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Alice Kahn

But When Her Big Photo Opportunity Knocked . . .

October 16, 1988|Alice Kahn

I saw London, I saw France, and in this Our Year of the Photo Op, I saw Michael Dukakis. But I didn't have my camera. I couldn't yell, "Hey, Mike, over here." Is one photo op worth 600 words? You be the judge.

Let me set the scene. It is morning in New York City, land of Jay McInerney and Jackie Mason. The headlines scream about people with whom New Yorkers are on a first-name basis--Tawana, Al, Donald, Leona, Bess. (My dream New York headline: "Ed to Jesse--Let 'em Eat Kishke.")

I, your roving reporter, stroll leisurely through rush-hour mid-town as fast- moving men and women in exquisite suits regard me with that wary look saved for the homeless deranged. I try to adjust to the Manhattan sensory assault--the smell of exhaust, the move-or-be-killed pace, the sound of horns, sirens, revved-up engines and egos.

A few blocks past my hotel, I turn a corner, and there they are. Sam Donaldson, Chris Wallace and Bruce Morton. Twenty others from the local news. Thirty from the international press. Twenty of New York's finest in uniform. A dozen Secret Service agents looking inconspicuous in pin-striped suits and sunglasses, with long, curly plastic wires hanging from their earphones.

Innocent traveler in the heart of the city, I have suddenly entered: The Sound Bite Zone.

"Who's here?" I ask one of the Secret Service agents.

"Oh, nobody," says the man with no eyes as his wrap-around sunglasses face Mecca.

I get behind Sam Donaldson for a Sam's-eye view. In person, he looks like your mother said you'd look when you made faces at her and she warned that your face might freeze that way.

Suddenly, it is lights, camera, action outside the Hotel Intercontinental. A few feet in front of me I recognize the eyebrows and profile of the most easily caricatured face in politics since Charles de Gaulle. People yell, "Mike! . . . Mr. Dukakis!" He doesn't even give Sam Donaldson the time of day. (Which, by the way, was 9:15 a.m.--to the consternation of the Important People trapped in their limos on the way to work.)

Just as Dukakis is about to get into his limo, a man wearing a blue shirt with an actual blue collar rushes forward, gives the candidate the thumbs-up sign and proudly yells, "The workin' people!"

It is a photo op made in heaven. Nobody takes it. Dukakis ignores him. His limo takes off. A black suburban wagon filled with guys with sunglasses and earphones follows. Ten station wagons with camera crews hanging out open hatchbacks follow. Two patrol cars follow. Eight motorcycle policemen follow. Six other black limos follow. An empty ambulance follows.

When the dust clears, I find the man with the blue collar. He is Ted Jones, a security guard at 299 Park Ave. I get out my ever-ready reporter's notebook. "Who are you voting for?" I ask him.

"I'm voting for Bush," he says. I am astounded to hear that. I express my surprise.

"What's the other one's name?" he asks.

"Dukakis," I say.

"Oh, yeah," Ted Jones corrects himself. "I'm voting for Dukakis 'cause the other one was with the CIA and he's covering up something."

Then Ted Jones tells me that the day before, President Reagan had been at the hotel and there was "the same arrangement"--Secret Service, press, police, etc. And he had rushed forward, giving Reagan the thumbs-up sign and yelling, "The workin' people!"

Ted Jones smiles and asks, "Is this gonna get in the papers?" I reassure him that someday he and his thumb will make the cover of Newsweek.

By now, the street has returned to its normal level of noise. Traffic is flowing. Francois Mitterrand walks out of the Hotel Intercontinental to a waiting limo. Ted Jones ignores him. One photographer from Paris Match shoves me out of the way to get a snap of Mitterrand.

Only one other man has been waiting to catch a glimpse of the French president. The man is wearing an American flag lapel pin. Noting my reporter's notebook, he walks over to me and says, "I am Hans Chevalier. I am French-German, Alsatian."

I quickly leave this late-breaking story to sit down at a table at the Algonquin Hotel and file my report on Campaign '88: "Duke Ducks Sam at Photo Op Flop."

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