Friday, July 15, 2005

For My Son

THE boss, a perpetual motion machine, indulges in no downtime after the homeward leg of the 39-hour round-trip, ending a valiant but vain stint in Singapore meant to put some razzle-dazzle in New York City's bid to host the 2012 Olympics. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton functions best on an endless agenda. No stopovers for her.

But her press secretary, Philippe Reines, likes his lethargy, so here he is, black suitcase and BlackBerry in tow - his attachment to the latter is borderline pathological - in an upholstered chair at Mrs. Clinton's unfussy office suite on Third Avenue at 48th Street.

"If advocating for New York were a medal event, she would have left Singapore with the gold," ruminates Mr. Reines, a master ruminator, which he traces to growing up fatherless on the Upper West Side. Not even therapy helped. "After two years my therapist said we weren't making any progress, but she didn't say it in a bad way," he recounts, somewhat cheerfully channeling Woody Allen.

His suitcase still bears a souvenir of the useless trip: a candy-hued identification tag proclaiming him an official NYC2012 delegate. Even if he did neglect to wear his official tie to the bid presentation. Senator Clinton corrected the gaffe by cajoling one from a staff member and expertly tossing it to Mr. Reines in an elevator-to-lobby relay that impressed him immensely: "She's the most capable person I've ever been around."

This afternoon Mr. Reines, 35, single and jet-lagged, wears a clean blue shirt and a haze of stubble. The senator doesn't nag him about shaving; she is, he insists, a boss who doesn't sweat the small stuff. Come to think of it, she doesn't sweat at all. That's his job.

Consider the arrival, last month, of an aggressively unflattering biography, "The Truth About Hillary: What She Knew, When She Knew It, and How Far She'll Go to Become President," by Ed Klein, which climbed the best-seller lists despite condemnatory reviews. Senator Clinton didn't read it, but Mr. Reines did.

He had to. It was up to him to provide the news media with an informed - if uppity - response from the Clinton camp: "This is a book full of blatant and vicious fabrications contrived by someone who writes trash for cash." Catchy. Mr. Reines now adds this: "His 15 minutes of fame are up. I'm looking forward to his biography: 'The Truth About Ed Klein: He Writes Trash for Cash.' "

Just how far will she go to become president? Mr. Reines has his mantra spring-loaded: "Senator Clinton remains focused on being the best senator she can be for the people of New York."

Next Friday he will celebrate three years in her employ, a personal longevity record for a direction-deprived guy who required a dozen years, and three colleges, to score a diploma.

HE was nearly 30 when Columbia University presented him his B.S. in political science and put him on a waiting list for its journalism school. He never made it. Politics intervened, including a semester as Vice President Al Gore's teaching assistant (and de facto press secretary) for his course, on covering national affairs, at Columbia in 2001, and an impromptu writing gig for "Saturday Night Live" in 2002. He supplied the outline for the "Bachelor" spoof in which Mr. Gore interviewed prospective vice presidential running mates while luxuriating in a hot tub. Writing comedy is Mr. Reines's idea of a fantasy career.

Mr. Gore is not, he says, as wooden as advertised and Mrs. Clinton is more personable. "And more receptive to fun."

He found that out his first week, after The New York Post ran a "mortifying" Page Six item on a streaking contest he had participated in while working on Peter F. Vallone's 2001 mayoral bid. Mr. Reines contends he was not actually naked. "I was wearing lawn signs from the Vallone campaign front and back," he says. He heard Mrs. Clinton's reaction secondhand: "Apparently she said something like, 'It's good to know my new press secretary has nothing to hide.' "

Mr. Reines grew up with his mother, an insurance broker, and his grandmother, with no siblings and no fatherly input "other than a void." He was, by adolescence, distressed and resentful. After a semester at the State University of New York at Albany, he returned to the city and tended bar, then moved to Boston, attended college at night, and worked at a bank before going to Columbia. After graduation, he applied to the F.B.I. and the Peace Corps, and on a whim moved to Nashville to volunteer for the Gore campaign.

"I probably saw Al Gore as an extension of the Clinton administration, which I was a big fan of," he says. After the election, George Stephanopoulos suggested that he apply for the job of Mr. Gore's assistant at Columbia; later, he was offered a position as communications director for Representative Jane Harman, Democrat of California. He left that post to join Senator Clinton's team and move to Washington. His only active vacation from politics in three years has been an uncharacteristic (for a couch potato) trek to the peak of Mount Rainier.

"My worst characteristics as a person came out on the climb: a tendency to obsess, relentlessness and a complete fear of failure. They come in handy in this profession sometimes, too, which is O.K. if I'm working toward a positive goal, but to someone on the other side, I probably just come off as grating."

Why he doesn't come off as French: he's not. But no way will he answer to Phil.

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company


Post a Comment

<< Home