Politics

Politics 2003Week of August 4

LOOK WHO’S FOR DEAN

It had to happen. Nine years after he last held office, 23 years after his own brief and-not surprisingly-unsuccessful bid for the Republican presidential nomination, Lowell P. Weicker Jr. injected himself back into national politics last week. The 72-year-old Weicker-the former Republican senator from Connecticut (1970-88) who was easily the lawmaker most hostile to conservatives in his own party (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 17%). He became governor of the Nutmeg State (1990-94) over candidates of both major parties and then got a state income tax through the legislature. The man whom many consider the most obnoxious office-holder anywhere in the last half of the 20th Century-has bestowed his endorsement on Democrat Howard Dean for President.

Dean, Weicker explained, “more than all the other candidates, speaks to the issues that I care about-health care, civil rights, fiscal responsibility and, most of all, a government that is truthful with the American people.” No friend of the Bush family, Weicker added his admiration for Dean’s speaking out “against the hurtful and divisive policies of the Bush Administration,” which he denounced as “reckless domestic policies and misguided adventures in foreign policy.” Weicker made his endorsement of the former governor of Vermont through a conference call with him while Dean was campaigning in Iowa City. Dean, in turn, spoke with pride of his support from Weicker, who, he said, “has shown that government can be both compassionate and fiscally responsible.”

Going back to when he played Franklin D. Roosevelt in a mock debate at Manhattan’s Buckley School in 1944-when most of his classmates were for Republican opponent Tom Dewey-Weicker has always proved to be unpredictable in presidential politics. As a state legislator in 1964, Weicker voted and talked conservative and supported Barry Goldwater for President when most of his fellow Connecticut Republicans were for Nelson Rockefeller. After his own bid for the Republican presidential nod went up in flames in 1980 and his party had nominated the ticket of Ronald Reagan and George Bush, then-Sen. Weicker announced he would support Reagan for President but not Bush (whom he disliked personally) for Vice President-a strange thing to say, considering the President and Vice President run together. In both 1992 and 1996, Weicker backed Democrat Bill Clinton-although the former governor told me in 1998 that, had he been in Congress, he would have voted to impeach the 42nd President.

LOU ROTTERMAN, R.I.P.

“Do you think your Dad is looking down at Jack Kemp today?”

Following the memorial service for Lou Rotterman at Our Church of the Redeemer in Bethesda, Maryland, that’s what I asked Marc Rotterman, son of the late journalist and longtime Kemp press secretary. There had been a flurry of speculation days after the elder Rotterman’s death July 22nd that Kemp, for whom he had worked during both his House days and as secretary of Housing and Urban Development, might return to his native California and run in the special gubernatorial election October 7. “He always supported Jack in every endeavor he pursued-he was a loyal solider,” replied Marc Rotterman, himself a political consultant and treasurer of the American Conservative Union. (Kemp has since removed his name from consideration for the Golden State contest.)

Indeed, Louis J. Rotterman Jr. had been executive assistant and press secretary to Kemp from 1972-81, a period in which the New Yorker went from being a freshman congressman best known from his days as a Buffalo Bills football great to one of the conservative intellectual powerhouses of the modern Republican Party-the man who guided his party to embrace across-the-board tax cuts that were signed into law by Ronald Reagan in 1981. Along with James Brady, his conterpart in the office of the tax-cut co-sponsor, Sen. Bill Roth (R.-Del.), Rotterman helped mobilize support for the historic measure. Rotterman, who later worked for Kemp at HUD, was also press secretary to friend and conservative Rep. (1980-88) George Wortley (R.-N.Y.).

As respected as Rotterman was among congressional press secretaries, he was far more than just a Capitol Hill fixture. As a U.S. Navy Air Corps radio gunner in World War II, he won the Distinguished Flying Cross at Leyte Gulf for “a valiant attack upon a large task force of the Japanese.” Following his discharge and graduation from Ohio State University, Rotterman became a newsman with the Wayne News Sentinel and the former Ohio State Journal. At the Dayton Daily News-first as police and City Hall reporter and later as News Editor-he quickly became a true-to-life version of the hard-hitting scribes portrayed in Teacher’s Pet by Clark Gable and His Girl Friday by Cary Grant (whom, interestingly, Rotterman once interviewed).

Along with Walter Winchell, Dorothy Kilgallen, and other luminaries of the Fourth Estate, he covered the Sam Shepherd murder trial in Cleveland in 1954. At one point, when a suicidal victim stood out on the rain-soaked ledge of an office building and threatened to jump, a quick-thinking Rotterman walked out on the ledge posing as a minister and, with a policeman at his side, lured the man back to safety. At another time, when a bank robber was shot and wounded at Winters National Bank, Rotterman knelt and asked his name; he then asked the gasping robber, “Do you spell that ‘M-Y-E-R-S’ or ‘M-E-Y-E-R-S?'”

Rotterman became the Washington correspondent for the Daily News in 1967. Three years later, he left journalism to handle press in the winning Senate bid of Rep. Robert Taft Jr. (R.-Ohio), who won his seat after the closest-ever statewide primary win over then-Gov. James A. Rhodes and then a tight fall race over Democrat Howard Metzenbaum. Rotterman, said old friend Kemp, “was a true professional. I’ll miss him greatly.” He was 79.

SHORT TAKES

Jesse Serves: In his 30 years as U.S. senator from North Carolina-and for a good part of them, he was the lone Republican in statewide office in the Tar Heel State-Jesse Helms had an almost-ironclad rule about not getting involved with a candidate during a GOP primary. (One of the few exceptions, of course, was his support of Ronald Reagan over incumbent Gerald Ford in 1976, the senator’s backing being pivotal to Reagan’s first-ever primary win over Ford in the North Carolina primary.) Now 81 and retired in Raleigh, the conservative icon now gets involved in contested party battles. Two weeks ago, Helms endorsed Republican National Committeeman Ferrell Blount in the contest for state GOP chairman. Last week, the former senator became campaign-co-chairman for businessman Ed Broyhill’s bid to succeed outgoing Rep. (and Republican U.S. Senate hopeful) Richard Burr in North Carolina’s 5th District. Joining Helms in supporting Broyhill in the crowded primary are fellow former Senators (1992-98) Lauch Faircloth and James Broyhill, the candidate’s father…

Andy’s Back: Fourteen years after he last held office, Andrew Young said last week he was exploring a bid for the Democratic nomination to succeed retiring Sen. Zell Miller (D.-Ga.) in ’04. The 71-year-old Young, once an aide to Martin Luther King Jr., served as Georgia’s first black House Member since Reconstruction from 1972 until Jimmy Carter named him UN ambassador in 1977. He went on to serve as mayor of Atlanta (1981-89) and said his interest in running for the Senate stemmed from his dismay with U.S. foreign policy. He added that “we’re walking around without a sense of how this confusion got started.” So far, three prominent Republicans and no well-known Democrats are running to succeed Miller.


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