SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER, July 3, 1968
BY JACK GORDON
Nelson Rockefeller may be shy some delegates in the presidential sweepstakes but he isn't short of supporters in the Puget Sound country, even on the hottest day of the year.
I joined some 400 spectators at Seattle-Tacoma Airport yesterday as they "whooped it up" for the Republican governor of New York and it was (1) a lot of fun; (2) sweaty; (3) noisy; but (4) veddy, veddy, in-ter-esting!
THERE WERE two bands for this political extravaganza — one a straw-hatted Dixieland group led by Ed Hollenbach and the other a rock and roll group called the "London Fog." The airport is still echoing to the reverberations. The Dixie band played "Let a Winner Lead the Way" while the rock and roll group played 112 numbers nobody ever heard of before!
A group called the "New Majority," politically-minded university students, also gave the New Yorker a raucous salute on his arrival. They cheered every third word.
The governor is the first candidate to visit this state since tragedy befell the late Senator Kennedy and everyone seemed security-conscious. Sharp-eyed Secret Service men were present, along with plainclothes men, state patrolmen, airport police and deputy sheriffs. All did a terrific job, but the ghosts of that hideous night in Los Angeles seemed to be the uninvited guests — which escalated some of the natural tenseness to apprehension on the faces of the people in the crowd.
There was a lot of the "Kennedy Style" to this welcome and you could see a genuine depth in the spirit of the welcomers. Like the RFK crowd, they were believers. One joyful miss lost her shoes; several kids lost their parents, and a few supporters lost their signs in the melee as the candidate walked into the crowd.
In contrast to the Kennedy Airport welcome here last March, however, there were more adults present, the oldest being Mrs. Teresa Johnson, 89, a Republican precinct worker.
The strategy on this welcome was to play it low key. Most of the candidates send in "advance" men to make arrangements — and recommended policy is to be "casual" and "cautious" about plans and crowd prospects. Then, if it's a smashing success, you can say it's "Vesuvius, Man."
THAT'S THE way Rocky's young advance man, 27-year-old Ted Halabe, a New York attorney, played it, and in a manner of speaking, it worked.
The advance book — the "How-to-do-It-Bible" for political welcomes -- suggests that local committees be invited to "plan" the welcome, but it's plain that the neck of the advance man is in the soup if it flops. That's why every step is closely checked out. With security becoming an added problem, welcome programs are getting less spontaneous in the participant area to minimize the risks of "surprises" in any form. Halabe's grand plan called for the works: bandstand, bunting, a sound system, pins, posters and propaganda. The receiving line was headed by Rocky boosters like Phil Bronson and Mrs. Edith Williams, great granddaughter of President Teddy Roosevelt. Incidentally, Mrs. Williams seconded the Nixon nomination in 1960. Gov. Dan Evans was the official greeter, and he suggested Halabe buy a new watch. The "Gov," arrived late because Halabe gave him the wrong E.T.A.
THERE WERE signs ... organization-type and home-made ... and they ranged from: "Rocky Can Carry the Cities" and "Go, Go, Rocky!" to a bed sheet sign held by two pretty United Airlines employees which read "Let's Nominate Rocky." There was even a Robert Kennedy poster in the crowd! But oddly, no placards offering "A Choice, Not an Echo!"
Sporting a Seafair Skipper Pin, Rockefeller staged an airport press conference of sorts right on the landing field. When asked whether he worried about security, he replied to a jostled, perspiring reporter, "I'm more worried about you, son." There was tight security to begin with, but once the plane landed the ropes dropped and it was everybody out! As one security man explained it: "This is the way the man wants it." You reminded yourself that although this is just a visit to lure delegates into the Rocky camp, the reaction of the crowd is important and that's why some 30 agents of the nation's press, radio and TV galleries are trailing along. They tell you Rocky is improving and the crowds are building.
COMPARING it to the welcomes arranged by Frank Keller for RFK and by Eddie Alexander at Olympia for Nixon, the best crowd turnout was Kennedy's with Nixon and Rockefeller about even.
As to color, excitement and customer reaction, we'll have to say the edge went to Kennedy.
The Olympia Nixon welcome was held at the little Olympia airport, many miles from any metropolitan area and had a "small town" simplicity in sharp contrast to the pizzaz of Rocky's airport blast.
The last time Rocky "officially" visited Seattle was in May of 1962 when he came here for New York Day at the Seattle World's Fair. On that occasion the Seafair Commodores turned out as an honor guard, and the greeters included then-Mayor Gordon S. Clinton and Leo Weisfield. How things have changed. Clinton is now heading the state's forces for Richard Nixon and Weisfield is out raising funds for the Democrats!
ON THE 1962 visit to Seattle, Rocky competed with two fellows named Lyndon Johnson and John Glenn on the same day at the Fair. Yesterday he had no competition except the occasional noise of the jets taking off and the once-overs by worried Pan American Air officials, checking on the hangar where the Governor had set up temporary shop.
Despite the seeming mismanagement of the welcome program, the organized confusion all turned out well in the end and seemed to visibly impress even two-score Central Area kids who got to shake hands with the New York Governor.
You came away with the feeling — "Rocky is obviously fighting uphill, but he plays the role of the Republicans' "Eternal Alternate" sooo well!
Maybe that's the new way to fly these days...
(Some behind the scenes pictures of Rockefeller during his visit.)
You are at JackGordon.org,
a salute to John F "Jack" Gordon, Mr. Seattle
Copyright © 2002-2012 John R. Gordon