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Is Washington Ready for Bella Abzug? Is Anybody?

". . . Here she is, pushing, brawling, striding her way toward the United States Congress - Bella Abzug, daughter of the owner of the Live and Let Live Meat Market on Ninth Avenue . . ."


From the October 5, 1970 issue of New York Magazine.

The guy was built like a Ward LaFrance pumper. He was dancing by himself in the playground between Forsyth and Chrystie Streets on the downtown East Side, dancing in his undershirt, his eyes half-closed to the Latin music coming through the loudspeakers, a can of beer in his right hand. Bella Abzug advanced on him as if the corner had told her she was behind on points. Bella came with this wide, clomping stride, brushing past people, both hands well out in front of her. The Ward LaFrance pumper shouted. Bella shouted back. Then they both shouted and took each other's hands, the can of beer remaining in the guy's hand, and they began to dance. First Bella swayed. Then her large ankles began to move. The Ward LaFrance pumper began to sway too. His feet shuffled. Now he began to pick them off the asphalt and slap them back down in time to the music and his shoulders swung and he began singing in Puerto Rican. Bella sang with him and they danced around. Now he decided he wanted to twirl Bella. The Ward LaFrance pumper, still singing, flexed his sweat-coated biceps and started to turn his wrists over so that Bella would spin under his hands. His wrists did not move. Puzzlement ran over his eyes. He stopped singing and stuck out his bottom lip and tried to turn his wrists again. Nothing happened. And now his fingers turned pale as Bella's hand pressed his fingers into the beer can he had in his hand and now Bella, singing and swaying, decided she wanted to do some twirling. Bella rolled her wrists and the Ward LaFrance pumper went into a double spin and the can of beer turned upside down in his hand and the beer splashed onto his head while Bella twirled him around as much as she wanted.

This is Bella Abzug when she campaigns nice. She is the Democratic party candidate for Congress in the 19th Congressional District of New York, having won what is still a very difficult-to-believe June primary victory over the Democratic congressman for the district for fourteen years, Leonard Farbstein. Bella's campaign headquarters for the November general election is on Christopher Street, in the old offices of the Village Voice newspaper, and the bar next door is called the Lion's Head. On one recent evening, a Bella Abzug campaign aide, Michael Macdonald, came into the Lion's Head saloon. Macdonald was holding his side. He ordered a drink and talked to nobody.

"What the hell is the matter with you?" someone asked him.

"Oh that dirty effin woman, I'll never work for her again."

"What's the matter now?" he was asked.

"Do you know what she did to me?" Macdonald said.

"What?"

"She punched me."

He clutched his side. It developed that a bit earlier, while riding in the back of the car with Bella, he began to argue with her about the schedule and as he argued, Bella got mad. Finally, Bella gave him a whack in the side and, as she can, nearly took him out with the punch.

Macdonald spent the remainder of the evening in the Lion's Head. The next day he received a telephone call from Bella.

"Michael, I called to apologize. How's your kidney?"

On another recent night, she was talking to the New York Democratic Assembly, a Reform club on the second floor of a building at 87th and Broadway. Bella was wearing a very good gray coat-dress and a big matching gray hat. She stood in the front of the room, her feet apart, her right hand jabbing the air. She began hooking with the left. She looked like a fighter in training, and you had to smile. Then the hand motions stopped and her voice softened. She was not shouting the way she usually does. With a simple, unfaltering talk, Bella Abzug became a moving woman.

"I walked into the Garden Cafeteria downtown where workers go before they go to work and they tell me they can't afford the prices anymore. They can barely live. They have to go on the subway and it doesn't even work and besides, they can't afford the fare, it's too much for them. The housing they're in is so bad. A car ran into a building on Houston Street and the building, the building collapsed and people fell into the street. And what is the policy of Nixon, Agnew and Rockefeller? The policy is to let the generals spend billions to kill Vietnamese, kill their men, women and children, and our children, the older ones, get killed and come back crippled and maimed, you should see them maimed, you won't sleep again for them, and here at home we need 24-hour day-care centers and we don't have them because they cost too much money and we need the money for the generals. Little children stay cooped up in little rooms with rats and the mother can't go to work, and that means there's no money for the child's clothes so the mother is too ashamed to send the child to school. You watch this damn election campaign and it's reminiscent of a time when people thought they had no right to talk about the conduct of the country and they shut up. I'm frightened. Nixon, Agnew and Rockefeller, they're pouring millions into this campaign. They want us to shut up. We have to beat Rockefeller to show we don't want Nixon's policies. I'm unimportant. Just beat Rockefeller. Some of you are more experienced in acting than others. It's the others who need help. Do it for them. And for yourselves and your children. If you want to send one loudmouth to Washington to yell about certain things, then all right, you could vote for Bella. But that's not so important. What do I mean next to a child's future? What do any of us mean? Who cares what happens to us? What we do in a voting booth, we do for our children."


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