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You Don't Have to Ride Jim Crow!

Jean Birkenstein Washington

Boston Herald

MSNBC feature

Robin Washington

Elusive Kerry still hard to figure

Duluth News Tribune, Jul. 25, 2004

BOSTON - John Kerry doesn't want to talk to me.

That's the conclusion I've come to after wracking my brain for weeks wondering why I can't remember the substance of any conversation with the junior senator from Massachusetts. It bothers me because, first of all, having frequently surprised people by recalling intimate details of conversations years past, I've come to realize I have something of a photographic memory. And second, because I can remember specific discussions I've had with every other major Massachusetts politician over the past 17 years before moving back to the Northland last month.

That includes Ted Kennedy (sorry, nothing juicy here); former acting Gov. Jane Swift, who was holding back tears as she explained a major transportation initiative (you try doing that carrying twins at 8-1/2 months!); current Gov. Mitt Romney, at Boston's legendary Foley's bar, who was telling me about -- oops! -- What's said in Foley's stays in Foley's.

And then there was the very, very lonely gentleman in a roomful of luminaries celebrating the release of the movie Glory shortly after the 1988 presidential election.

"Hi. I'm Mike Dukakis," he said, extending a hand.

"I know," I said softly, patting it gently. "I know."

But I can't remember a thing about Kerry. Or can I? I have an image of him, stentorian and chiseled, telling me about ... something. Or wait a minute. Maybe it was the ents from the "Lord of the Rings" movie.

This has been eating me up so much that I requested an interview with the candidate on his visit to Cloquet. It was denied, but I attended the rally anyway, hoping to establish eye contact, a flicker of remembrance. Nothing happened.

I then searched newspaper databases for his name and mine in the same article, figuring I must have quoted him once. Nothing except fleeting references showed up.

But finally I remembered I had downloaded a few years of story notes on a disk. I entered "Kerry" and voila! Lots of hits.

But the first one turned out to be Kerry Healy, the current lieutenant governor of Massachusetts (who was also talking about transportation initiatives but was neither crying nor pregnant). A few more searches and finally, there they were. Real live quotes from Live Shot, as one of his nicknames pegged him.

But on further inspection they weren't live. They were prepared statements, e-mailed from an aide responding to my requests for interviews. One, Kerry's answer to the question if consumers should be hit with higher fees when one bank takes over another, read:

"I understand that while it is impossible for the merged banks to continue to maintain a separate fee structure, I have said from the outset that the merger between Fleet Bank and BankBoston was not a blank check to raise fees or lower the quality of service offered to customers. Massachusetts continues to have a strong and competitive financial service industry, including a number of community banks which offer consumers real choice. Knowing what we do about the markets, the FleetBoston Corporation needs to provide a competitive fee structure in order to continue to be successful in Massachusetts."

While that part about blank checks was pretty good, Congressman Barney Frank called me back, in person and in English, and immediately demanded bank regulators conduct an investigation. I used that and canned the Kerry quote, which explains why the final article never showed up in any search.

As your unbiased editorial page editor, I'm not saying a penchant for talking to reporters through prepared statements won't make him a good president. And he didn't try to blame higher ATM fees on WMD.

But I feel I'm missing a personal connection here, and with the special access of the press so graciously bestowed to me, well, if I can't get close enough to get that warm feeling, what about the rest of you? Maybe, John, we can go for a drink after your acceptance speech. At Foley's. Knight Ridder will -- I mean I'll buy.

And what's said in Foley's stays in Foley's.

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