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Finding Your Way as the Vice Presidential Nominee

The initial days of a national campaign are sometimes awkward for the candidates and their staffs as they set out to convince a nation why it should support their candidacy and vote for them on Election Day. Planning travel and events, coordinating the campaign message, organizing supporters, fundraising, and dealing with unforeseen challenges and others issues are the daily scenario. I have been involved in two national campaigns and here I share one experience of the learning process in the days following the party’s national convention.

“How Do I Contact the Vice President?”

In early September, less than two weeks after the tumultuous 1968 Democratic Convention, I was asked the question, “How do I contact the Vice President?” by Senator Edmund S. Muskie (D-ME) the vice presidential running mate of U.S. Vice President Hubert Humphrey.

We were alone in a large suite in the Chase-Park Plaza Hotel in St. Louis, Missouri. It was Muskie’s first overnight trip of the campaign. I had met Muskie and his staff earlier that afternoon when they arrived on their charter plane at Lambert Field. Just before their arrival, I noticed a George Wallace campaign sign taped to the cockpit window of a plane serving as the backdrop for Muskie’s brief remarks to the press in an Ozark Airlines’ hangar. Wallace, an avowed racist, was running as a third party candidate against Hubert Humphrey and Richard Nixon, the Democrat and Republican candidates for president. Thank God I noticed the sign in time and had it removed. Otherwise, on the next day, that picture of Wallace peering down at Muskie would have been the front page photo on every newspaper in America.

Following the airport press conference, the Muskie motorcade drove into St. Louis to the Chase-Park Plaza Hotel, where he met with local party officials and candidates before departing to a reception at the Chase Club. In the meantime, after checking into their rooms, his staff returned to the airport to take possession of Muskie’s official campaign plane and finalize its interior configuration at the Ozark Airlines’ hangar.

After the hour-long reception at the Chase Club, Muskie returned to his hotel suite for two hours to rest and change prior to a reception at the home of St. Louis Mayor A.J. Cervantes. When Muskie asked me the whereabouts of his staff, I explained that they had gone back to the airport set up his official campaign plane. At his request I called the airport hangar. None of Muskie’s staff were available, but a supervisor informed me that the plane’s reconfiguration was in process and it would take a few more hours to complete. When I informed Muskie of this he was not pleased.

Edmund S. Muskie was an insular man raised in rural Rumford, Maine. He was shy by nature and not much of a conversationalist. I had met him a few times in Washington and at the Maine Democratic Caucus in June. I did not know him well. Few people did, other than his family, staff, and a few senate colleagues. We had one common link, the Beliveau family from his home town of Rumford. Other than Muskie, the Beliveaus were an influential family in the paper mill town of Rumford. The patriarch of the family, Albert Beliveau, was the first person of French descent to serve on the Supreme Judicial Court of Maine and Matthew McCarthy, the father of his wife, Margaret McCarthy, was a municipal court judge in Rumford. His daughter, Judy Beliveau, was a classmate of my wife, Mary-Margaret, at Trinity College in Washington, and his two sons, Albert (Darby) and Severin were friends of mine at Georgetown Law School. Darby’s wife, Alice Clark, was also a classmate of my wife. Talking about the Beliveau family, particularly Severin, lightened things up and made Muskie more approachable.

I did not feel comfortable being with Muskie without any of his staff members present. I tried to leave him alone in his suite, but he asked me to stay, especially after I had informed him that his younger brother, Eugene, an iron worker from Los Angeles had arrived at the hotel that morning. “I haven’t seen or talked to my brother in a few years,” he explained. “Who arranged that?” he inquired. I explained that I was informed by a United Steelworkers’ union representative in a phone call that morning and had passed the information to his staff. “How come nobody told me,” he inquired. I didn’t know what was going on in the head of this complex man at this important point in his life, but I surmised that he was beginning to realize he had lost control of his person, his privacy, and to some extent his decision making authority. He was now a national figure, no longer a senator from a New England state who a few weeks ago could come and go as he pleased often unnoticed in Washington.

