Sunday, February 14, 2010

Harold Ford Jr. And Mario Procaccino-- Conservative Democrats Among Life's Losers


Do all conservatives have black hearts?

Harold Ford and I have something in common. Neither of us pays taxes in New York, although I used to (when I lived there); he never did-- and he lives there now. I pay my taxes in California, where the top bracket rate is 10.55%. The top rate in New York is 8.97%, so I'm not exactly saving any money by paying taxes here. Ford, on the other hand, saves quite a bit by filing in Tennessee, where the rate is only 6%. He's being squirrely about how much he actually makes as Vice-Chairman of Merrill Lynch (he refuses to divulge how much his tax-payer-funded bonuses were). But his base pay was a million dollars so... state tax in Tennessee was $60,000, instead of the $89,700 he would have paid in NYC (not counting the bonus which is rumored to be far more than a million dollars). Ford has been lying to the public about everything, so it should have surprised no one to learn his lies about paying taxes in New York were just that.

If you're wondering how a homophobic, anti-Choice, conservative loser from Tennessee wound up in New York Democratic politics... well, Wall Street has always loved him and they singled him out for special treatment long ago-- just the way they did with virulently pro-Wall Street patsies Rahm Emanuel (D-IL), Mark Kirk (R-IL), Mike Castle (R-DE), Roy Blunt (R-MO), Rick Lazio (R-NY) and Paul Ryan (R-WI). They've lavished millions of dollars on each of them, helping them build political power in the hopes, that one day they will be in a position to influence policies that make Wall Street even more powerful than it already is.

In the history of the House of Representatives, the only non-Senators who have gotten more in legal contributions from the Finance Sector than Ford ($3,682,599) were Rick Lazio ($6,424,123), who, like Ford and Emanuel, used the Wall Street revolving door to personally enrich himself; Minority Leader Dick Gephardt ($5,094,782); Ways & Means Chairman Charlie Rangel ($4,602,317); and ex-Chairman of the Banking Oversight Committee and notorious inside trader Spencer Bachus ($4,107,424). Yes, even more than they've given to their most dependable puppets like Eric Cantor, Denny Hastert, Paul Kanjorski, John Boehner, Pete Sessions, Paul Ryan and Jeb Hensarling!
Ford had, by then, settled down in New York with his new wife, Emily Threlkeld, a fashion industry executive whose stepfather, Anson Beard, is a legendary Wall Street figure. And around that same time, with Hillary Clinton running for president and an open seat in his adopted hometown likely to open up, people around Ford began pondering an audacious New York run.

Back in 2008, Threlkeld mentioned to a friend that Ford was considering making the race, the friend said. Gov. David Paterson’s choice of Gillibrand, a little-known upstate congressman, to fill Clinton’s seat after she resigned to become secretary of state, fueled the interest.

Ford started hearing about it at cocktail parties: Influential figures like fundraisers Steve Rattner and Maureen White, who had long had a rocky relationship with Gillibrand, were urging him to run. He seemed, said one member of that scene who talked to him about the Senate, like he was “bored” with his banking job and ready for a new challenge.

Ford fills the sort of hazy role at Merrill traditionally occupied by political stars at New York investment firms. They’re rainmakers and image buffers, there to impress clients, make connections and put a politic foot forward in public settings.

But Ford arrived at the tail of the boom and stayed at Merrill through its absorption by Bank of America and through a controversial round of bonuses at the end of 2008. His spokesman, Davidson Goldin, declined to say whether he’d received one, but New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo has requested information on the bonuses from the bank, which received federal support to weather the crisis.

What brought Ford to mind this weekend wasn't his appearance on Meet The Press but some research into another extremely conservative high-profile New York politician-- but from my childhood. In high school, Ken and I used to love making fun of a clueless Bronx political hack, Judge Mario Procaccino, who ran what journalist Richard Reeves termed "the worst political campaign in American history." At one point it looked like his mean-spirited conservatism would beat out Mayor John Lindsay's liberal Republicanism, but Procaccino was so inept that he actually addressed (uncomfortably) an African-American gathering and assured them that "My heart is as black as yours." Probably just as black as Harold Ford's, but Ford was just born a few months after Procaccino sealed his fate and got dumped onto the rubbish pile of history.

Procaccino died in 1995, long forgotten by the world of politics (outside Ken and me), but he left behind one tiny little bit of trivia as his political legacy, and this legacy is what-- even more than their shared conservatism-- is what ties him to Harold Ford. Procaccino invented the term "limousine liberal" in his campaign against Lindsay. Unless you want to call Ford a "helicopter conservative," much of what the judge had to say about Lindsay well describes Ford. His tirade against Lindsay was that his supporters were the types who "live in penthouses and who send their children to private schools and who have doormen and who don't ride the subways." (Let me assure you that neither Ken nor I had ever been in a penthouse. Nor did we know anyone who went to private school-- except for some Italians in the neighborhood who went to parochial school-- nor did either of us have a doorman. And when we could scrounge up the 15 cents for a token, we loved to ride the subway.) Like the vast majority of people who live in a world of limousines and penthouses and doormen, Ford is a conservative, and, like most of them, a tax cheat.

UPDATE: Sales Tax

Ford defenders lamely posit he wasn't lying when he claimed that he pays taxes in New York because he does pay sales taxes! Does that mean some Chinese Communist functionary stationed in NY, the way Ford is, who buys melamine-free milk at the corner grocery and pays sales tax is also entitled to run for the Senate seat? Or how about the 45 million tourists who visit New York annually and buy something and pay sales tax? Are they all entitled to run for the U.S. Senate?

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At 10:37 AM, Anonymous me said...

"Do all conservatives have black hearts?"

Well, duh!

At 12:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

No, many are just stupid.

At 3:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's worse than you make it to be. Tennessee' income tax (Hall Income Tax) does not tax wages, salaries or Bonuses. It only applies to certain investment income.

At 6:36 PM, Blogger Cirze said...

Thanks for the investigative reporting, friend.

May I quote you on my blog?



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