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Crashing the Party

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The Bradley campaign doesn't give fund-raisers a script; they improvise their own pitches. "I tell people that I think Bill has a better chance of beating the Republican nominee, since Bill can draw crossover Republicans," says Len Riggio. Broadway producer Emanuel Azenberg says he stresses that Bradley may not be glamorous but is a man of character: "You can trust him. He's not a conventional politician; he doesn't stroke you. Maybe it's time to get rid of sound bites, images, marketing and go for substance." Azenberg, who met Bradley back in his Knicks days, has organized a number of Broadway fund-raisers for him over the years and is joining this fall with Roger Berlind and Rocco Landesman to host a benefit performance of Kiss Me Kate.

With all the activity and all the millions pouring in, there's still a dutiful, even depressed feeling hanging over the Gore money machine. It's as if Democratic givers bequeathed their hearts to Bill Clinton and now, they guess, they have to at least empty their wallets for his chosen heir. Why back Al? His allies say Gore's a decent, reliable guy; it's his turn; he'll make a good status quo president -- but they don't talk about him with passion. As one Gore aficionado quips, "This is not the civil-rights movement."

Sure, Gore got a rousing welcome at his June 17 fund-raiser at the elegant Pierre Hotel, but the crowd of $1,000 donors was supplemented with hospital workers from Local 1199, most of whom were comped. (Gore, like Bradley, refuses to accept pac contributions.) The crowd surged toward the rope line to shake Gore's hand as if he were Leo DiCaprio. Jubilant supporters high-fived one another after his rally-the-troops stump speech, yelling out "It's Albert unchained" and "He's his own man now."

But at the bar outside the ballroom, environmental lawyer Steven Russo bemoaned the difficulties of getting his friends to write checks. "It's tough being the front-runner -- he isn't seen as new or as fresh as Bill Bradley," said Russo, whose buddies claim their donations won't make a difference, so why bother? "People say Gore is so big, he's vice-president, he doesn't need me." Indeed, the $1,000 donors didn't get any face time with Gore that night. That honor was reserved for 150 New Yorkers who had either raised from $10,000 to $100,000 or were seen as hot prospects to do so soon.

What's poignant about watching Gore work a room is that no matter how hard he tries to connect with people, he's damned by the inevitable comparisons to Mr. Charisma himself, Bill Clinton. Gore gave a moving speech at the small dinner about his commitment to improve race relations, describing the sobering experience, back when he was a boy, of visiting an old Tennessee mansion with his father and seeing slave rings in the basement. But afterward, people seemed disappointed, as if they hadn't emotionally gotten what they came for.

"Al Gore is an idea guy," says Deborah Alter, an environmental activist who attended the dinner, adding wistfully, "The president has such charisma, he uses it to draw people in." Other guests noted that Clinton would have known the name of every person in the room; Gore, eleven years after his first New York campaign in the abortive 1988 primary, still had to be introduced. "He's just so physically uncomfortable that people aren't sure he knows them," says a Gore sympathizer active in national politics. "He winked at me, but with others the warmth wasn't there." The press corps, herded to the side, joked about the lack of electricity in the room -- or as one news-magazine reporter quipped, "What's the difference between a Gore event and a Clinton event? No cleavage."


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