It’s a balmy, sun-dappled evening in Middletown, New Jersey, and the state’s senior Democratic senator, Robert Torricelli, has a 9/11 speech to give. Gathered before him are the family, friends, and neighbors of the 36 Middletown men and women who perished in the Trade Center attacks a year ago. It’s a politician’s dream moment: a rapt, patriotic audience – kids rolling in the grass; cops, firemen, and World War II vets standing ramrod-straight – one and all clutching flags and memorial candles. Taking in the scene, Torricelli whispers to an aide: “Is Jon here yet?”
Indeed he is. The state’s junior senator, former Goldman Sachs chairman Jon Corzine, is already pressing the flesh with a clutch of local pols. Torricelli quickly joins in, and with their backs touching, the state’s two senators work the crowd.
If one had to point out the man worth $400 million, one might well pick Torricelli. With his power-blue suit and slicked-back hair, his look is tech-company corporate – compared with the fuzzier, bespectacled Corzine. But you would be wrong: Torricelli makes $145,100 a year and lists a couple hundred thousand dollars in stocks – including a stash of beaten-down Tyco shares – as his assets. Corzine – with his mountains of Goldman stock – is, of course, the $400 million man. And now Torricelli is in a fight for his political life and needs to raise millions in the coming months to finance his campaign against Republican Doug Forrester. Corzine, who owes his political career to Torricelli, is in a perfect position to give back.
As senatorial couples go, New Jersey’s is among the oddest. Torricelli is an instinctive, career politician in the Clintonian, I-was-born-to-do-this mold. When it’s his turn to speak, Torricelli – a short, dapper man with a TV-studio tan – takes a glance at a few recently scribbled notes, steps up to the dais, and lets the rhetoric soar: “This blessed country of ours has a glorious future. This nation endures.” Corzine, almost half a foot taller, with the broad shoulders and barrel chest one would expect of a bond trader, reads his prosaic remarks right from the page, his voice a low mumble, many of his words swallowed.
“Torricelli stuck his hand on the stove and realized that it’s hot,” says YES Network president and Democratic donor Leo Hindery. “But he has learned from it.”
Torricelli has always skated close to the edge – with his flashy girlfriends (Bianca Jagger, Patricia Duff) and his questionable political friendships. Corzine, deliberate, methodical, and relentless, plays by the rules, having worked his way to the top at Goldman by being both the best bond trader and the nicest guy in the house.
Different men, yes, but a tighter bond between two senators would be hard to find in Washington these days. Corzine has already shown his support by contributing the maximum $10,000 to Torricelli’s $1.9 million legal-defense fund and has been the most vocal senator speaking out in defense of Torricelli.
The two senators have mirror-image money obsessions. Torricelli has always been obsessed with getting more of it. For himself, for his party, for his friends. Money has come to Torricelli in many different forms: $8,000 in bills stuffed in an envelope, a grandfather clock, an $8,100 Rolex watch (all of this according to jailed South Korean businessman David Chang), and, of course, the $103 million–plus that he has raised for Democratic senators.
Conversely, Corzine has always been looking for how to get rid of it. And what better way than a high-profile Senate race?
In early 1999, just after Goldman Sachs went public, Corzine fell victim to a boardroom putsch and found himself suddenly out of a job. Torricelli, as chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, was looking for a wealthy type to replace the retiring Frank Lautenberg.
Orin Kramer, a well-connected hedge-fund investor and New Jersey native who has donated more than $1 million to national Democrats, suggested to his friend and Englewood neighbor Torricelli: Why not Corzine?
So they made their pitch to Corzine: You provide the millions to subsidize your campaign, and we will set you up with the Democratic Party machine in New Jersey. What Torricelli realized was that Corzine was not your typical Master of the Universe Wall Street executive: Yes, he had his millions – but absent the GV, the fleet of European cars, and the attitude. In fact, his house in Summit is far from palatial – around 4,000 square feet on less than an acre of land.
