The Magazine


Aug 2, 1999, Vol. 4, No. 43 • By TUCKER CARLSON
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Forbes won't have to take calls from Al D'Amato anymore. But he still hasn't retracted his endorsement of George W. Bush. Nor, apart from the usual talking points about Republican extremism, has he explained why, exactly, he switched parties. A high-level Democratic staffer who has spoken extensively with Forbes says two events pushed him over the edge. First was a speech that Rep. Tom DeLay gave shortly after the shootings at Columbine High School. In it, DeLay seemed to blame day-care programs for producing a generation of violent children. "That upset Forbes a great deal," says the staffer, "especially since his own kids had been through day care. He thought it was out of touch." The second event occurred just four days before Forbes switched parties, when Republicans sponsored a non-binding resolution condemning sexual relations between adults and children. Like just about everyone else in the House, Forbes voted for the resolution. At the same time, explains the Democratic staffer, he was disgusted by Republican grandstanding. "He said, 'Of course [pedophilia] is bad. But should we really be talking about this?'"

LaCourse remembers Forbes's reaction differently. The pedophilia vote was held on a Monday, which forced Forbes to return to Washington earlier than usual. Forbes was infuriated by the time he got to Washington, yelling at his chief of staff when he arrived. "He's very lazy," says LaCourse. "He just hated coming in."

After this fall, Forbes may never have to come in again. His district -- mostly Suffolk Country, at the Hamptons end of Long Island -- is largely Republican. By switching parties, Forbes has guaranteed himself a tough general-election race. But he may also face a primary challenge. For months, Tony Bullock, the 42-year-old chief of staff to retiring New York senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, has been mulling a run for Forbes's seat. Bullock held various elected offices in the district for more than a decade, beginning in 1983. He is smart and well connected, and he loathes Mike Forbes. "Intellectually, he's a lightweight," Bullock says. "He's a person with very little basic decency."

Worse, Bullock claims, Forbes is still a conservative. "Mike Forbes is pro-life, pro-impeachment, proassault weapon, pro-Bush," Bullock says. "My phone has practically melted the past few days from Suffolk County Democrats calling to say, 'My God. I'm not going to work for this guy. I'm not going to vote for him.'" Party strategists at the DCCC, Bullock claims, didn't learn anything about the politics of the district before encouraging Forbes to become a Democrat. "The geniuses who thought this up should have done the research," Bullock says. Instead, "they may have gone to the Hamptons once for the weekend. . . . They're running a dead animal for this slot."

Staff at the DCCC, meanwhile, dismiss Bullock as a malcontent who will never find the courage to challenge Forbes. Bullock may or may not run, but some of his points are harder to dismiss. How, for instance, will the state party run Forbes alongside its presumed Senate candidate, Hillary Clinton? "How can he stand there next to Mrs. Clinton," Bullock asks, "with his George W. Bush pin and his pro-life record?" And how will Forbes explain away his long association with Dov Hikind, the hotheaded Brooklyn assemblyman who has repeatedly denounced Mrs. Clinton for her "love affair with Yasser Arafat"?

It's not clear that Forbes thought about any of this before he took the plunge. None of his former staffers seems to have any idea why he switched parties, though many mention that he had been acting odder than usual in recent months. "He's bi-polar," says one. "I think the clinical term is manic-depressive," says Jeff LaCourse. "All his behavior is weird. This is just the culmination of it."

Tony Bullock has never worked for Forbes, but he sees the same pattern. "It's a desperate act of selfimmolation," Bullock says. "He's a few fries short of a Happy Meal."

Tucker Carlson is a staff writer at THE WEEKLY STANDARD.