The Fat, Filthy New Jersey Governor’s Race

Is being fat a political liability? That’s one of the questions I explore in the current issue of New York, in my a piece on the nasty New Jersey governor’s race between Chris Christie and Jon Corzine. Christie, the former US Attorney for New Jersey, is to put it generously, a large man. Corzine, who has been trailing in the polls until recently, has run a slate of television advertisements that show Christie’s unflattering girth. One ad even goes literal, claiming Christie “threw his weight around” as a federal prosecutor to get out of traffic tickets. From the piece:

Christie lacks the easy charm of a traditional front-runner. For one, he’s fat. In a state where dirty politics competes with the Jets as the favored spectator sport, Christie’s weight has become fodder during a race that has been intensely personal and nasty, at times comically so. “He looks hideous! And unhealthy,” says longtime Democratic state senator Ray Lesniak. “That doesn’t portray the discipline that’s necessary to lead this state.” This summer, the Corzine campaign ran an unflattering television spot that featured slow-motion shots of Christie’s massive gut after members of a focus group responded that they were turned off by his tubby physique. “They chose to run with the ad because people were appalled by his obesity,” one Democrat close to the Corzine campaign told me. In September, another Corzine ad took a more direct approach, saying that Christie “threw his weight around” as prosecutor. Comella says the ad “is clearly part of an overarching strategy to personally attack Chris Christie.” The Corzine campaign denies this. “The ad’s only purpose was to show how Chris Christie used his position as U.S. Attorney to get out of traffic stops,” responds Corzine’s spokesperson, Sean Darcy.

Read the full piece HERE


Woodward vs. Obama, Round One

Back in June, I wrote a New Republic piece about Bob Woodward’s new book on the Obama White House. At the time, I reported that Woodward’s new project was causing agita inside the West Wing.

Now, Woodward is giving the White House reason to worry: his Washington Post scoop on Stanley McChrystal’s 66-page Afghanistan report. I’ve been covering the Obama White House’s relationship with the press since the campaign, and reporters have told me repeatedly that Obama’s message control is as tight, or tighter, than the famously secretive Bush White House. One thing reporters routinely mention is Obama distaste for “process” stories that explain how and why decisions are made. But Woodward–perhaps more than any reporter working in Washington–is the master of process: he can locate and document the internal power struggles that ultimately come to define every administration. The McChrystal Report is the first major national security leak of this nascent presidency, one of many more to follow…

Read my TNR piece, Bob Woodward’s Plan of Attack

And here’s my TNR piece on Obama’s thorny relationship with the campaign press corp, End of the Affair

The Obama-Brooks Bromance

In the current New Republic, I have a piece on the Obama White House’s special relationship with New York Times columnist David Brooks. The piece explores  efforts by the Obama team to court Brooks, and why Brooks’ center-right views are so crucial to the White House’s selling of issues like healthcare and the economy. From the piece:

It’s easy to understand why the administration does this. Brooks’s sympathetic columns help to validate the key myth of this White House: that it is fundamentally post-partisan. Plus, Brooks appeals to a major Obama constituency: the latté-sipping Baby Boomers who were the subject of his 2000 best-seller Bobos in Paradise. These were among Obama’s strongest supporters in the last election, but their loyalty could be tested by spiraling deficits, botched health care reform, or a flagging economy. As much as any columnist, Brooks speaks to these left-of-center suburbanites.

After all, he is known for attracting liberal readers who normally can’t stand conservative pundits.

Read the full piece HERE

Ralph Cioffi, the Meltdown Fall Guy

The financial crisis has dragged on for two years already, and no senior Wall Street executive has been brought to trial. On October 12, Ralph Cioffi and Matt Tannin, two former Bear Stearns hedge fund managers, will be the first finance guys to go before a jury. The spring 2007 collapse of Cioffi’s $1.6 billion hedge funds was the first tremor that signaled the financial system was coming apart.