Not only was he a friendly, down-to-earth guy, but his politics veered to the left of Robert Rubin’s, which meant he had a shot at delivering both the commuter suburbs and the urban hubs. Here was a guy who could bond with the mayor of Newark as well as a machine boss in Bergen County and write the necessary checks, too. Thanks to the combination of his cash – he spent more than $60 million for his Senate run – and Torricelli’s political muscle, Corzine made it into the club. And Torricelli now has the Big Kahuna of Wall Street pals.
Torricelli has always had a fascination with the Street – both the high and the low of it. YES Network president and former TCI and Global Crossing executive Leo Hindery is a huge supporter; corporate raider Bennett LeBow is also a donor, as are the big investment banks. At the same time, when it comes to his personal funds, Torricelli has owned a range of sleazy pump-and-dump-style stocks underwritten by the likes of Whale Securities, a boiler-room outfit that managed Torricelli’s blind trust for a period in the mid-nineties.
What’s more, Torricelli has long come under criticism for being only too happy to take tainted money. Corzine was different, though: Here was a big pile of squeaky-clean Wall Street cash looking for a home in the Senate. Torricelli has in effect given birth to one of the more prodigious fund-raisers that the Senate has ever seen.
Since joining the Senate, Corzine has been putting in 80-hour weeks raising millions for Democratic senators, especially those in close races. “The fund-raising that Jon is doing for the Senate caucus is off the charts,” says Kramer. “Jon is in his own league – with the possible exception of Hillary, no freshman senator has come remotely close to what he has done.” Whether it’s a $250,000 chicken dinner for Minnesota senator Paul Wellstone in New Jersey or a quick $50,000 for Colorado candidate Tom Strickland in Manhattan, Corzine has been there with his checkbook – and, more important, with a wealth of Wall Street friends.
Traditionally, Democratic money on Wall Street has been tapped every four years for big names like Gore and Clinton. Corzine’s funneling of Wall Street money to non-flashy pols like Texas’s Ron Kirk, Missouri’s Jean Carnahan, and Iowa’s Tom Harkin has never been done at this level. He is also going beyond the usual suspects such as Steve Rattner and Felix Rohatyn to lock in a fresh batch of donors. George Hall of the Clinton Group, an $8 billion fleet of hedge funds, and Lehman Brothers telecom banker George “Woody” Young are two Street insiders who have given recently to Torricelli ($2,000 each) as well as other Democratic senators. Real-estate magnate Steve Roth is also taking Corzine’s fund-raising calls and giving liberally – not to mention old Goldman Sachs friends Roy Zuckerberg and Dan Neidich.
For Tom Daschle and the Democratic leadership in the Senate, Corzine is a dream come true: a nice, generous millionaire with liberal politics and a red-hot Rolodex. His name is also being mentioned for Torricelli’s old post – the DSCC chairmanship.
As fate would have it, however, Torricelli now finds himself quite possibly on the verge of being thrown out of the club he worked so hard to get his friend Jon Corzine into. Under ordinary circumstances, Torricelli’s Republican opponent, Doug Forrester, a Milquetoasty political neophyte, would stand no chance against Torricelli and his pit-bull politics. But the Senate Ethics Committee’s recent reprimand of Torricelli has come to define this race, and so far the polls are running even.
Corzine owes Torricelli big-time. His fund-raising prowess no doubt helped get Torricelli through the Ethics Committee hearing and may well get him through the election. An A-list of Torricelli’s peers will also be out for him in force this fall – starting with Daschle, who shows up in New Jersey on September 23. So what if he plays it a little loose at times – the Torch was instrumental in giving the Democrats their 50–50 split in 2000. But above all, Torricelli delivered Corzine to them, and for that, Senate Democrats are eternally grateful.
And what does the smart money on Wall Street think of his chances? “Bob is a giant of the Senate,” says Hindery, who has donated $10,000 to Torricelli’s legal-defense fund, the maximum $2,000 to the candidate himself, and hundreds of thousands to the party as a whole. “You will find no keener intellect there. He stuck his hand on the stove and realized that it’s hot. But he has learned from it. I think he will win handsomely in New Jersey.”