Sunday, April 11, 2010

Sunday Reading

Meet Kendrick Meek — The Senate race in Florida has been all about the battle between Republicans Charlie Crist vs. Marco Rubio, but there’s also a Democrat running.

ORLANDO — In a pool hall lit by Budweiser lamps and big-screen TVs, U.S. Senate candidate Kendrick Meek and a few union leaders from the nearby Lockheed Martin plant bonded over Buffalo wings.

The Miami congressman with a taste for steakhouses and cigars serves on a powerful tax-writing House committee, has flown on Air Force One and was recently spotted getting a pedicure at a popular Washington salon. But in an anti-incumbent election year, Meek is emphasizing other parts of his résumé: his working-class background, love of fishing and hunting, even his dyslexia.

As he told the union guys, ”Remember, I used to be a state trooper. I used to be a skycap.” Meek, 43, worked for the Florida Highway Patrol and at Miami International Airport before he began a career in public office in 1994. ”I want you to feel like can you talk to me,” he told them.

Meek’s everyman-themed campaign to belong to the most exclusive political club in America took him last week from the Orlando sports bar to a Tallahassee food bank to a Mulberry phosphate plant. While the media obsesses over the nationally charged Republican primary between Gov. Charlie Crist and former House Speaker Marco Rubio, the leading Democratic contender for Florida’s open Senate seat has been trudging across the state longer than any other major candidate.

More below the fold.

Mr. Broadway becomes Mr. Bureaucrat — A look at Rocco Landesman, the producer is the head of the N.E.A.

Mr. Landesman is not exactly the Washington type; he is a fast-moving, risk-taking entrepreneur who is colorful (his passions include horse racing, gambling, baseball and alligator cowboy boots) and blunt. Now Mr. Broadway is busy transforming himself into Mr. Bureaucracy. It has been, he confesses, a bit of a challenge.

“You have to be very careful what you say,” he said, as his press secretary hustled to the table with bottles of chili sauce and Tabasco. Mr. Landesman took the chili sauce and kept talking.

“Everyone’s parsing every word that you utter, and I’m not used to that,” he said. “If the consequences are just you, it’s one thing. But everything has all these repercussions. I’m trying to find a balance because I have to be me, and I pride myself on being candid and direct and saying what I think. But occasionally I have to think about what I say.”

On Tuesday, the new, perhaps more politic Mr. Landesman will make his debut on Capitol Hill to testify about his agency’s 2011 proposed budget. In Washington budget testimony is a big deal: a chance for department chiefs to lay out their agendas and beg Congress for cash. Mr. Landesman, who is trying to use his star power to develop the Endowment into a catalyst that can generate far-reaching investment in the arts, has made clear that he has big ideas for his little agency.

The trouble is, he doesn’t have much money. On the up side, the culture wars that nearly put the agency out of business in the 1980s and 1990s now seem a thing of the past. But in an era of deep recession Washington is consumed with cutting the deficit, not spending more on the arts.

President Obama is requesting $161.3 million for the Endowment, the same as his request for the current fiscal year: a piddling sum in a city where budgets are typically measured in billions. Before coming to Washington, Mr. Landesman called the agency’s budget “pathetic.” Now, he insists, he will be “pounding the table” for it.

“Understandably, I don’t think the administration appreciates my complaining about the budget all the time,” he said. “If every head of every agency did that, you’d have a pretty unruly situation.” He paused for a moment to admonish himself: “I’ve got to cut down on the whining.”

Leonard Pitts, Jr. walks the Walk.

On April 15, it will be 22 years since she died.

I remember getting home from photocopying some paper I needed to complete my taxes, only to find my wife facing me with eyes so stricken and bereft that I didn’t need to hear the words. I knew.

We rushed out to my sister’s house, went into the room and there it was: the shriveled husk that until that day had contained my mom. I left the room at a trot, hand to mouth, the world blurred by tears.

My sisters, my brother and I spent the next hours crying, talking, reminiscing. Then, because it was still April 15 and the federal government has little sense of humor about such things, I went and mailed my taxes. It felt surreal, doing this mundane civic chore on the day breast cancer took my mother. I remember being vaguely surprised that taxes were still due, that the world had not stopped, that here was life, going on regardless.

Now here we are, 22 years later and your humble correspondent has just signed up to walk 60 miles over the course of three days this October as part of the Susan G. Komen 3-Day For The Cure. Komen, founded in 1982, describes itself as “the world’s largest grassroots network of breast cancer survivors and activists” and also the planet’s largest nonprofit donor to the fight against breast cancer, having raised $1.5 billion for that cause. Komen says it’s had a hand in every major advance in breast cancer treatment since the early 1980s.

All that notwithstanding, your humble correspondent had to sneak up on himself to make himself participate, had to commit before he could talk himself out of it. I am not an athletic fellow. Where physical labor is concerned, some might even say I was a lazy fellow. And 60 miles is, well… 60 miles.

But after years of making excuses, I decided I could no longer spurn the opportunity to help raise money against this killer. So here I am, hitting up co-workers, siblings, friends and, yes, readers. (If you donate, please, please, please don’t send your money to me. Go to, click ”Donate To A Participant” and input my name.)

Doonesbury — clip and save.