In this week’s New York Magazine, I preview the trial. What I find interesting is that Cioffi’s trial has become a proxy for the legions of Wall Street bankers and traders who gambled recklessly with leverage and exotic financial instruments, only to see the whole system go up in smoke. Prosecutors have compiled a bunch of embarrassing emails from Cioffi and his partner, Matt Tannin, that suggest they knew the market was tanking even as they tried to line up new investors. Sure, it looks bad. But the heads-I-win-tails-you-lose culture was rampent late in the bubble. Goldman’s prop trading desk famously shorted sub-prime real-estate even as they sold mortgage-backed securities to their other clients. It’s all too easy to dispose of a few foot soldiers like Cioffi and Tannin while ignoring the perverse culture of reckless investing and greed that incentivized this kind of behavior in the first place. The question remains open as to why, even now, no senior executive, from Dick Fuld to Joe Cassano to John Thain, has been charged with any wrongdoing even though the bubble happened on their watch, and was largely a result of their profit-at-any-cost management style.

It’s been a lonely time for Cioffi since prosecutors paraded him in front of reporters last June. No one from Bear’s senior ranks–Jimmy Cayne, Warren Spector, Ace Greenberg–has called since his indictment. Alan Schwartz, Cayne’s successor, called once. Meanwhile, Cioffi has liquidated his luxurious lifestyle. In July, he sold his Southampton home for way less than the $11 million asking price. He’s quit his country club memberships. His Tenafly, NJ home is in contract. And he’s sold two of his three Ferarris, while awaiting a buyer for the third. Any takers?

Read the full piece HERE

Wolffe at the Door

I have a new TNR piece out on former Newsweek writer Richard Wolffe’s book proposal to write an insider-account of the Obama White House. Wolffe, who now works at Dan Bartlett’s corporate lobbying firm Public Strategies, has been generating headlines in recent days for trying to occupy conflicting roles as both journalist and flack. On Friday, Wolffe guest-hosted “Countdown” on MSNBC, but this week the network said it should have divulged his PR affiliations. And now many are questioning the ethics of his trying to write a reported book about the Obama administration while also advising corporate clients that may benefit from policies passed by the White House.

Wolffe still desparately wants to be a writer. From the piece:

According to a person familiar with the book proposal, Wolffe’s project is titled “30 Days: A Portrait of the White House at Work.” In the proposal, Wolffe writes that he has personal relationships with Obama officials at “the highest level” who have already “expressed support informally” for the project. Wolffe envisions a fly-on-the-wall account of a month inside the White House, where he’ll be “capturing group dynamics and people in action.”
Read the full piece HERE:

Jared Kushner and the Making of a Manhattan Golden Boy

In this week’s New York, I report on the rise of Jared Kushner, the 28-year-old Observer owner and son of disgraced real-estate mogul Charles Kushner. Here’s an excerpt:

Jared Kushner exited the subway on Canal Street to find his world blown up. It was the morning of July 13, 2004, and Jared, on break from NYU Law School, was hustling to his internship at Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau’s office. His cell phone buzzed. He saw a text message from his younger brother, Josh, an incoming Harvard freshman who was interning at the Kushner family’s office in Florham Park, New Jersey, that summer. “Dad is not in the meeting today. Is everything okay?” Josh wrote. Jared quickly called his father’s cell phone.

“Dad, are you all right?”

“Well, not really,” Charles Kushner said. “They’re going to arrest me today.”

“For what?” Jared blurted out. “Is it because of the tape? I thought your lawyers knew about that. I thought it’s not illegal.”

“Apparently they’re saying that it is,” Charles said.

“Well, maybe now the whole story will come out,” Jared said. He hung up and tried to work for twenty minutes but couldn’t focus. He jumped in a car for New Jersey. By the time he arrived, his father had surrendered to the FBI.


The full piece is in the magazine and online HERE

Bob Woodward’s Plan of Attack

Washington Post legend Bob Woodward is now quietly working on a new book about the Obama White House. In the current issue of the New Republic, I have a piece that reports on Woodward’s new book project. In early May, the White House circulated a memo that told officials not to speak with authors before clearing the interview with the press office. The Obama White House, despite vaunted claims of “transparency,” is focused on controlling information just as every previous White House has been.

Woodward told me he’s not worried about the Obama team shutting him out. “People make their individual choices about what they’re going to do, even in the White House and in the government,” he said. “Over my four decades of working on books, you find that some people will help, some people won’t help, some will help at certain stages and not at others, some people won’t help at the beginning but will help later on. That’s reporting.”

Now the parlor game begins. Who in the Obama orbit will be cooperating…

Read the full piece HERE