What A Party! Terry McAuliffe’s return to Syracuse


The e-mail began with an announcement that Terry McAuliffe, Bishop Ludden’s most prominent graduate is coming back to Syracuse as he embarks on a 25-city book-signing tour for What A Party! My Life Among Democrats: Presidents, Candidates, Donors, Activists, Alligators, and Other Wild Animals.

The former Democratic Party National Chairman, class and school president, penned a book that not only talks about navigating the waters of Washington, D.C. but how he developed a style that became the Clintons’ and Democrats’ mantra for fighting back.

Boiled down into a rich Irish stew of anecdotes, stories of famous and not-so-famous people, local friends and family are tastefully sprinkled amongst the down and dirty politics of America.

The book signing was not without controversy, based on McAuliffe’s comments regarding the abortion issue in a radio interview. Bishop Moynihan of the Catholic Diocese of Syracuse revoked permission previously granted to host a book signing at Bishop Ludden High School on Saturday Feb. 23.

E-mail messages were dispatched giving alumni a new location for the book-signing which suddenly had grown into perhaps a larger event than originally anticipated.

The Fay Road parking lot of Morgan’s Restaurant filled quickly and overflow parking spilled out into the surrounding Geddes neighborhood. People were arranged clutching books like a well organized production line. Post-Its with “the name to be signed” glued to the spot where you’d want the author to ink the page.

Betty DeFazio, a Planned Parenthood staffer said that she attended, “Partly because I’m really concerned about discourse in the community being shut down so I came as a show of support to be able to actually have conversations about difficult issues.”

A woman with a camera asked, “Will I be able to get a picture with him?”
“Oh no. He won’t have time to take out and pose with people, sorry,” snapped the suited advance woman as she swung into to her final sweep of the venue before bringing McAuliffe in for the signing ritual.

The crowd had grown to a point where there was a line for those buying books that quickly spilled into a waiting vestibule that fed into the bar receiving area where McAuliffe would sit and sign books for the 200 people who showed up in the first hour.

Like a rock star or sports figure, McAuliffe entered Morgan’s and immediately began mingling with those in line as he stopped to exchange greetings with old classmates. Where several elderly women were seated, McAuliffe immediately froze, bent over and responded to a question shouted over the hubbub of crowd noise: “Yes, we’re ready for a woman president,” as if anyone in the room expected a different answer from the man whose newest job is running Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

Nancy Pasquale, Geddes area resident and teacher at Solvay High School, hoisted an armload of books to the receiving table. “I bought all of these books for my Republican friends.” As far as not having time for photos? Pasquale and Mark Re chatted and posed with McAuliffe before a disposable camera.

It was apparent why the event was held so close to Bishop Ludden High School. This book signing event, just like portions of the book, is an historic love letter to a neighborhood and community that influenced his life which he’s woven into a book chronicling his journey and impact on national politics culminating as Democratic Party National Chair.

What a Party! May be the only place where can you read about Arafat rubbing McAuliffe’s leg up and down during dinner to make a point, the State Fair sausage or McAuliffe’s role in selecting Skaneateles as a vacation spot for the Clintons.

As a member of Bishop Ludden’s class of ’75, I had to read the book to see if I recalled anything. There were stories of the Clintons, Democratic Party affairs and the world stage but I searched for the local that was familiar. And to my surprise just as I had remembered, the election campaign that got everyone’s attention.

“A group of my buddies, including Duke Kinney, Marty Salanger, Joe and Steve Snyder, Jim Bright, Dave Mulherin and Mike McInerney, had a great time with my campaign for student body president at Bishop Ludden High School. We dimmed the lights in the school auditorium, which was packed with more than a thousand students, and cranked up ‘Hail to the chief” I drove up in a golf cart with a big presidential limousine sign dressed in my best sweater-vest-and-tie combo. My buddies followed in another golf cart and were all dressed up like secret service agents with trench coats sun glasses and ear plugs.”

To this day no one has eclipsed that landslide election.

Some of those in the crowd were also mentioned in the book. John “Duke” Kinney and Mike McInnerny, “Coach” Wilcox and others who were part of Bishop Ludden High School at some point in history especially the mid-70s.

Richard Ferguson, former Geddes Democratic Chairman, recalled an earlier visit by McAuliffe. “We had a chairman’s dinner when he came in a few years ago,” Ferguson said. “He came here to help us raise money. He hasn’t forgotten where he’s from and that’s evident in the book.”

These folk knew McAuliffe and showed up to give him and his book support.

“I’ve been in touch with Terry all these years, all of us have kinda kept in touch,’ said Mark Re, class of ’75. “I’m here to support Terry and Hillary but also was astounded by what happened with the ‘Ludden thing’ because he wasn’t giving a speech he was just doing a book signing; so if he was giving a speech people have a right to the way they feel. If you want to look at it this way, that means if we’re pro-choice we can’t go to a Ludden football or basketball game. He’s been there for Ludden in the past, this is disgraceful.”

McAuliffe has previously donated thousands of dollars to Bishop Ludden fund drives.

Cancellation and subsequent location change of the Bishop Ludden High School event caused an immediate uproar that played itself out on local radio and television airwaves. E-mail messages were dispatched to class of ’75 alumni mobilizing the change in location and soliciting support for what seemed at first to be a benign book signing event at an alma mater.

Terry McAuliffe’s book details what it takes to fight back and where his love of politics is rooted. “My dad taught me to go all out on every political race, no matter how small, and I took him at his word.”

When asked about the change of venue for the book signing, McAuliffe was clear.

“I don’t want any controversy,” he said. “I’m on a 25-city tour. I’m just here to see my friends, I’m doing a book signing I wasn’t going to talk about any issues just wanted to sign books. The Bishop made his decision. I believe I’m a very strong Catholic as you know 85 percent of Catholics believe that a woman should make her own decision in the case of rape or the welfare of her life. We just got to have open minds…. It’s unfortunate. But you know what, I love Bishop Ludden and I love Syracuse and I’m here to see all of my friends. We’re going to move on.”

It became clear early at the event, no advance persons could keep Terry McAuliffe from seeing his friends. Neither could the Bishop.

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Ken Jackson is a graduate of Bishop Ludden High School, class of ’75