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CAMPAIGN 2000

Candidates Loosen Ties at Comic Black-Tie Affair

October 20, 2000|JAMES GERSTENZANG and MICHAEL FINNEGAN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

NEW YORK — With Gov. George W. Bush seated a few feet away, Vice President Al Gore addressed Alfred E. Smith IV, the great-grandson of the late New York governor of the same name who ran unsuccessfully for the presidency in 1928.

"Your great-grandfather was my favorite kind of governor--the kind who ran for president and lost," Gore said.

Bush, moments later, offered his own take on history and the presidential race. The 1928 contest, he said, "gives me hope that in America it's still not possible for a fella named Al to be the commander in chief."

The two presidential candidates engaged in what is, with few breaks, a quadrennial tradition: the visit by the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates to the annual white-tie-and-tails dinner honoring Smith, the Happy Warrior who was defeated by Herbert Hoover.

They sat on the dais, separated only by Archbishop Edward M. Egan. And for about 10 minutes each, they offered up a platter of wisecracks-with-edge to a high-powered New York audience.

Smith, Gore said, ran on a "revolutionary" platform advocating a 45-cent minimum wage, a six-day workweek and "building a bridge to the 1930s. It's quite a tribute to Al Smith that Gov. Bush has adopted the same agenda."

Gore poked fun at his use, during the presidential debates, of hardship stories to illustrate his policy positions--"like a woman here tonight whose husband is about to lose his job. She's struggling to get out of public housing and get a job of her own."

"Hillary Clinton," he said, "I want to fight for you."

The first lady, seated just beyond Bush, lit up with laughter.

Following Gore to the lectern, Bush gazed at the crowd in the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel ballroom and called them "impressive . . . the haves and the have-mores."

"Some people call you the elite," he said. "I call you my base."

Bush, a Yale alumnus, noted author William F. Buckley Jr., a fellow Yalie, also on the dais.

"We go way back and we have a lot in common. Bill wrote a book at Yale. I read one. He founded the Conservative Party. I started a few parties myself," Bush said.

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