Monday, February 8, 2016

Washington Social Diary: Does Bernie Sanders Matter?

An interesting pair: Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and comedian Larry David in a skit on "Saturday Night Live."
by Carol Joynt

Whether you are Democrat or Republican, vote/don’t vote, or do care/don’t care about Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, there’s no denying he’s had a dynamic impact on the early stages of 2016 presidential race, not to mention the recent profile of Larry David. Both the politician and the entertainer have careers that will endure after the presidential race, but if all else fails they could take their double bill on the road, as they did, in their own curmudgeonly way, on this past weekend’s Saturday Night Live.

It's a curious pairing, too, given that David is, as he said on the show, a former “poor schmuck” who is now a “rich prick,” and Sanders is decidedly the standard-bearer for country’s schmucks in what often seems a losing battle against the pricks.

Click to order Why Bernie Sanders Matters.
But if you are asking the question of his relevance, there are answers in Why Bernie Sanders Matters, the title and the theme of a book by Washington journalist and writer Harry Jaffe. It is an “unauthorized” biography but it’s also the most recent and one of the few books out there about the candidate who leads the popular opinion polls for tomorrow’s New Hampshire primary, where he’s expected to best Hillary Clinton by double digits.

When the book came out late last month, Harry posted this on Facebook:

“In 1976, when I was a cub reporter for the Rutland (VT) Herald, I looked up at the TV one evening in the newsroom and saw this Jewish guy with thick glasses and greasy, curly hair debating the two straight-laced candidates for governor. It was Bernie! At 35. Who knew he would make a run for the White House in 2014, and I would be a reporter in DC. No one had written a biography of the VT senator and occasional socialist. Why not me? So I wrote "Why Bernie Sanders Matters," the first unauthorized Bernie bio. The Vermont hippy part was a breeze. I was there, living off the land, growing weed, making love!”

Ah, Harry, as his mutual friends like to exclaim whenever a Harry story is shared. He could be the third Musketeer or opening act for The Bernie and Larry Show.
Democratic presidential candidates face off in the New Hampshire primary tomorrow.
Harry is not Bernie surrogate, booked on cable TV shows to speak for the candidate. He considers his role observer and analyst. Still, at his book party the other night, noting the inside-the-Beltway assumption that Clinton will be the Democrats nominee, Harry was skeptical. He said Sanders “is a seasoned politician. He’s put together an amazing team. I have no prognostications but I don’t think we’re done with it, and for the sales of this book I sure hope not.”

As you can likely tell from his candor, Harry qualifies as a Washington character and would be only that except for a streak of sophistication that, when it surfaces, soothes the edges of his sometimes opinionated and neurotic intensity. We’re friends, and have been for a long time, and former colleagues, too, but we argue a lot. What about? That’s just it. Who remembers? It seems important in the moment of our head butting, and we’re both neurotic and find comfort in debates that go nowhere.
Author, and dad, Harry Jaffe with daughters Rose, Anna and Claire.
Harry Jaffe:"The Vermont hippy part was a breeze." On the right, Annie Groer is amused.
Harry Jaffe, doing what authors do at their book parties.
Harry signs a book for Alice O'Donnell, with Isikoff lurking in the mirror.
The more subdued side of Jaffe belies the police shack persona he favors, and he’s earned it, too, as one of the last of Washington’s true old-school “police” reporters, an elite league that would include The Washington Post’s Martin Weil and NBC’s Tom Sherwood. It’s not that they only cover the police beat – hardly – but that they cover politics and almost any story as if it's a sensational homicide with an armed suspect on the loose. Weil, Jaffe and Sherwood are friendly, and Tom and Harry wrote the book on the late, charismatic, “Mayor for Life” of Washington, Marion Barry, in Dream City.
Harry Jaffe likes the verbal rumble, here with friend and co-author Tom Sherwood of NBC News.
Washington DC "Mayor for Life" Marion Barry in 2009. He died in 2014.
Rabbi Barry Freundel outside the DC courts, where he was found guilty of voyeurism and sentenced to 6 1/2 years in prison.
Harry applied the gumshoe ethic to his must-read “Post Watch” column in Washingtonian, which back in the day tracked the goings on, and gossip, at The Washington Post and got under the skin of its editors, including executive editor Ben Bradlee. Once after a lunch I had to separate Jaffe from Bradlee’s successor, the usually unflappable Len Downie, when a sudden shouting match got too heated, but it ended as fast as it began because Jaffe has this, well, inner voice of manners than can pull him back from the brink.  

