When Kaufman Writes His Memoirs, Let's Hope for a Chapter on that July 3rd Bash

Friday, September 23, 2016

For the chance to chew the fat with Ron Kaufman, I would have gladly volunteered to drive one of the golf carts shuttling guests from a party at Kaufman’s Beacon Hill condo on the night of July 3 to the Boston Pops rehearsal concert at the Hatch Shell on the Esplanade.  The man’s been a political operative and lobbyist for like 40 years.  There are stories I’d love to hear from his perspective.

You know the party I’m talking about, the one that put a couple of higher-ups in the Department of Conservation and Recreation in hot water after it was revealed they had expended DCR resources on the private celebration.  The golf carts in question, for example, were rented by the DCR.
There’s been a fair amount of publicity about the party at Kaufman's place and the resulting disciplinary action against the top twosome at DCR.  Nowhere has it been reported, however, if Kaufman was actually at the party, which seems a glaring instance of lazy journalism, although it’s hard to imagine why he would not have been there.

Actually, it’s easy to see why Kaufman might have missed the party:  If there was a more powerful and influential group of people he could have been with that night -- in Washington, D.C., say -- he would have subcontracted the hosting duties in Boston to a trusted friend and sprinted to D.C.
Kaufman is a Quincy boy who’s done well in life, and had a good time doing it, because of the Republican politicians he's befriended, first and foremost George Herbert Walker Bush, the 41st President of the United States.  Now 71, Kaufman is still going strong as a “Senior Advisor in the Public Policy and Regulation practice” at Dentons, the world’s largest law firm, where he, no lawyer, works out of the Washington office.

On the Dentons web site, Kaufman is described as “a highly experienced political strategist who has served as a senior advisor to U.S. Presidents, Governors, Members of Congress, and a host of elected and appointed officials at every level of government.”
With his still-mostly-dark, swept-back hair, trademark moustache, and wickedly winning smile, Kaufman resembles the guy you knew in college who always knew the easiest courses to take, was simultaneously dating three women, and seemed destined for a fabulous career in sales.  You knew you shouldn’t like him so much, yet like him much you did.

There’s a gem in the archives of The Boston Globe, dated Aug. 20, 1989 and written by Scott Lehigh, who still writes a popular column in the Globe, which describes how Kaufman got his start in politics.  Here it is in its entirety:
“Ron Kaufman, now a deputy assistant to the president, got his start with George Bush through political blackmail, Kaufman told a Republican gathering in Boston last week.  Back in 1978, Kaufman was a South Shore grocery-store manager who wanted to get into politics.  He and his friend, Andy Card, then a young state representative from Holbrook, decided to hook up early with a presidential candidate.

“The two settled on a dark horse named George Bush.  Card became Massachusetts state chairman and then announced that he wanted Kaufman as Massachusetts campaign manager.  Thinking Kaufman too inexperienced, the campaign high command balked.  Whereupon Card issued an ultimatum: Either Kaufman was hired or he and his political allies would quit.  Concluded Kaufman: ‘So my first job for George Bush was through blackmail.’ ”
Bush lost the Republican presidential nomination to Ronald Reagan in 1980 but still emerged a winner as Reagan’s choice for vice president.  Kaufman won, too.  Reagan appointed him first to be the northeast regional political director of the Republican National Committee, then later the committee’s national political director.

Kaufman was the national campaign director for Bush when he ran for re-election as VP in 1984.  Following the landslide victory of Reagan-Bush over Mondale-Ferraro, he helped lay the groundwork for Bush’s successful campaign for the presidency in 1988. 
During the ’88 campaign, Kaufman engineered a media coup that had Bush taking a boat tour of Boston Harbor and decrying the harbor’s then-heavily-polluted waters, all to undermine the environmental bona fides of Governor Michael Dukakis, Bush’s Democratic opponent. 

The stunt became a high-volume national media event.  Amidst the noise, cries from Democrats that the Reagan administration had cut federal funds for the clean-up of Boston Harbor were drowned out (pun intended).  Said South Boston’s Jack Corrigan, director of operations for the Dukakis campaign, “These guys, the Republicans, cut off funds for Boston Harbor.  Then they walk in here and say, ‘You guys did it.’  It was outrageous.”
In a further attempt to embarrass Dukakis, Kaufman persuaded the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association to endorse Bush.  He then staged a media show where Bush flew to Massachusetts to accept the endorsement in person from the leadership and an assembled mass of the union.  

For his campaign services, Kaufman was named White House personnel director, overseeing all patronage hires at the beginning of Bush’s term, a job that made him suddenly very popular with Republican majordomos and campaign hands throughout the country.  Can there be any doubt that some of the persons he met then are still helpful to him today?  (“…I’m blessed with friends across the country,” Kaufman told Politico in 2013.)  Kaufman later became a special assistant to the president and White House political director.  Reportedly, he remains in frequent contact with the elder Bush, now 92 and enjoying a long retirement in Maine and Texas.
Kaufman joined the Dutko Group lobbying firm in 1994.  A few years ago, he moved to the law firm of McKenna Long & Aldridge, which was subsumed into Dentons fairly recently.

John F. Kennedy said that anyone who would discount the importance of politics should consider that it was politics that took him, a lieutenant, junior grade, in the U.S. Navy in 1946, and in 14 years made him commander in chief.
In a less-exalted variation on that theme, we may note that it was politics that took the manager of a Weymouth grocery store in 1978 and made him a special assistant to the president of the United States in 1990 -- and then made him in 1994 a well-to-do practitioner of the art of winning friends and influencing policy.  Fourteen years for a son of a millionaire from Hyannisport and Palm Beach; sixteen years for a product of the working class from Quincy.  Damn impressive in either case.


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