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CAMPAIGN 2000 | PROFILE / The Vice Presidential Candidates

Moderating and Moralizing, Lieberman Toils in the Center

October 20, 2000|GERALDINE BAUM | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"Believe me, Joe Lieberman didn't become Mr. Bipartisan in Washington," said Lawrence DeNardis, Lieberman's GOP counterpart in the state Senate. "There was always that side to him."

Together, the two successfully co-sponsored dozens of "good government" bills. DeNardis, a devout Catholic, and Lieberman also tackled matters of church and state. They tried but failed to create a moment of silence in public schools and to retain "blue laws" that prohibited mass retailing on Sundays. "We had our conscience and the archdiocese to answer to," DeNardis said, noting that more than half the state's voters were Catholic.

Yet it was DeNardis who handed Lieberman his first and--thus far--only electoral defeat, in a 1980 race for Congress that was marred by Lieberman's mistakes of timing and tactics.

Ronald Reagan led a Republican landslide that year that washed many Democrats from office. Also, Lieberman declined to fight DeNardis' portrayal of him as a "tax-and-spend liberal." His district had been represented by a Democrat for 18 years, and he ran like an incumbent with the slogan: "A proven leader you can count on."

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday October 21, 2000 Home Edition Part A Part A Page 5 Foreign Desk 1 inches; 31 words Type of Material: Correction
Buckley background--A story Friday about Democratic vice presidential nominee Joseph I. Lieberman incorrectly characterized the ethnic and religious background of writer William F. Buckley. He is Irish Catholic.

Toby Moffett, then a congressman from Connecticut, had breakfast with Lieberman a few days after his defeat. "He was a mess," Moffett said. "He was trying to figure out what happened and what to do next."

The most comforting message he received, according to Lieberman, came from the Rev. Joseph Dilion, whose Catholic church was in his district. "Don't let this stop you, Joe," Dilion told him. "God is saving you for something better."

But first, he would be tested. His marriage fell apart.

Another Test: A Failed Marriage

Lieberman had spent the 1970s commuting between his home in New Haven and the Senate in Hartford, rushing to be with his family on the Sabbath and out again to resume politicking. His wife, a psychiatric social worker, cared for their children, Matt and Rebecca, and worked in a public hospital.

Although the couple had shared the excitement of politics early on, friends say Betty Haas grew weary of its intrusions--constituents who wanted attention even when the couple was at the theater, or reporters who called constantly. And although she kept a Kosher home and sent the children to Jewish schools, she grew tired of the strictures of their faith.

"My mother really wanted to be No. 1," said Matt Lieberman, now 32. "There would always be enough events in my dad's life that wouldn't make her that."

The couple tried counseling but failed to patch their differences. In early 1981, shortly after he lost his bid for Congress, Lieberman moved to an apartment nearby. The children spent half of each week with him, taking over the bedrooms while he slept on the couch.

"My parents worked so hard at the marriage, but it was uneasy for years," said Matt Lieberman, a teacher who is now a father himself. "When they finally split, it was a relief."

Haas, who has an amicable relationship with her ex-husband, did not respond to a request for an interview.

By summer, Lieberman was running for state attorney general, a position often filled by the Democratic machine to satisfy an ethnic or geographic group. "Usually it was some lawyer [who would win] and go to sleep for four years, collect $50,000 for part-time work and not get in anyone's way," said Bill Carroll, a close Lieberman friend.

Lieberman changed all that.

He won his party's nomination at a convention he didn't attend because it was held on the Sabbath. After his nomination was announced, aides blared the music from "Chariots of Fire," the movie about two Olympic runners, a Christian who wouldn't race on the Sabbath and a Jew who was obsessed with overcoming anti-Semitism. The music became Lieberman's theme song.

In the spring of 1982, two months before his divorce became final, Lieberman met Hadassah Freilich Tucker of Riverdale, N.Y. She also was divorced and had a young son. Lieberman did not have much time for dating, but he was infatuated, according to friends. The pair married less than a year later.

"My dad needed a spouse who understood his work, that it was a priority, and accepted him even in the face of a very, very busy schedule," Matt Lieberman said.

Hadassah met that requirement and many others. She was as religious as he was and attractive, strong-minded and politically savvy. She helped meld their families, and they had a daughter, Hani, in 1988. She also reinforced Lieberman's connection to the struggles of Jewish immigrants. Born in a resettlement camp after World War II, she and her religious parents found their way in a small Massachusetts town.

Attack Ad Helps Senate Victory

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