoon.
And, just think, the convention won't even officially open until Monday.