my short lived life helping politicians
I have always been a political junkie. Grew up on it. At dinner, we sit around the table discussing the coming of a nuclear holocaust. At one point, my brother who was probably eight, decided it wasn’t necessary to go to school since the world was coming to an end soon. My mother bit the super intense political conversations in the bud. We continued to read the paper daily and converse often about what was happening in the world just not with an edge towards Armageddon.
I have made sure our kids keep up on local, state, national and international politics. They can come to their own opinions of what they believe in but knowledge is essential to make those decisions. It is pretty gratifying to see them keep up on what is happening in the world at large and converse about it.
There came a point in my life when I actually got to meet the politicians I had read about for years. We had our first political fundraiser in 2000 and I got bit by the bug. That bug has died for so many reasons starting with the frustration of the system that is probably directly linked to the fact that people in office spend roughly 80% of their time there raising money to keep that position. There is clearly something wrong with that as it is evident from the front pages these days that being in power is more important than making the right decisions for our country to move forward.
Yet when I started raising money for politicians I did it for several years. We had fundraisers off and on to raise money for a handful of senator hopefuls. Not sure why I am using “we” here because then it was more “me”. As time went on, the more money I raised, the more frustrated I got. Why? Because at the end of the day, I wasn’t acknowledged, Fred was. The politicians wanted to talk to Fred because they thought he was the man behind the money.
Did you know that when you give money to a politician, you have to fill out a form stating what your occupation is? It used to annoy me to no end. My occupation? Chief bottle washer? It was no different than someone asking me at a party what I did. I was raising all this money for this machine and the Government was concerned with my occupation. Over time, I came up with the perfect answer to fill in the box, superhero. Funny enough, to this day nobody has ever called me on it.
I became involved in the whole political scene during the heyday of the Internet craze in the mid-90s. We all thought we were going to change Government like we were changing the world with the Internet…wrong. Senators would come up from DC to “the alley” to talk with our group. Silicon Alley was the term at that time for New York Internet industry. Supposedly, the politicians wanted to learn about how they could use the Internet as a tool to interact better with their constituencies. In reality, they figured they would grab on to a new group of leaders in a blossoming industry who were influential and could raise money for them.
After much conversation, the politicos decided that the Silicon Alley group should all come down and talk on Capitol Hill in some type of hearing. The Government was trying to figure out how to understand the impact of the Internet. When they left, we all laughed, because that is the last thing we wanted to do. We were trying to teach them how to use the Internet for change in Government and they were trying to get us to join the system. Certainly a lot has changed since then.
Through my political involvement in the alley, Fred and I were invited to a small dinner party to raise money for the DNC (Democratic National Committee). There were fifteen people from the Internet industry, 15 senators and Bill and Hillary Clinton sitting around a large rectangular table. Here we were sitting in a room, dining with the top senators and the President of the country having an open forum about the state of the union. I was totally wowed. Our conversations ran the gamut but were mostly geared toward how the policies put in place would help or affect our industry.
The majority of the people in the room were men. I sat next to Hillary. I got to engage her in comments around what we were listening and participating in. When the conversation was about immigrants, we would briefly speak to each other about the topic while it was being discussed around the table. I liked seeing her hands, the rings on her fingers and what she drank and ate. This was the first lady of our country who was making a run for a New York senator position. I was loving my up close and personal moment.
What was amazing was that every one of us, who were all relatively young, had no problem speaking freely about what they were really thinking. Nobody held back. You could tell from the tone of the conversations that everyone respected each other. It was just a bunch of smart people sitting around the table trying to figure out the world. That is one of the things that I have always enjoyed about the Internet industry. Lots of synapses flowing.
At one point, Bill spoke about something that was one of the landmarks of his administration. I turned to Hillary and whispered in her ear, “and I bet you had nothing to do with it, did you”? She looked at me and just laughed.
In the end, after 10 years, I stopped being interested in raising the cash for politicos. They would reach out to Fred and I’d be the sucker to show up. Why? To the Senators and the handlers around them, Fred represented power and cash. You are only as good with the politicos in the terms of what have you done for them lately. Although I am still a huge fan of Christine Quinn who I continue to support locally and there is something about Chuck Schumer that just keeps me entertained because I like him personally, I scratched the political game from my to do list.