Four-Star Muddle

The pros aren't impressed with candidate Clark's handlers

As Hurricane Isabel was snapping branches and tossing lawn furniture around (and killing 35 people) in North Carolina and Virginia last week, Minor Tropical Disturbance Wesley Clark blew into Hollywood. A compact man with iron-gray hair, Clark, a former four-star general with big national ambitions, thrilled a crowd of supporters at Deli Den on Stirling Road with some harsh comments about Dubya. It was the first stop in Clark's campaign for president, signifying, everybody said, the importance of Florida in the quickening march of presidential politics.

At the edge of the action in the spacious eatery, one white-haired enthusiast gazed approvingly at Clark, who was standing on a chair in a chaotic scene of placard-wavers and tightly wound television reporters while lambasting the administration's employment record and Middle Eastern misadventure. "The last time I saw anything like this," the elderly gentleman declared, with obvious emotion, "it was in the G&G Deli in Boston, just after John F. Kennedy had declared."

Tailpipe left Deli Den after the rally with a few dents but riding a mushy wave of Clark bonhomie. It's all over but the season of grinding television commercials, the cylinder thought. Hell, maybe we could just call off the election and give Clark the White House by acclamation. It might prevent a lot of dreary campaign coverage.

Clark on rye, heavy on the mustard
Colby Katz
Clark on rye, heavy on the mustard

Then this tube ran into Joseph Geller, a Hollywood lawyer who during the 1990s chaired the Miami-Dade County Democratic Committee. Geller, a bulky glowering man with the rooted look of a rhinoceros protecting a spot of shade on the veldt, was unimpressed. Runs for president are won not with gushes of emotion but with organization and planning, he said.

"Clark's not terrifically organized," Geller noted, hastily interjecting the caveat that he's a Howard Dean man. "I'm glad he's running, but there's a learning curve in these things. He has a lot of ground to make up. Even a good staff can't make up for [the absence of experience and organization], and he doesn't even have that."

That Clark glow dropped a few hundred watts.

Now that Geller mentioned it, the 'Pipe had just been pressing Clark's press secretary, former St. Petersburg Times national reporter Mary Jacoby, for details on the Clark organization, and Jacoby was sweepingly vague. "He literally just decided to run," she said of her boss. Well, how about a business card and we'll fill in the blanks later? "No business cards yet," she said. Phone number? "No actual phone number..."

When JFK was glad-handing around the G&G back in 1960, he was already campaign-toughened after an unsuccessful drive for the vice-presidential nomination in 1956, and he had hard-eyed operatives like Ted Sorenson and Kennedy's brother Bobby running his campaign. The Kennedy organization was largely in place before the candidate stepped forward. You'd better believe they had business cards.

On the other hand, if Broward County, priority number one for Democratic contenders in Florida, is any indication of the new Clark organization's readiness for the beginning of the primary season, then the general is already in trouble. A group of admirers got together two weeks ago to set up a Draft Clark committee, but since Clark formally declared on September 17, they've been going through a small who's-in-charge crisis. Pompano Democratic activist Barbara Miller was the prime organizer of the committee, but then members started getting a barrage of e-mails from Joy-Ann Reid, a contributor to the Miami Herald op-ed page.

"We need to meet," Reid said in a September 17 e-mail. "I'd like to schedule a meeting for everyone interested in volunteering or working for the campaign."

Huh? "Who appointed you West Broward coordinator?" Miller shot back the same day. "Politics gets very political. I do remember you from the first meetup at Woody's. Aren't you the gal who said she worked for the Herald?"

"There is no appointment process since we're all just committed volunteers who want to see General Clark win the White House," Reid replied delicately.

The Washington-based Draft Wesley Clark Committee subsequently tabbed Miller as liaison/coordinator, but don't count other pretenders out.

No surprise to Geller, who sourly watched the smiling Clark acolytes filing out of the deli, like gold dust seeping out of a bag. "They should have had a table over on the side someplace to take checks," Geller said. "People have been coming up to me to ask if I'd take contributions for Clark."

So good feelings don't count in presidential politics?

"It's not about having a base level of support across the country," Geller said. "It's about having the ability to raise a lot of money quickly and about the mechanics of staffing. How's Clark going to do in the Sixth District in Iowa? What'll they say about him in Manchester, New Hampshire?"

They'll probably say he's an interesting candidate, Tailpipe decided. Then they'll vote for Dean.


Always cruisin' for a good time, Tailpipe slid into Boom, a Wilton Manors gay nightclub, during a recent Saturday morning to catch the first-day shoot of a new gay/lesbian reality dating show. What better locale than Wilton Manors, a burgeoning gay enclave, one of only two cities in America with an openly gay majority on its city council (the other being West Hollywood, California)? The gimmick for Out 'n About is The Bachelor-meets-American Idol. Six "suitors" show off their talent trying to win the attention and hearts of three "daters." The performance gives each dater a basis for choosing between two suitors. Their first date then becomes part of the program.

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