Howard Dean, who runs for president in the Democratic primaries early next year, spoke to a crowd here that appeared larger than the population of Montpelier, the capital of Dean's home state of Vermont.
His speech was on Tuesday night in Bryant Park, which runs from the back of the Fifth Avenue library, whose soft amber lights in the back windows were calming. The park then goes out a full block to the nervous, loud, speeding white light stream of traffic on Sixth Avenue. In the park were 10,000, and maybe more, waving blue "Dean" signs.
No politician in the land with a working larynx can draw this many to stand and hear a speech. Bush needs a captured crowd at a military base. On his own, he couldn't get half of what Dean draws on a weekday night.
A few nights ago, Dean drew another 10,000 in Seattle. With numbers like this, he might be worth a bet.
I came to the Dean rally with a drum inside me ready to start banging. I wanted the excitement of candidate and crowd at a time when politics is lifeless. And right away, George Morrin, 67, standing at the side of the stage, told me that he had been working to set up the park since 8 in the morning.
"This is the first time that I've ever done anything in a campaign," he was saying. He is an old copywriter who lives at 89th and York. "Last May, I heard him say that the $350-billion tax cut was going to the rich and it undercuts things like schools. This was the first time I ever heard anybody say it. I went to hear him. He was electrifying. Wait'll you hear him. The truth cures your political depression."
Dean came on the large stage in a striped shirt with sleeves rolled up. He had both hands in the air. The crowd cheered and waved signs.
Then he spoke. He was unexciting. No, he wasn't even that. But I have to be nice because the man next to me, Morrin, had so much hope.
Once before this in this campaign, I stood in a hallway and looked into a large crowded apartment and saw my hero, Bob Graham, dissolve on the living room floor. He was a lovely, smart man who connected with nobody.
Dean had the subjects. He spoke against the war in Iraq, which once was his personal and thus immensely profitable stand and now is becoming crowded as the war turns into the early Vietnam. Dean also spoke about the job losses being the worst since Herbert Hoover. The deficit is monstrous, he pointed out. If these issues are around next fall, Bush can be beaten by any aluminum-siding salesman.
But he said this in language made of wood. He spoke without saying one phrase that would inspire. And the cheers of the crowd seemed forced. The crowd out there was young and as white as the candidate. I walked through them for some time and there was no electricity in the whole place.
When I mentioned to people with me that Dean's shirt sleeves were too contrived, they mentioned that I had liked Robert Kennedy, who campaigned in this same Bryant Park in rolled-up shirt sleeves.
"He was Catholic," I said.
Dean is about as WASP as you can get. He is out of East Hampton, the part of it where money comes out of the safe with a light coating of dust. His father was the head of Dean Witter stocks on Wall Street. He has membership in the Maidstone Club. Some Jewish people point out that they could never get in the Maidstone Club. I couldn't get in the joint, either. Do they write about that in these glorious stories about the Hamptons?
Dean went to The Browning School in Manhattan then to St. George's School in Rhode Island, which had a sloop for students desirous of a sail. After that, he went to Yale. Dean then went to Albert Einstein medical school in the Bronx and became a doctor.
Dean was first entering Yale when George Bush was in his senior year. Bush's grandfather was a senator from Connecticut and partner in Brown Brothers stock brokers. Bush was out of Phillips Exeter Academy before Yale.
Both families made money out of money. The horror of manual labor never came close.
If Dean and Bush run against each other, they will use up every white voter in the country.
The Bush people say Dean is the candidate they want. And the southern Democrats, who have a tubby clerk, Al Fromm, speaking for them, say that Dean is this year's McGovern. They had Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana say that Dean would be suicide. Bayh wouldn't be working for the post office if his father, Birch Bayh, hadn't been here before him.
If this is the early lineup against Dean, then he gets early support.
Copyright © 2003, Newsday, Inc.