D'Amato puts on classic performance for GOP

Former U.S. Senator Alfonse D'Amato at the GOP

Former U.S. Senator Alfonse D'Amato at the GOP convention in Tampa, speaking with State Sen. Lee Zeldin, in jacket and tie, and Zeldin's children. (Aug. 28, 2012) (Credit: Dan Janison)

CLEARWATER BEACH, FLA.

'He hasn't lost his fastball," said Tony Pancella, the Babylon Town GOP chairman, after former Sen. Alfonse D'Amato delivered a red-meat speech to the party's New York delegates here.

"You haven't lost a step," said Republican state chairman Edward Cox as the 75-year-old D'Amato stepped away from the rostrum and delegates stood up and cheered.


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Whether you were fan or a skeptic, this was a classic appearance for the undisputed elder statesman of his state party, and he merrily displayed all his public faces and roles with verve and animation.

Here was D'Amato the pep-rally leader -- hailing Nassau Executive Edward Mangano for doing a "hell of a job," thanking chairman Joe Mondello for a GOP Senate, calling Rep. Peter King a man of courage, declaring himself proud of the Romney-Ryan ticket.

Here was D'Amato the verbal pit bull -- slamming President Barack Obama as selling out to big pharmaceutical companies, for wasting funds on a failed energy project known as Solyndra.

Here was D'Amato the comic performer -- delivering laugh lines on some of the old campaign and family stories, using exaggerated voices to make a point, and even self-deprecatingly referring to the 1980 campaign rhetoric that cited the age of rival Sen. Jacob Javits, then 76. Nowadays, as a grandfather as well as the father of two small kids, he said: "I think 76 is young."

In that election, which catapulted him to the first of his three Senate terms, he started out way behind. When he said he couldn't go lower in the polls, D'Amato said his father told him, "You'd be surprised."

Inevitably, D'Amato the entrepreneur was in the house, too -- chatting briefly afterward about his Park Strategies lobbying firm's purchase of the Albany-based Capitol Public Strategies, founded by former aides to Gov. George Pataki.

D'Amato's brother Armand and ex-Rep. Vito Fossella are among his current business associates on hand here this week.

D'Amato the wizened political adviser was on hand, too. Asked during a press scrum how the Republicans should improve their enrollment deficit in New York, he readily replied, "We have to reach out to the Hispanic community," which is a growing voting bloc "that Republicans should be appealing to."

D'Amato made a point about how in a previous generation the late Nassau Republican figure J. Russell Sprague helped end Italian-Americans being frowned upon by the Long Island "establishment" of his day.

Then D'Amato, suddenly in schmoozer mode, grabbed Mondello, who'd just appeared nearby in the busy hallway.

"C'mere, chairman," he said, and held a smiling Mondello around the shoulders beside him. D'Amato told the gathered reporters: "He's one of these guys. He's an Italian-Puerto Rican. Did you know that?" -- a reference to the chairman's heritage.

And he went on with his point.

Earlier, D'Amato as elder adviser told 31-year-old Assemb. Nicole Malliotakis, who'd asked his advice for freshman legislators like herself: "Go to nonpolitical areas. Let 'em know you care. Do it when it's not an election year."

And during his speech, D'Amato the master of realpolitik said: "You know why politicians run negative ads? Because they work. They do."

And so, before a single delegate did any business on the convention floor, they'd experienced the full D'Amato -- a force of political nature that sounded as welcome to his fans as Hurricane Isaac was not.