Harry also recently wrote the definitive long-form account here of the scandal of revered Washington Rabbi Barry Fruendel, sometimes known as the “pervy rabbi,” or the “peeping-Tom rabbi,” now serving a prison term for “voyeurism.” He was arrested at his Georgetown home and charged with hiding a video camera in the mikva of the Kesher Israel Congregation and recording the women as they undressed to use the ritual bath. 
Jean Walton and Harry's brother, Richard. Jill Hudson, who is with National Geographic.
Michael Isikoff, of Yahoo News, with Shane Harris, who is with The Daily Beast.
Alice O'Donnell, and Paul O'Donnell, the senior editor of Washingtonian magazine.
Joe de Feo, Shane Harris, Louise Jaffe, and writer Ken DeCell.
This is not to suggest that Bernie Sanders is a Fruendel or Barry beyond being a very good story. Harry can’t resist the good story, and his friends can’t resist him, which is why so many showed up at the handsome Cleveland Park home of his friend, Washington developer Peter Lustig, on a night when the city was just emerging from the deep freeze of the Blizzard of 2016.

The guests included Brian Kelly, Annie Groer, Shane Harris and Joseph De Feo, Todd Kliman, Michael Iskoff and Mary Ann Akers, Howard Yoon, Jean Walton, Ken DeCell, Eleanor Dunn, Richard Roman, Ann Kusbashni, Paul and Alice O’Donnell, Harry’s wife, Louise Jaffe, and many other family members from near and far, very far. Daughter Rose Jaffe arrived from Berlin and daughter Anna Jaffe came to town from Juba, South Sudan; Claire Jaffe lives in Washington, and other family came from Philadelphia; and not to forget -- an appearance by a pint-sized pair of super heroes, the sons of Lustig and the Isikoffs.
Guests admiring some of the handiwork in developer Peter Lustig's attractive Cleveland Park home.
... as other guests admire the book party buffet.
“When friends of mine write books I, of course, read them,” Lustig said during a toast. “And in some cases I try to promote the author, my friend, and in this case as much as possible.” The book party was planned during one of their regular poker games in Lustig’s kitchen, and the party apparently got faster early traction than the book. Harry said that months ago when he and his agent, Yoon, put together a book proposal and sent it up to New York, “the response was, Bernie who?” But a contract followed and while Harry was writing the book,  “Thanks to Bernie, things got better.”

So, does Bernie Sanders matter? At first Harry joked, “I’m here to tell you I really don’t know,” but then, turning serious, he said Sanders is “refreshing,” and his supporters are drawn to him “because he is authentic, and because we can trust what he says, and he’s genuine, and I buy that. He answers questions with answers he believes. Let’s see how far that takes him.”
Eleanor Dunn has a laugh.
John Hall and Barry Wells.
Jaffe said, “in this country, right now, things are really out of whack,” and the disparity between rich and poor is key to the Sanders appeal. “If you read the book you’ll see he’s been focused on income inequality and the rich against the poor since the 1970s,” and while Sanders hasn’t changed his tune “the rest of the world has come to see through his lens.”

Jaffe said that in Washington what he hears most often is the assertion “it’s going to be Hillary, so let’s get on with it.” His reply to that, he said, is simple:  “I’m not so sure.”
Essential at every DC book party, a seller from Politics & Prose book store.

