The Republican Party's high hopes for tonight's five-city fund-raisers have fallen flat as traditional big givers are boycotting the usually evergreen New York City dinner, which features John Connally as its centerpiece.
Republicans had hoped that Connally would attract plenty of New York's corporate cash -- but instead his recent Middle East policy statement has attracted plenty of criticism from the pro-Israeli interests in New York. And Republican Party officials are privately blaming that for what they say will be a disappointing turnout in what was to have been their most glittering of the dinners.
Vincent Albano is among those who are saying they are too busy to attend the Republican dinner tonight in Manhattan -- and that is worth noting because he is the Republican chairman for Manhattan. Another family that is opting to stay home, en masse, is the Rockefellers.
"Every Rockfeller has turned us down," said Albert F. Gordon, the New York State Republican finance chairman, who is heading the effort for the dinner. "If you want to know why this dinner is doing lousy, it's because the Rockefellers haven't bought one damn ticket."
With just hours to go before the canapes are served, the New York dinner that is called "Countdown for Victory" has sold just over 100 tickets at $1,000 a plate. That comes out to better than $100,000, which might sound like a lot of money but is still far short of the original goal of $750,000.
The GOP is holding dinners in five cities tonight in the hopes of raising $1.5 million. In Washington, Sen. Bob Dole (Kan.) is the featured speaker; in Chicago it is Sen. Howard H. Baker Jr. (Tenn.); in Detroit, George Bush; and in Houston, Gen. Alexander Haig.
"It's going to be alll right," said a spokesman for the Republican National Committee. "But it's not going to be what we'd like it to be. We're a little behind in all of the dinners. But in New York it's much worse."
Party officials say there is no question that Connally's position on the Mideast hurt ticket sales in New York. But Connally's communications director, Julian Read, sees it differently. "Oh, I don't think it's at all attributable to that," Read said. he conceded that ticket sales are off, but added: "I don't think it is any reflection on Connally at all."
Republican county chairman for New York, Albano, explains that the problem is that he is just very busy that night. "I've got other fund raisers to attend to," he says. Are they also tonight? "Well, no," he says. rBut he adds: "The fact that we disagree on Middle East policy does not mean there is anything personal between me and John Connally. We're gentlemen."
Last month, Connally issued a statement proposing that Israel withdraww from virtually all of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights, and that there be Palestinian self-determination for the region, in exchange for promises of Israeli security and stability of oil prices. He came under sharp criticism from pro-Israeli interests in the United States and his campaign lost the support of sevral prominent backers, including former Nixon administration officials Rita Hauser and Alan Greenspan.
"A couple of the Jewish people that have been raising hell about it never gave before," said Gordon, the New York dinner organizer. "I've never seen a cent out of Rita Hauser. . . . And I'll be damned if I've ever seen much money out of Vinnie Albano."
There is one other reason some officials cite for the poor sales to the dinner in New York. Connally has scheduled a fund-raising breakfast of his own for the next morning, $250 a head, at the "21" restaurant.
"Hold on," Gordon said, with renewed elation."I got to take this call. It's David Rockefeller's office about tickets." Moments later, Gordon hung up and reported: "Now David Rockefeller has turned me down twice."