The Kerry loss didn’t exactly send Weld back to the statehouse with a renewed focus on Massachusetts. Not long after the election, Weld received feelers from the Clinton administration (Weld and Bill became friends when both men were governors; Weld’s friendship with Hillary dates back to Watergate, when they were junior staffers on the House Impeachment Committee). “There were two cabinet positions, but after neither happened, there was a segue to a discussion of ambassadorial appointments,” says Weld, who was long rumored to be Clinton’s choice to replace Attorney General Janet Reno if she resigned. “I gave them six, and I got back a list of three: the Court of St. James, India, and Mexico. I chose Mexico, which is the one that Bill and Hillary hoped I would choose.”
In July 1997, Weld resigned as governor. He said publicly that pursuing the ambassadorship was a full-time job, but he also wanted to repay Cellucci’s loyalty by giving Cellucci sixteen months as acting governor before the next election.
Even before Weld’s ambassadorial nomination was publicly announced, Jesse Helms made it clear he wasn’t a fan. Weld had dodged a question in the Kerry debate about whether he would vote to keep Helms as committee chair, but the animosity went back further. Helms had been close friends with Reagan attorney general Ed Meese, who had appointed Weld assistant attorney general in 1986. When Weld resigned two years later, citing Meese’s ethical lapses, conservatives, Helms included, were furious. After Weld refused to court Helms, Helms saw to it that Weld never received a hearing, and a month after announcing his nomination, the Clinton administration quietly withdrew Weld’s name.
Back in Massachusetts, Weld’s abrupt departure had undone much of the goodwill he had built up there. Did Weld feel he had betrayed his Bay State constituents? “I wouldn’t have resigned if Paul hadn’t been my co-partner in governing Massachusetts,” he says. “The state was in good hands.”
In Bellport, a quaint Long Island town 90 minutes from Manhattan, the stately homes on Howells Point Road are tastefully appointed and set back from the street. However, none of them prepare you for the one at the end of the road whose only neighbor is the Great South Bay. The rambling white mansion is a three-story affair with giant glass windows that afford bay views. On a damp December Sunday, Bill Weld opens the screen door in a white shirt and shorts, sweat pouring from his perpetually ruddy face. “This was the first moment the treadmill was available,” he explained. “Let me grab a shower. Leslie will entertain you: She’s better company anyway.”
On Decker College: “I’d turn that into a 30-second negative ad if I was running against me,” Weld says.
Leslie Marshall walked me back to the kitchen so she could finish her phone call with her daughter Josephine, one of three children she had with ex-husband Dino Bradlee, one of Ben’s sons. I had mentioned to a Weld aide that I was throwing a party the night before. Apparently he had told Marshall, because the first thing she asked me was “Would you like a Bloody Mary? I heard you might need one.”
Susan Roosevelt Weld, the great-granddaughter of Teddy and the mother of Bill Weld’s five children, never hid her disdain for her then-husband’s political obligations. Marshall is the opposite, a gregarious 52-year-old novelist who is CC’d on all campaign e-mails. In the early days of the campaign, Marshall has been traveling with her husband as much as possible. She has taken on the task of injecting her new husband with a caring side as her pet project. On the second day in Buffalo, Weld held a breakfast meeting with twenty Republican donors and talked at length about ways to revitalize Buffalo’s downtown and dying port. Toward the end of the talk, a gentleman mentioned that he was impressed but wanted to know what was at the essence of Weld, what were two or three facts that he could take back to his friends? For a moment, Weld seemed at a loss, offering policy analysis when the man was looking for the personal. After a few minutes, Marshall chimed in from across the room. “Bill Weld is the greatest provider I have ever met in my life,” said Marshall. “He has a real preternatural need to take care of people. He wants to do that for New York.”
Weld and Marshall had been casual friends for decades and started dining together regularly in 2000, after Weld took a job with McDermott, Will & Emery, a law firm that had him spending more than half his time in New York. Eventually, Weld separated from Susan Weld and moved into the same Upper East Side building where the divorced Marshall was raising her three children. Weld is loath to discuss his divorce, but his son Quentin told me, “The happy thing is, the plane didn’t fly into the mountain. They are both very happy now.”