I called the senator’s office the week I got back and was invited to a fund-raiser in New York later that month. His assistant assured me that the $2,000 ticket would be comped. When Kerry eventually arrived, everything seemed glamorous. At first I was afraid that he wouldn’t recognize me. “Alexandra, so glad you could make it,” he said when he reached me. Beckoning to a handsome aide who’d walked in with him, he introduced me to his finance director, Peter Maroney. We were the youngest people in the room by fifteen years, and after discovering the coincidence of growing up in the same hometown, we hit it off. I found him charming, smart, and charismatic—a cuter version of his boss.
As the last guests were heading out, Kerry came back and suggested we all go to dinner at Churrascaria Plataforma, a Brazilian restaurant nearby. I was surprised to be invited, and flattered when I was seated between Peter and the senator. I hoped it was my wit and enthusiasm, not my blonde hair and long legs, that got me a seat at the table. I felt like a serious player. Four mojitos later, the conversation was animated. Plans for a Kerry presidency were punctuated by platters of skirt steak and roasted salmon. The senator was flirtatious and funny. I felt I held my own with the other dinner guests, and Kerry announced to them that he hoped I would be coming onboard the campaign soon. And after dinner, as Peter put me into a cab, I knew I would be hearing from the senator’s finance director again.
A phone friendship with Peter followed, and we started dating that spring. I contemplated moving to Washington and spoke a few times on the phone with Kerry, who indulged me by offering advice about my career. The presidential race was still three years away, and by then I’d been accepted at Columbia. Peter was a little nervous about dating a fledgling reporter, but our relationship was fun. As Kerry’s chief fund-raiser, he would spend his weeks flying around the country raising millions of dollars, and I would join him for long weekends in D.C. or on his jaunts up to Boston. Peter was ferociously private, and kept his personal and professional lives separate, so much so that I would often stay with him in the same hotel as Kerry and never see the senator. On the rare occasions I did, at the World Economic Forum in New York the next year where we grabbed a coffee, or at a political event with Peter in D.C., we discussed my career or his campaign. And when I ran into Kerry and his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, at a function in Worcester, she was very sweet and asked me about Peter.
Peter Maroney used to tell me I’d make the perfect political wife. By that he meant pretty, polite, informed, and inoffensive, but I was much too ambitious for that. While finishing at Columbia, I got an editorial-assistant job at the AP. As Kerry’s campaign switched into high gear, Peter had little time or energy left for me. Eventually the relationship fizzled out, but we remained friends, talking often.
When I left the States last fall, we stayed in touch via e-mail, and Peter would send me links to articles mentioning his successes. His name popped up in my in-box on the morning of Matt’s dinner party, and I clicked it open. “Al,” it read, “there’s a rumor going around the office that you slept with my boss.”
Though my name wasn’t mentioned in the initial Drudge “exclusive,” it made its first appearance in the British tabloid The Sun on Friday, February 13. The article, by one Brian Flynn, referred to Kerry as a SLEAZEBALL in the headline and said I was 24 (didn’t I wish). It purported to quote my father at home in Pennsylvania discussing the senator, saying, “I think he’s a sleazeball.” The article also claimed to quote my mother as saying Kerry had once chased after me to be on his campaign. My mother was not even home when Flynn called, and Flynn didn’t tell my father—who at this stage was unaware of the Drudge allegations—that he was interviewing him. Instead, he presented himself as a friend trying to get hold of me to talk about John Kerry. My father, a Republican, who believed Kerry had flip-flopped on various issues, said, ‘Oh, that sleazeball.’ ” Here’s how it reappeared in Flynn’s piece: “There is no evidence the pair had an affair, but her father, Terry, 56, said: ‘I think he’s a sleazeball.’ ” Drudge quickly linked to The Sun’s interview.
Peter recommended I speak with Kerry’s spokeswoman, Stephanie Cutter. She peppered me with questions. When had I first met the senator? “Davos.” Were there any pictures of us together? “No,” I said. “Think back, Alex, think hard . . . Have you ever been alone with the senator?”
I was out shopping with Hannah, my future mother-in-law, in downtown Nairobi when I got an inkling of just how big the story was going to be. My cell phone rang. “Hello, is that Alex Polier?” said a British voice. “Who’s this?” I asked. “I’m a British journalist,” he began, before I cut him off, only to have the phone ring again. “I need to talk to Alex Polier,” a different voice said. I hung up. Moments later. Hannah’s cell phone rang, with yet another British voice. “You have the wrong number,” she said. Then Yaron called to say that he’d just received several phone calls. This was followed by his father calling to say there was a CNN reporter outside his office.
Earlier that morning, Yaron and I had sat his parents down for a chat. Looking back, I’m sure they must have thought I was pregnant. What a relief it must have been to hear that I was merely at the center of a political sex scandal. The next task was to tell my own parents, the toughest phone call I’d ever had to make. My father, a sales trainer, had been at work when he got the news of Brian Flynn’s story. By the time I reached him, he was sitting in a room filled with corporate PR execs advising him on what to do. I could hear his panic that he had unwittingly started everything by talking to Flynn. “It’s not true, Dad, and it’s not your fault,” I said, feeling guilty for not warning him sooner.
“I know it isn’t true, honey,” he said in such a tender voice that I wanted to cry. I told him no one believes The Sun. My parents left work that Friday and couldn’t return home for four days. Dozens of local, national, and international reporters were camped outside in the 32-degree weather, waiting for them.
The “exclusive” in The Sun had left the paper’s British-tabloid competitors smarting, and by the time Hannah and I got home, there was already a scattering of reporters parked outside the house. I knew I needed to call Peter Maroney and find out what was going on. As soon as I got through to him, I started freaking out. Why couldn’t he clear the whole thing up? He told me Kerry had been forced into issuing an official denial on “Imus in the Morning” that day, and was reassured that this would all blow over soon. But as I stared out the window, more reporters were arriving.
Peter recommended I talk with Kerry’s spokeswoman, Stephanie Cutter. Several hours later, the two of them called me back, telling me they also had a lawyer in the room. Cutter sounded young and hard, and I imagined her like Lara Flynn Boyle on The Practice. She peppered me with questions. When had I first met the senator?
Were there any pictures of us together?