It was a full year he served in Vietnam, the platoon leader of as many as 44 men. A soldier in the field was “on edge 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” he says, and the foxhole mentality doesn’t seem to have left the man, who is still angry at local station News12 (or “Nitwit News,” as he deems it) for roughing up his administration even though he considered himself a Jack Welch type running this $800 million corporation called Yonkers. The Journal-News stopped comparing him with Rudy Giuliani only after September 11. He forced a tart little laugh.
“They’ve had a meat cleaver out for John Spencer since day one of my political career,” he said a bit Nixonishly.
Campaign workers talk about how Spencer suffered as much inner torment about his unconventional love life as Richard Chamberlain did in The Thorn Birds. Spencer is such a good Catholic, they argue, that he couldn’t divorce his first wife. Spencer admitted that priests were called in to mediate, the first time he’s spoken openly to the media about his marital difficulties. Rollins likes to say that Spencer was still living with his wife when he cheated with his chief of staff, and after she became pregnant, Spencer denied he was the father.
Spencer had finally decided to address this: “As we were going through that, me and my first wife, I mean logistically, did it take me a while to physically get out of my house and in with Kathy? Yeah, of course it did. I’m the mayor of Yonkers, and we had to do it a certain way.” Then he escaped into the Land of Off the Record.
“John Spencer reminds a lot of women of their first husbands, and I don’t think many women want to vote for their first husbands,” says Rollins.
“I truly resent that as a U.S. Senate candidate, I have to answer these how-long-has-it-been-since-you-stopped-beating-your wife questions from such a low-class character as Ed Rollins,” Spencer told me.
Spencer married his girlfriend three years ago, and at the convention, she would slip away to smoke in her respectable Chanel-copy suit. KT was also dipped in some kind of Chanel, her Magic Shell bubble-do flattering (if vintage). A handbag needlepointed by Alan’s grandmother with American eagles seems as much a signature as the Bush pearls. KT, who enjoys needlepoint herself, would soon start on a Christmas stocking for one of her “grans.”
What the convention lacked in star power, it more than made up for in intrigue and conspiracy. At one point, McFarland adviser Rich Galen says he walked in on George Pataki holed up in the Hofstra Arena’s greenroom, state troopers posted outside. The governor was calling in county chairs, asking them to help block KT from the ballot the day of the convention so there wouldn’t have to be a primary. The governor had taken several potential candidates out on the dance floor this year—Pirro, Richard Nixon’s son-in-law Ed Cox, William Weld—and serially humiliated them. But the real culprit was said to be Elizabeth Dole, head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, who apparently made it known she didn’t want to waste her money on a primary.
“Elizabeth’s a very dear friend of mine, and we have cornered her on that,” Rollins said later, seething. Rollins was standing in one depopulated tier of the arena pitched slightly forward, like a sea captain trying to keep his balance on the deck of a storm-buffeted ship, and he exulted when KT scored 36 percent of the delegates’ votes—which after only ten weeks on the trail was almost as much as William Weld received. (The next morning, every county chair who’d backed McFarland received a hand-written thank-you note.)
There was talk that Ed Cox, the professorial prepster with wireless glasses now working the floor of the convention, his hands shoved into his pockets, was the vengeful architect of the McFarland campaign. After all, it was Cox who reportedly received a let’s-do-something-about-Hillary e-mail from Karl Rove. “Ed Cox never, ever, volunteered to help us,” said Rollins peevishly.
Spencer & Co. hubristically believe that Hillary Clinton has been pushing KT’s candidacy ever since Friends of Hillary pac spokeswoman Ann Lewis told somebody she knew KT would run three days before the announcement. (In fact, KT’s entrance was widely rumored.) A Spencer press release, absurdly titled “The Clinton-McFarland Connection: A vast left-wing conspiracy?,” lists several McFarland friends who have donated to candidates of both parties.
Rollins disputed any Clinton connection. “The Clintons have always had an obsession against me,” he insisted with his usual amour propre. He’d heard President Clinton considered him the Republican’s best general, “but like Patton, I was overly aggressive.” (Not two minutes later, he was praising Bill: “The best political animal I’ve known in my lifetime.”)
The McFarlands have also sipped paranoia from the same straw, with KT announcing at one GOP dinner that the Clintons had helicopters flying over her beach house taking pictures. (Just kidding! she said later.) Most agree it’s McFarland who stands a better chance against Hillary, even if, as most believe, the sacrificial socialite was tapped to temper any Hillary landslide in preparation for 2008.
McFarland has a let’s hear-it-for-the-sisters strategy. There are just as many Republican women as men in New York—close to 1.5 million—and a week later, KT kicked off a series of “kitchen talks” across the state. “John Spencer reminds a lot of women of their first husbands, and I don’t think many women are going to vote for their first husbands,” said Rollins.
But even Rollins occasionally experiences seller’s remorse. He now says his comment about Spencer’s kids’ being illegitimate “was an inappropriate thing for me to say.” His own divorce lawyer told him that what Spencer got up to did not amount to bigamy. Still, he can’t help but mention that Spencer once ran a janitorial business (“It was more than that, it was a maintenance business,” Spencer corrects me), then chattered about some top aide and pedophile whom Spencer put on several months’ paid leave, and he made sure I’d heard the one about the mafioso captured on tape saying, “Spencer Spencer Spencer Spencer.” (“That guy also said on the tape he had lunch with Mariah Carey and got her to sing a song,” Spencer manager Kevin Collins told me. “He has no credibility.”)
Rollins is hunting down Spencer’s military records. “There were so many guys getting killed in Vietnam that it wasn’t so difficult [for Spencer to be made first lieutenant]—and it wasn’t so difficult to get a Bronze Star,” he added casually. As for those who would compare Spencer with Al D’Amato, Rollins says D’Amato was pro-choice and had little baggage, stole home base in a fluky Reagan sweep: “The crass and the crude part may be the only comparison you could make.”
Rollins imagines what life would be like for Spencer if Hillary Clinton took the gloves off. “All of a sudden, you get $10 million of TV commercials statewide crushing this guy, and you can imagine he’ll be back on the bottle under the bed.”
“As trashy as Ed Rollins is, I hold Mrs. McFarland responsible,” says Spencer. “She’s the dirtiest politician I’ve met in sixteen years.” Two nights earlier, Tucker Carlson called Spencer “a drunk guy who no one knows” on MSNBC.
“A lie goes around the world while the truth is still tying its shoelaces,” said Spencer.