I hope Alan Grayson isn’t limited to just 15 minutes of fame
Already Grayson is one of the most targeted incumbents in the country, having defeated four-term Republican Ric Keller, and his re-election bid embodies the challenge Democrats face in holding control of Congress as the president’s approval rating falls.
But a leading opponent has not yet emerged and Grayson, the 12th-wealthiest member of Congress, has resources to defend himself. He spent $2 million of his own money on the 2008 campaign. (The “die quickly” speech has triggered $150,000 in contributions, his office says.) And his district has shifted from slightly Republican to slightly Democratic.
“It’s no coincidence the National Republican Congressional Committee has named me as the No. 1 target next year,” Grayson said. “We’re working hard, getting things done.”
Swagger courses through Grayson’s every word, delivered in the accent of his Bronx upbringing and with the exacting nature of a lawyer who first made his name taking on — and taking down — contractors and war profiteers in Iraq.
“I don’t need the job for income or satisfaction,” said Grayson, sitting on a bench outside the House chamber in between votes. “The truth is, it’s really a hardship. I took an enormous pay cut to take the job. Every week, I leave five young children and my wife to come up here.
“I don’t owe anything to anyone here. I don’t owe anything to lobbyists. I don’t owe anything to leadership. The only thing I owe to anybody is the well-being of 800,000 people who depend on me.”
Grayson’s life story has the makings of a Horatio Alger novel. He grew up in a cramped Bronx tenement, the asthma-inflicted son of public school educators. Sickness and death are common themes.
As a boy, a bully threw him under a moving bus but he pulled himself free just in time. In Sri Lanka in 1984, he sat under a 2,200-year-old tree, a sacred Buddhist site, where guerrillas later slaughtered 200 people. He used to wake up in the middle of the night covered in his own blood, for no apparent reason. He was nearly killed in a car accident.
You wonder if he’s putting you on, but he does not flinch. “I seem to have nine lives,” Grayson said. “I’ve given a lot of thought to what I wanted to do in life.”
Grayson got into Harvard and to cover expenses worked as a night watchman and cleaned toilets. He finished in three years, “and pretty close to the top of my class.” He went on to work as an economist but returned to Harvard for a law degree and master’s in public policy. Took him four years. “And I was working at the time.” Then, he said, he went on to work for some of the titans of the legal field — Ginsberg, Bork, Scalia.
In 1990, Grayson and a college friend rented space over a funeral home in the Bronx and founded IDT Corp., a telecommunications company. Grayson did not stay long but made a fortune and said he invested smartly in airlines and Kentucky Fried Chicken. Today he has a net worth of $31 million, according to financial disclosure forms, though he lost $34 million in a Ponzi investment scheme this year.
Grayson met his first wife at a Halloween party in Boulder in the early 1980s. He dressed as a Catholic priest (he’s Jewish). He remarried in 1990 and he and his wife, Lolita, have five children under age 15, all with names beginning with ‘S:’ Skye, Star, Sage and twins Storm and Stone. They live not far from Disney World.
Working full time as a lawyer until joining Congress, Grayson made a name filing whistleblower lawsuits on contractor fraud and war profiteering in Iraq. The cases, involving big names like Halliburton and Custer Battles, were met with resistance from the Bush administration. Grayson said he was subjected to gag orders and stalling tactics.
Routine questions elicit deeply philosophical responses. Asked where he got his political leanings, Grayson’s answer ran eight minutes.
“There are now over 6 billion of us,” he said. “When I buy something, I’m buying the fruits of someone else’s labor. When I watch TV, I’m seeing things that other people have created. We are all highly specialized and highly independent and the only way to make everyone better off is if everyone is better off. My political philosophy is to see that that happens.”
And that, aside from his outspokenness and startling physical resemblance to Luca Brasi in The Godfather:
(and yes, I’m aware of what happened to Luca Brasi and hopefully Grayson’s smarts will prevent him from sleeping with the fishes)
…is why the Republicans have their knickers in a twist about Alan Grayson. Here’s a guy who doesn’t need to rely on the health insurance industry for campaign money, who’s a tough Bronx boy, who’s beholden to no one except his own innate sense of decency, and who hasn’t forgotten from whence he came.
Republicans save their worst venom for self-made men like Alan Grayson. In their worldview, you’re supposed to pull up the ladder behind you if you make it out from a modest beginning. Someone who doesn’t adopt the “I got mine and fuck you” doctrine is a profound threat to their well-established order. We can only hope that Grayson doesn’t have any John Edwards-ish skeletons in his closet, because so far at least, it sounds like he’s the fire-breathing progressive populist we need right now.
(The Rude Pundit has more.)