In politics, sometimes it doesn't pay to get too clever.
For example: When Republican Randy Patchett announced for Congress earlier this month in Illinois' 22nd District, he brought along a novelty guest to his news conference. The guest was Leonel Teller, a man Patchett said was "now fighting in the jungles" of Nicaragua as "assistant to the commander in chief of the southern revolutionary forces under Commander Pastora."
Teller, who said he normally does his talking "with a machine gun," denounced Patchett's opponent, Rep. Kenneth J. Gray (D-Ill.), for voting against the Reagan administration's proposed $100 million aid package to the anti-Sandinista forces, known as the contras or counterrevolutionaries. Patchett said it was Gray's contra vote that had motivated him to run for the seat.
The visit from a Nicaraguan contra generated pictures and headlines in district newspapers. And Patchett appeared to have scored the public relations coup he had sought.
That is, until this week.
Gray's staffers, acting on a tip from a constituent, found Teller at an Adidas shoe and sportswear shop in Georgetown, where he works as store manager. He has lived here full-time since 1981.
"The only jungle war he fights is Georgetown traffic," Rep. Tony Coehlo (D-Calif.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, archly noted in a letter exposing the incident and released to the news media.
Teller, 25, a member of Nicaragua's 1980 Olympic team in the 400-meter hurdles, said in an interview that he is indeed assistant to Commander Eden Pastora of the Democratic Revolutionary Alliance but that he serves here as an unpaid lobbyist and spokesman for the contras. At the news conference in Illinois, he had implied his service was more oriented toward the front lines: "Today I wear a suit and tie in a foreign country," he had said, according to one local press account. In Nicaragua, he had said, he "wears camouflage clothes and a machine gun, and that's the way I talk -- with a machine gun."
Teller, who said in a telephone interview that he has not been back to Nicaragua since 1981, said he was contacted last month by an official of the National Republican Congressional Committeee (NRCC), who requested that he make a political appearance in behalf of Patchett. He said the Patchett campaign paid his airfare and accommodations.
Barbara Pardue, NRCC communications director, confirmed Teller's account. "Patchett called us up and said he was interested in focusing on the contra issue in his opening press conference and said he wanted a contra there from Nicaragua. We called around, and Teller was the name given to us."
When Teller's current employment was revealed this week, it generated another round of headlines in the southern Illinois district, these less flattering to the GOP and contra cause. One, in the Southern Illinoisan, read: "Two masters: Pastora and Adidas."
Gray, meanwhile, has accused Patchett of perpetrating a "reprehensible fraud" on the voters of the district and has called on him to withdraw from the race.
Patchett, who narrowly lost a challenge to Gray in 1984, fired back in a telephone interview: "Teller is as much a contra as Elizabeth Ray was a secretary," an apparent reference to the fact that Ray was on Gray's congressional payroll before she was hired by the-Rep. Wayne Hayes (D-Ohio) and revealed she had served Hayes not as his secretary, but his mistress.
"Better make that," Patchett added upon further questioning, "that he is more of a contra."