Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Fun With Politicians

One of journalism's perks (besides the executive washroom and free buffet luncheons) is the yearly ritual of interviewing politicians or people who want to be politicians. We invite candidates to our offices for editorial board meetings, which sounds more exciting than they actually are. There's nothing as exhilarating as listening to politicians wax poetic about lowering property taxes, eliminating state agencies and fixing the pension system. Okay, probably a root canal followed by a hot lava enema would be just as exciting. Other than that, it's pretty cut and dry stuff.

Occasionally, we'll have informal chats and a carefree exchange that's less businesslike and more like a group of buddies hanging out in the bar, playing darts and pounding down brewskis. Once in a while, we encounter a few gems in the conversation, little quirky moments where the politicos are off guard and let their hair down. My trusty tape recorder captures it all, an unvarnished record free of spin and hyperbole. Here the candidates shine, warts and all. Far from the carefully crafted images their consultants want to project, the candidates can relax and be themselves.

Here are a few examples from this round of interviews, bits of editorial board meetings best left on the cutting room floor for your amusement, gentle reader. I think you'll agree these lighthearted moments add to the rough-and-tumble, bare-knuckle brawls and show a gentler side of both the candidates and the journalists who cover them.

John McCann, Republican candidate, First Legislative District, on former Gov. James McGreevey, who resigned after outing himself over a gay sex scandal:

McCann: “Let me say this to you from an ethnic point of view. It takes us forever to get an Irishman into the governor’s house and he has to blow it like that.”

Me: “Literally.”

Michael Donohue, Republican candidate, First Legislative District, on abortion:

Donohue: “Even people who would describe themselves as pro-choice say they want abortion to be more restrictive. They want fewer abortions. They don’t want abortion to be birth control.”

Me: “Of course. Who wants more abortions?”

Donohue: “A lot of people do.”

Me (impersonating Richard Nixon): “I want more abortions! More abortions for all of us!”

Donohue: “Absolutely! There are extremist positions. You say that even babies that are born, until they have cognition of their surroundings…”

Editor: “That’s the Spartans…”

McCann, a Realtor, on the subject of abortion:

McCann: “You don’t think doctors who perform abortions, you don’t consider that business, they don’t want that?”

Me: “No.”

McCann: “That’s like me saying I don’t want to sell enough houses.”

Me: “Then the doctors will have to be going around knocking women up to get their business.”

Democrat Assemblyman Nelson Albano, on a TV commercial that depicted opponent Michael Donohue as a pig feeding from a trough:

Albano: “We don’t do the commercials. You know when I find out what the commercials are? When I’m laying in bed at night watching the news and I see it pop up. When I first seen that, I laughed my ass off. I thought it was funny.”

Independent gubernatorial candidate Chris Daggett describing the public's distrust of government:

Daggett: “I can tell you this: people are pissed off in a way that... and I shouldn't used pissed off so don't quote me.”

Me: “It's earthy and it's natural. Basically, mad as hell and were not going to take it anymore.”

Daggett: “It is! One side of me says it's like Network. Throw the window open and say 'we're mad as hell and we're not going to take it anymore' because that's what people feel.”

Daggett on negotiating with unions:

Daggett: “In all my experience and I've solved a lot of difficult problems over 30-plus years of being involved in the fabric of New Jersey. Usually what I do is start with the facts, because I found too often we're having an argument about what we should do about fixing something, and you can't reach an agreement and you say 'what are the facts?' and the guy says 'X' and you go, 'shit, I thought...' Excuse me...”

Me: “He is comfortable! He is a regular Joe!”

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