Senator Muskie asked me about myself, how I came to be an advance-man in his campaign and other campaigns. He was curious about the campaign’s organization, who planned his trips, and how things worked in a national campaign. I explained that I had been involved in the delegate operation during Humphrey’s primary campaign, and from meetings that I had attended and the discussions I had had with other campaign staffers, the travel for both Humphrey and whoever his running mate would be and their wives and perhaps their children had been mapped out prior to the convention, noting that it was my understanding his staff had been fully briefed about the tentative plans. A wry smile came over his face and he asked, “Do I have any say so in this?” I told him that I thought he did, that probably he could add destinations he wanted to visit or question places he was tentatively scheduled to visit. From my experience in the 1964 Johnson-Humphrey campaign, I was able to tell him that changes in scheduling were a constant.

He thought for a few moments before informing me that he had not talked to Vice President Humphrey in almost a week. “Things are happening so fast,” he mused. Then, he asked, what in today’s age of email, cell phones, and texting would be a surprising question, “How do I contact the Vice President?”

I paused, thinking that they would have been talking on a daily basis, and said, “Call (202) 456 1414, the White House number. The switchboard operators will locate him quickly.” I pointed to the private line that had been installed in his suite that morning. “You can do it from here,” I said and he did. Humphrey was travelling and could not take a call, but Muskie was transferred to Humphrey’s office and left word with his staff to call him that night, which Humphrey did.

A few minutes later, the hotel phone rang. I picked it up. It was Muskie’s brother, Eugene. I put my hand over the phone and mouthed to him it’s your brother. “Send him up,” Muskie said. A few minutes later, there was a knock at the door. I opened it and there, next to two Secret Service agents, stood a tall and well-toned man. “Hi, I’m Eugene Muskie.”

“Geni,” Muskie called out and walked over to greet his brother. I felt awkward witnessing this private moment. I watched as they stood back from each other asking about family. Senator Muskie said, “Geni, how about some lobster?” His brother nodded affirmatively, and Muskie turned to me and asked, “Can you do that?”

“I’m sure the hotel can do that,” I said. “How soon do you want to eat and do you want something to drink sent up?” Muskie smiled and the brothers gave their drink orders. Within an hour, Muskie and his brother were catching up on each other’s lives over steamed lobster. Strange how brothers go their separate ways, one becomes a Governor and U.S. Senator and the other an ironworker on construction projects in Southern California. It was World War II that separated them; Muskie went home to Maine and Eugene settled in California.

A week later, on the ride back to Washington from Norfolk, Virginia, on Muskie’s campaign plane, where I had advanced the Senator’s speech to a Young Democrats’ dinner, I witnessed a relaxed Muskie. He was all smiles and fully adjusting to campaign life as was his staff.

Muskie proved to be an exceptional campaigner as did Vice President Humphrey; but, in the words of Bob Dylan, “the times they were a changing,” the Vietnam War raged on, and there was considerable unrest in America and elsewhere in the world.

Had the election been held a week later, Humphrey probably would have won as he had closed a considerable gap in the polls in the last few weeks of the campaign. Richard Nixon capitalized on the nation’s strife barely winning the presidency with 43.7% of the vote, followed by Humphrey with 42.6%, and Wallace, the spoiler, with 13.7%.  Read More 
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Summer Camp

If you happen to be in Grand Central Station on a Friday or Saturday morning this summer you might witness an old ritual, young children gathering with their parents as the children set out on the train for what to most of them will be a life altering experience -- separation from their parents to participate in adventures in the woods, on the water, and on the playing fields or courts where they will make new friends, experience new challenges, test their skills, and learn to fend for themselves.

I recall that experience in Northwest to Huguenot, a short story recently published in the Delmarva Review (Vol. 8, 2015).  Read More 
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