HAMILTON: John Long Connected George H.W. Bush to Niagara County

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By: Ken Hamilton

Character is often defined as being the same person in public that you are in private; and, by all measures, former President George Herbert Walker Bush — 41st President of the United States, had character.  And after reading the many reports about Bush’s character, and not getting to personally know the president, I felt that I knew him through not only his public appearances – after all, it was the debate that he did in the presidential debates against Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis that convinced me to change parties from a Jesse Jackson Democrat to a Bush Republican.  But I think that I also got to later know President Bush through my association with Niagara County GOP Chairman John Long, a Niagara Falls insurance man who had offices on Main Street next to the ‘Round the Clock Restaurant.

Several years ago, the staffers at the White House were interviewed to answer the question of which of the presidents whom they had served behaved in public as they behaved in their private quarters at the White House.  George and Barbara Bush won hands down.  Bear in mind that these were the lowly, non-politically appointed workers who cooked, cleaned, mowed the grass and the likes, and not the pretenders who grinned for the cameras and then scowled the rest of the time.  The interview spoke volumes about the even-handiness, even-temperedness of the Navy war hero and his wife.

With Bush, from what I understand, would put political party aside and work with the Democrats, even in the day light hours; unlike his predecessor President Reagan and Speaker of the House Thomas P. O’Neill, who would fight each other as pundits in the daylight hours and share a bottle as friends in the evening.  And that puts me in mind with former Democrat John Long.

Long was an avid hunter of all types of game, as well as an environmentalist, as most hunters are.  John also made his own turkey calls.  John once told me that he was no friend of President GHW Bush’s Secret Service because, according to him, when he found himself early one morning driving in the area of Camp David and knew that Bush was there, he dropped in and presented the president with new a turkey caller.

 

 

It sounded like a nice gesture to me if he could do that, so I asked John why the Secret Service would care.  He said that it was in the pre-dawn hours and they would have to wake up the president and they would have to get up and dressed, and then immediately go traipsing into the wooded fields with the president and call turkeys.  Long had nothing but good things to say about Bush; and when John died, Bush was no longer the president.  I called Bush at his office in Houston.  He wasn’t in, but I left a message to tell him that his friend had died.

A profound sadness fell across me when John died. I feel the ripples of that pain with the passing of Bush. My changing of parties to Bush’s party wasn’t about Bush’s powerful personality because he wasn’t impressive to me that way; and it wasn’t so much about his party’s policies either — it was about the values that the man espoused, values that I came to realize that I had and have long held, but had been obscured by the dark clouds of popular politics.  I found those same values in John Long.

I knew that Long had once been a Democrat and had changed parties to become a Republican chairman.  A year following my run for state senate against Anthony Nanula, I sat down at lunch with Long at the ‘Round the Clock restaurant and asked him not to endorse Democrat Legislator Renae Kimble to run for state senate against Nanula on our line.  Like a lot of Democrats, Kimble was notorious in her rhetoric against “those people.”  Long listened to my plea, sipped his soup, and when I had said all that I had to say, he looked at me and said, “Kenny.  I like Renae.  She’s always done everything I have asked her to do.

While it showed Long’s willingness to work across the lines, like Bush’s, I just sat there and smiled at him.  He continued to look into my eyes.  I had known Kimble and how she was since we were kids, and he knew it.  After a few moments, Long smiled and said, “She was going to do those things anyway, wasn’t she?”

Bush, Long and even Kimble worked within their natures.  Some like Bush and Long, some like Reagan and O’Neill, and some even like Kimble.  But Kimble helped me to see Long and John Long’s character.  While I was not pleased with Long’s decision to allow her to run, I was pleased with his political flexibility. While Bush pulled me into the GOP, Long’s Bush-like character helped keep me there. And if I was Long, or even Bush, I would have done it much the same – we must put more stock in people than we put into parties.

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