Comcast NBCUniversal hosted a private screening this past week for its new film, “Race,” about four-time Olympic gold medalist Jesse Owens. It starts with him as a young, ambitious African American man arriving at Ohio State to seek his destiny, but not without having to also cope with the racial tensions of the time.
Jesse Owens
The bulk of the film, though, focuses on his time in Berlin at the 1936 Summer Olympic Games and the complicated politics of American participation. These were Adolph Hitler’s games, essentially, and they were to promote Nazi Germany and an agenda of white athletic superiority. Owens track and field victories thwarted that dream and Hitler snubbed him, refusing to congratulate him with a handshake. Interestingly, when Owens returned to the U.S. after the games President Franklin D. Roosevelt never invited the champion to the White House. Owens did go to the White House in 1976, when President Gerald Ford presented him with the Medal of Freedom. Owens died in 1980 at age 66. 
Stephan James as Jesse Owens. "There's some work you gotta do."
At the screening at the Newseum were actor Stephan James, who plays Owens, director Stephen Hopkins, Owens’ daughter, Gloria Owens Hemphill and his granddaughter, Marlene Dortch, who all participated in a group discussion led by Trymaine Lee of MSNBC. Also on hand to welcome his guests was Comcast senior executive vice president, David L. Cohen. And in the audience was Rep. John Lewis, who James portrayed in the earlier film, “Selma.”
Director Stephen Hopkins and star Stephan James arrive at the "Race" premier.
The media mosh pit. On the right, between cameras, is Rep. John Lewis.
Stephan James in interview mode.
Time to head into the theater with popcorn, candy, sodas, wine, beer.
James said he knew “right away how big this story was and how big Jesse’s legacy was. For me it was a big responsibility and a weight on my shoulders.” He said he knew he had to do a lot of research and also physical training. “If you’re going to be the fastest man on the planet there’s some work you gotta do.” The 22-year-old actor said that more than Owens speed and records, what attracted him to playing the role “was the man he was. The father he was. The husband he was. The humanitarian he was. A lot of people don’t know that side of Jesse.”
On stage the Newseum, Tremaine Lee, Stephen Hopkins, Stephan James, Gloria Owens Hemphill and Marlene Dortch
After the movie a friend and I walked the three miles back to Georgetown because it was unseasonably warm and a moody and beautiful fog had formed on street, government buildings, parks and monuments. The mist set a photogenic mood of mystery, intrigue and romance. It was irresistible.
The statue of Lafayette in Lafayette Square across from the White House (which ordinarily would be visible in the background).
The National Archives.
Not much is pretty about the J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building, but the fog transformed the sidewalk out front.
The Navy Memorial in the foreground, looking up toward 8th Street.
In Freedom Plaza, the statue of Polish nobleman Casimir Pulaski, who fought for the U.S. in the Revolutionary War.
Walking up 15th Street Northwest.
Fog or no fog, it's coming — a Trump hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue.

A few days earlier I was north of Baltimore at the Timonium Racetrack with my friends Ellen MacNeille Charles, who has a long history in Maryland racing and currently has 20-some horses under Hillwood Stable, and Patrick Lawley-Wakelin, a respected blockstock agent, both of them there for the Fasig-Tipton Midlantic Winter Mixed horse sales.
It was my first time at a horse sale and it was interesting to get behind the scenes with people who play the game. Back in the stables, watching how the horses get prepped for the moment on the block, its not unlike prep for a beauty contest – brushing the mane, a dab of make-up, chin up. Then there’s the heightened pace of the auction itself. It’s intimidating, and I learned to not suddenly raise a hand in the air unless the plan is to buy some horseflesh.
Ellen Charles checks out Oriental River, a mare she would later bid for successfully.
After Ellen had the winning bid for the horse she came for our adventure continued as we headed to lunch at Michael’s – the track hang-out, and famous for its crab cakes – and I got to listen to Ellen and Patrick dish the horses, the owners, the trainers, the whole business.

Save the date:  the road to the Kentucky Derby already is underway with a roster of select races that will determine who competes for the $2 million prize on May 7 at Churchill Downs.
Inside the horse sale at Timonium.
Watching the bidding.
Keeping a close eye on things for the racing press.
Oriental River, center stage.
Patrick Lawley-Wakelin and Ellen Charles a little tense during the bidding.
Patrick and Ellen as the bidding continues.
Looking for a raised hand.
After a little bit of a bidding war, success.
Photographs by Carol Joynt.

Follow Carol on twitter @caroljoynt