When Fred Droz was advance man for President Jimmy Carter and vice-presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro, he was required to set up only one town at a time for his clients. Piece of cake. But between now and May 25, Droz is committed to setting up the whole United States--or at least a 4,135-mile, coast-to-coast path across 16 states and the District of Columbia. The principle, he says, is the same. Just a little more complicated.
Since last October, Droz has been national project director of Hands Across America, the human chain that supposedly will clasp hands in a continuous line from New York to Los Angeles on the morning of May 25 in the cause of publicizing and alleviating hunger and homelessness in America. Droz would object to "supposedly." There are no contingencies for gaps in the line, he says, adding, "It will happen. Period."
He also says that the recent unraveling of the PRO-Peace March "hasn't affected our activities at all. We've had a few questions from folks who were confused as to which event was what, but that's all. The first indication that it might affect us would have been our corporate support, and that just didn't happen. It hasn't even come up. I just feel terrible for David (Mixner, PRO-Peace founder). I understand the effort it took to mount something like that."
Droz made these assessments last week from his business management firm's new office in Irvine, where he ducks in every once in a while from the Hands Across America headquarters in Century City to renew acquaintances with his staff. He turns up at his condominium in Fullerton--the community where he was born, reared and educated--just about as frequently.
Forged on the Road
But human chains aren't forged from ivory towers. They are put together link by link on the road, and that's where Droz will be spending most of his time for the next two months--mending a tear in Arizona, sewing on a patch in Pennsylvania, stopping a rip in Texas.
Hands Across America is a kind of domestic USA for Africa. Both were conceived by the same people--Ken Kragen (personal manager of some of the entertainment industry's biggest names) and Marty Rogol (a longtime activist in the cause of alleviating world hunger)--and built on a base of enthusiastic support from such entertainers as Kenny Rogers, Lionel Richie (both Kragen clients), Bill Cosby, Lily Tomlin and, as they say in the business, a cast of thousands. The biggest difference in the two campaigns is Droz, who was brought aboard to handle the mind-blowing logistics of a 4,135-mile hand-holding.
The 40-year-old Droz--a bachelor, divorced 10 years ago--has been gearing up for two decades for this challenge. A 1967 political science graduate of Cal State Fullerton, Droz was one of the early activists on that conservative campus, a graduate of Georgetown Law School and a political organizer who got his feet wet managing the presidential primary campaign of Sen. Fred Harris in New Hampshire.
These efforts won Droz both recognition and respect from Democratic Party professionals who put him to work as advance man for Hubert Humphrey and Jimmy Carter. ("An advance man," he explains, "is sent into a city four days before a candidate or public figure arrives. Somebody has to figure out where the plane will land, how you get an entourage of 250 people from airport to hotel to event, and make arrangements for all those signs you see cropping up spontaneously at rallies--among a lot of other things.")
Streamlined White House
Carter was enough impressed by Droz' planning of the inaugural parade and ball to appoint him to a committee whose mission was to reorganize the White House staff. "We spent 10 months," recalls Droz, "and cut 19 divisions to 12 and the total number of workers from 735 to 350. All that was changed instantly on Reagan's first day in office. Now the staff is more than 900."
After performing a similar reorganization job for Carter's Department of Transportation, Droz came home in 1978 to try to put into practice for himself what he'd been doing for others. "I think," he says today, "that anyone who has ever been involved in serving a politician has wondered whether or not he could do it (campaign for office) better. I did, and it was terrible--just terrible."
The office he chose to run for was the Orange County congressional seat vacated by Republican Charles Wiggins. The present incumbent, William E. Dannemeyer (R-Fullerton), was then running for the Republicans. Droz saw himself beating Dannemeyer and returning triumphantly to Washington with a seat in the House of Representatives.
There was one detail in the way, however, before Droz could even take on Dannemeyer. A well-known and respected local attorney named Bill Farris had already announced for the Democrats--and neither he nor the Democratic organization took kindly to this young carpetbagger breezing in from Washington to launch a political career.