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Grand Old Class War

McFarland and an aide in her campaign office at her Park Avenue home.  

I was now sitting in KT McFarland’s kitchen, where her campaign has decided that she likes being photographed, at her Park Avenue duplex in what is known as the Agnelli Building to the town’s real-estate brokers. Judging from its chintz curtains and sack-back Windsor chairs, a decorator hadn’t so much as sneezed in there in several years (or in the cozy den off the hall, every painting a clipper at sea). McFarland, 54, has been accused in the newspapers of spotty voting (“The realities of family life took precedence,” she’d said) and cooking her résumé. Some of her first-female, highest-ranking claims were borderline, and adjustments had been made. The New York Times had revealed that she hadn’t actually written the critical anti-ballistic-missile insert that gave Ronald Reagan’s “Star Wars” speech its name. Still, any physical contact with the document seemed compelling. A conscientious job applicant, KT gave me William Howard Taft IV and Bud McFarlane as references.

“As trashy as Ed Rollins is, I hold Mrs. McFarland responsible,” says Spencer. “She’s the dirtiest politician I’ve met in sixteen years.”

There’s still some careful gardening going on. Her father’s people came from outside Palermo, and of those grandparents, KT remarked a bit fliply, “I don’t even think they could read.” Her mother’s maiden name was Fuller, “from an old New England family,” she said.

KT’s father worked the night shift as a train dispatcher in Madison, Wisconsin. The eldest of four, KT had a brother here in New York City who had followed her to George Washington University and then worked as an analyst. “Ummmm. He was sick and then he died,” is all she would say when pressed. Michael Troia had aids; his obituary listed three “companions.”

KT, the moderate in this race, couldn’t abide his sexual orientation. Shortly after she discovered Mike had aids, she wrote her parents lengthy, angry, almost Gothic letters in which she outed her brother, blamed her father for his troubles as well as those of her and her other siblings, and cut off contact with her parents. “Have you ever wondered why I have never had anything to do with Mike and have never let my daughters see him although we live only fifteen minutes away from each other?” she wrote. “He has been a lifelong homosexual, most of his relationships brief, fleeting one-night stands.” The father’s behavior had surfaced for McFarland as recovered memory. She said a shrink put her up to writing the letter; reached for comment, her mother, Edith Troia—KT has since made up with her parents—denied the account. “Wouldn’t that make a great book?” she said. “Please be kind. You could be casting dark shadows on this whole race.”

KT could type—fast. She was hired as a secretary on the night shift in Henry Kissinger’s office. That she typed the president’s confidential daily briefing mightily impressed Erie County Republican Party chairman Bob Davis, who blustered at the state convention, “Folks, this is one serious lady!” Kissinger was making secret overtures to the Chinese; intrigued, KT majored in Chinese studies. Her campaign literature peddles her as “a member of Henry Kissinger’s influential National Security Council staff”—early on, the New YorkTimes was calling her Kissinger’s “protégée.” But in large part, she kept the man’s files.

In an effort to be “taken really seriously,” she hustled up a scholarship to Oxford. Then it was off to MIT. Her dissertation, “The Sino-Soviet nuclear confrontation of 1969 from the point of view of the Herman Kahn stepladder period of escalation,” was junked when Reagan was elected and jobs were in play.

Here things get turbid: At the Senate Armed Services Committee, she labored over talking points and briefings, and says she was the first female hired with any policy background. Within six months, she moved over to the Pentagon, as a spokeswoman and deputy assistant secretary of Defense for public affairs, a title truncated in her handouts just before the key words for public affairs. She was a speechwriting Marisa Berenson in mabe-pearl earrings who dated Les Aspin and smoked Trues. She befriended pre–Supreme Allied Commander George Joulwan and the young Colin Powell, but readily admits that stroke-victim Margaret Thatcher, who’d urged her to run at Cap Weinberger’s funeral, only pretended to remember her.

The consultant John McLaughlin was going to represent her for a congressional run against Carolyn Maloney. After Rollins pronounced the seat unwinnable and urged her to switch races, McLaughlin released a confidential memo in which KT described herself as having the civilian rank of three-star general (since emended to “two and a half stars.”).

In the past, she’d railed about our failings in Iraq but now said she was seeing progress. Spencer told me he expected KT would behave just like those politicians who acted like we’d lost the Vietnam War. Calling Saddam Hussein a “maniac nut,” he seemed nettled by KT’s inability to take a position “without trying to sound intellectual and well read.” More locally, KT sees renewable energy and biogenetic engineering as the cure for upstate ills; Spencer suggests factories and light industry.

“She’s more of a thinker than Spencer. She’s not willing to shoot illegal immigrants coming across the border, and I think he will,” said Rollins, cackling. Spencer sometimes seems a bit ingenuous, telling me there’s simply no way American soldiers could be torturing prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, because “last night Bill O’Reilly visited there. It’s open to the Red Cross. Everything’s open.” In regard to immigration, he acknowledged that while the country needs to close the valve on “these people,” he’d shown nothing but compassion when he’d noticed them being exploited in Yonkers. “They’re just trying to feed their little babies,” he said.