Tuesday, April 20, 2021

The LuLac Edition #4,502, April 20th, 2021



(Photo: LuLac archives)

 Mondale in Wilkes-Barre in 1980 with the late Controler Mercedes Leighton, the late Christine McLaughlin, and then City Attorney Carl Frank. (Photo: LuLac archives) 

(Photos: LuLac archives)

Walter Mondale died last night at the age of 93. He served as Vice President of the United States from 1977 to 1981. He, along with the man who chose him, President Jimmy Carter is responsible for changing the role of the Vice Presidency forever. After a very tough primary campaign in 1976 which featured about 14 candidates from the Democratic party, Carter prevailed as the nominee. The search for his Veep turned into a national gawking contest. Given the fact that the United States had three Vice Presidents in the course of three years, (Agnew, Ford and Rockefeller) the nation was riveted on who the prospective nominee was going to tap for the number two spot since Nelson Rockefeller took himself out of the contention for another term under Ford. Remember too at that time the race between Ford and Reagan was unsettled.

Carter had a casting call that lead to his hometown of Plains, Georgia. One after one, prospective candidates made the pilgrimage to the tiny town and kissed the southern peanut farmer’s ring.  There was cold lemonade and softball. After a painstaking June and July, Carter made his pick. It was Walter Mondale who eschewed a race in ’72 as well as ‘76 because he said he didn’t want to spend years staying in Holiday Inns across the United States running for President. For most Democrats that was the only chink in his armor. He checked all the boxes that Carter, a self-proclaimed outsider and southerner needed to unite the party.  

When Carter and Mondale were elected in 1976, Mondale asked to be a major player in the administration with an office in the West Wing.  Carter said yes and Mondale became a Vice President that was pretty much hands on in every decision that was made by the new President. It was said by many after the news of his death yesterday that the Vice Presidency can be divided into  two areas of study, pre-Mondale and post Mondale. If there is a legacy for Vice Presidents, the inclusiveness of his tenure paved the way for those seven individuals who followed him.

Mondale came to Wilkes-Barre during the 1984 campaign for President. That campaign featured a head on battle between Senator Gary Hart and Carter’s veep. Mondale lost New Hampshire but rebounded quickly with a sweep through Southern states.   He decimated Hart’s campaign with his retort about the Colorado Senator’s policies asking “Where’s the beef?” referencing the TV ad featuring Clara Peller in a now famous Wendy’s ad. After securing the nod, he announced a woman as his running mate. Geraldine Ferraro was a bold choice but America in 1984 was calm, fat and happy with Ronald Reagan and the campaign was an uphill battle.

By the time the last weekend of the effort came around, Mondale who came to town at the behest of then County Democratic Chair Joe Tirpak pretty much knew it was all over. I had the opportunity to do some volunteer work for the campaign. On that day, a softball buddy of mine, Joe Sekusky helped do crowd control. We started at 2 in the afternoon and essentially did what the organizers wanted us to do. We reported to the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Airport and rode on a bus down to the Square. The bus was filled with Mondale aides and celebrities one of which was Peter Yarrow of Peter Paul and Mary fame. I sat next to him when I realized it Yarrow. But I wasn’t sure because I never could keep Peter and Paul straight.  I asked for an autograph which confirmed it was Peter. 

Mondale was scheduled for 6:30pm arrival but was running very late. As fall daylight turned into darkness, the crowd got restless. So too did Democratic Mayor Tom McLaughlin, his administrator Bob Wilkie and the new Democratic nominee for Congress Paul Kanjorski. Mary Travers (she of Peter, Paul and Mary) was singing song after song. The night was getting chillier. We got word that Mondale finally arrived but was delayed at the Crossgates Hotel. Most of us thought that there was some high level meeting going on but it turns out the poor man just wanted to take a bath. With this delay and having to perform another set, Mary Travers was slightly annoyed. Well, a lot annoyed. I had the dubious distinction of telling her that the former Vice President was being delayed.  This should have been done by the paid campaign staff but they knew a sucker when they saw one. So I walk up to the formidable Ms. Travers, and say, “My name is David Yonki and I just wanted to ask you to sing just one more song before Mr. Mondale gets here”. She exclaimed, “What the f*** is a David Yonki and is he really taking a bath?” She then let out some more F bombs and proceeded to sing “If I Had a Hammer” for still another time. He finally arrived to thunderous applause from the Democratic faithful, was finished by 9:30 and we followed him back to the airport on the bus. Everyone agreed that it was a great stop for him but the handwriting was on the wall. Sekusky and I missed our chance to meet him because there was still one more stop that night in Chicago. But it was an experience.

Mondale was asked what the greatest honor of his political career was. He surprised many people by saying it was the year that he became the Democratic nominee for President. He said that he was the person his party, his people picked to lead the nation. Notwithstanding the fact that he lost by 49 states, he said that this was his greatest political accomplishment.

As we remember him today for his governmental achievements, Minnesota Attorney General, two term U.S. Senator and then Vice President, we should never forget or minimize that campaign for President. Obviously, he never did. For those who remember that Friday night in November, we should know that we were part of something that meant a lot to the man who visited us, putting full effort into his speech, knowing full well that the Presidency was just not in the cards. But this is what political warriors do. Fight until the end and when the people speak, whether by a resounding amount or just by a few votes, gracefully take their leave and embrace their participation in this great Democracy.  

The word patriot is tossed around a lot today but Walter Mondale was a patriot in every sense of the word. 


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