In Praise of Publicity Stunts

(Cross-Posted from La Resistance)

I’ve been reading Joe Lieberman’s book, In Praise of Public Life, which I purchased at a steep discount from Amazon. I thought it would be nice, since I’m enjoying the book so far, to get the author to autograph it. I mean, I’ve got autographed books by Billy Corgan, Kevin Smith, and Markos & Jerome so the Lieberman book would be in good company on my shelf. Today at Carmine’s Italian Grill in Bristol, the opportunity presented itself.

I’m a pretty hard-core supporter of Ned Lamont, and I have been all along. Still, as a resident of Connecticut, a constituent of Senator Lieberman’s and a registered Democrat I felt that I had as much a right as anyone to speak with Senator Lieberman at his photo-op publicity stunt–PLUS I bought his book. I had to take advantage of this opportunity to get my book signed and to share my concerns with Senator Lieberman, a man who really doesn’t spend much time here in the state.

When I arrive at Carmine’s, it’s about 12:45pm which was thirty minutes before Joe’s scheduled arrival. I wanted so badly to speak with the Senator that I eschewed my Ned Lamont for U.S. Senate button, figuring that Lieberman’s campaign staff would scout the place in advance of his arrival. My instincts were correct. The entryway was plastered with Lieberman signs and a campaign staffer was there chatting up reporters. A camera crew from NECN and from WTNH were on the scene when I arrived, but at this point I didn’t see anyone else I recognized. I was expecting kind of a wait to get a table, figuring that Carmine’s would be overflowing with Lieberman supporters. What I encountered was completely contrary to my expectations (I guess I’ve been attending too many Lamont events)–the place was all but DEAD! I mean, there were plenty of staff on hand in anticipation of the Senator’s publicity stunt, but I was shown to a primo table immediately. I had explained to the hostess that I was interested in having the Senator autograph my book, so she set me up with a booth for two right near the door. I had plenty of time to order, eat, and pay $8.88 for a delicious lunch that I wasn’t really that interested in before Senator Lieberman arrived at about 1:25pm.

Immediately, the Senator was mobbed by cameras and reporters outside. I later heard that three Lamont supporters met Joe outside and asked him about setting up debates with Ned Lamont, but I could neither see nor hear this from my table. Meanwhile, the patrons all around me were finishing their meals and leaving. I thought they simply could not wait to speak with Senator Lieberman, but watched as they worked their way out to the parking lot and drove away. If I were being generous, I would say that the dining area I was in was about 1/2 full. It really seemed like I was waiting quite a while, but Senator Lieberman was now indoors and talking to reporters (and presumably restaurant staff) immediately around the corner when my waitress, Rachel, appraoched me. Rachel said she had a question that she was embarrassed to ask (Uh-oh, she got the wrong idea about my generous $5 tip!). I tell her to go ahead, so she asks, “Is he a Democrat or a Republican?

If ever there was a time for me to write LOL on my blog, it would be right here…but I cannot bring myself to do it.

After clearing up Lieberman’s “technical” party affiliation, I explained to Rachel that I was at Carmine’s to support Joe Lieberman the author, but when it comes to U.S. Senate that I am strongly supporting Ned Lamont, the real Democrat. Rachel also said that she definitely doesn’t support Joe Lieberman, so I encouraged her to learn more about Ned Lamont and gave her my business card with a link to the Ned Lamont Resource. When she took off toward Lieberman, promising that she would send him my way, I had a brief nervous twang that she would sell me out and tell Lieberman’s staff to avoid me. Then I remembered the $5 tip I left for a $8.88 check and my nerves were calmed.

I waited at least five additional minutes for the Senator, during which time I was approached by a photographer from the Bristol Press who took down my name. I don’t remember exactly what I said to him, but it was along the lines of what I told Rachel about supporting Lieberman as an author.

Enter Senator Lieberman! As he rounds the corner with a cup o’ joe, he extends his hand to the man sitting at the booth nearest the entrance. “I’m Joe Lieberman…” he says to the most likely uninterested and unimpressed gentleman. “Take a look at this well-read individual,” I hear the Senator say, gesturing toward me and the book. I think to myself how unreal this situation is, and how I have a chance to say anything to the Senator while the cameras are rolling and aimed at the both of us. He asks what I do, and I tell him that I work at a hospital in Wallingford part time and attend Tunxis Community College full time. He asks whether I’m interested in public service, which is when I make my move.

My move was to say something along the lines of, “Actually, I’m a committed Democrat and I plan to support the winner of the primary election. I’m concerned that you’ll leave the Democratic party and I was hoping that you would rule out an independent run.” To which he replied by saying that he won’t have to worry about that if I vote for him in the primary and that he’s a Democrat. At this point, the Senator quickly stood up and moved on. Almost immediately, a reporter from the Bristol Press took Lieberman’s empty seat across from me, eager to learn more about my feelings on the Senator’s refusal to rule out running as a spoiler I mean, independent. I told him that I thought since Senator Lieberman has such a long record of public service that he ought to be able to commit to the party and abide the will of the voters in an admittedly tough primary race.

Marion Steinfels, Lieberman’s communication director who was listening in on my conversation with the Bristol Press reporter basically told me it was time to run along, saying “You’ve gotten some attention for yourself.” She was right, and I had certainly asked for it too. What was I thinking when I invited NECN, WTNH, and local newspaper reporters to the Beau Anderson photo-op at Carmine’s Italian Grill in Bristol? Maybe I should have invited more supporters? Fuck it, I’m running on pure Beaumentum now.

The moral of the story is that Joe Lieberman will only say that he is a Democrat, not that he will always and exclusively run for office as a Democrat. Steinfels gave me a song-and-dance, but her thoughts and words are irrelevant. By the time I left (immediately after I finished speaking with the reporter) the dining area was 1/4 Lieberman and his staff, 1/4 reporters and crew, and 1/2 diners. I was absolutely polite to Senator Lieberman when I spoke to him today, though I’m sure he didn’t appreciate my thoughts. I was expressing a reasonable concern that he will abandon the Democratic party, and it’s not like I haven’t tried to speak with him before: I was at the JJB dinner on March 30th and I was at the convention on April 19th–neither time was I able to speak to Senator Lieberman. His staff is not shy about intimidating critics of their boss; after all, their jobs depend upon his re-election. Steinfels did attempt to intimidate me, claiming that we “met” at the convention and asserting that I worked for Ned Lamont. For one, Steinfels was the person who “met” me by blocking my camcorder as I shot footage of the Senator at the convention. For two, I’m going to wear my Ned Lamont for U.S. Senate sticker/button/shirt wherever and whenever I please because I’m damn proud to support him–but I do not work for him, I do not speak for him, and I do not take orders from anyone at his campaign.

WTNH Coverage of Today’s Publicity Stunts

UPDATE: The Bristol Press has filed a report on Senator Lieberman’s Bristol visit.

2 Responses to “In Praise of Publicity Stunts”

  1. TrueBlueCT

    In absolute awe! Hang on to that picture of you and Jokementum. It’ll be worth something…

  2. Lamont: “May the best Democrat win” » spazeboy

    […] Ned Lamont has a new radio advertisement that is coming to a radio station near you very soon. In it, Lamont challenges Senator Lieberman to abide by the results of the primary on August 8th. This is something that Lamont has long ago committed himself to, but that Senator Lieberman (as recently as Friday!) has not. […]