Kerry comes to New Canaan
By Louis Porter
May 22, 2004
NEW CANAAN -- After his 20-car motorcade cleared the Merritt Parkway at rush hour, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry swept into town yesterday for a celebrity-filled fund-raiser at the home of Paul Simon and his wife, Edie Brickell.
The fund-raiser, which included "Saturday Night Live" creator Lorne Michaels and actors Richard Gere and Chevy Chase, was estimated to have netted $1 million for Kerry and the Democratic National Committee, who are working feverishly to catch up to the Republicans in donations.
Last night might be Kerry's only presidential campaign visit to Connecticut, a party official said, given that the state is expected vote strongly for the Democrat.
The several hundred attendees, who each gave more than $2,000, are the kind of contributors Kerry, a U.S. senator from Massachusetts, needs as he tries to overcome the fund-raising lead of President Bush and the Republicans.
"The Republicans have twice as much money as we do," Kerry told the crowd.
Still, his campaign has already surpassed the $80 million mark it hoped to reach by the July convention, Kerry said. Kerry is considering delaying accepting the Democratic nomination so he can continue to raise and spend private contributions.
Bush has spent a record $126 million in his re-election bid so far.
"They have money, but we have something much more important," Kerry told the crowd.
"Brains," someone in the crowd yelled back.
"I'm not touching that," Kerry responded, laughing.
The Kerry speech and fund-raiser were held in a large tent behind the singer-songwriters' secluded New Canaan house.
"I particularly want to thank him for doing something that not everyone who has gained celebrity and success has done," Kerry said. "Democracy doesn't just work because you watch it. It works because you get engaged in it."
Kerry told reporters on his campaign plane that Simon said he and Art Garfunkel would perform together in support of Kerry later this year, The Associated Press reported.
Simon has played music at several political benefits in his long career, including for presidential candidate and U.S. Sen. George McGovern in 1972. But last night, as his children played around the feet of his guests, Simon spoke instead of singing.
"This is the most crucial presidential election since the days of Vietnam," Simon said. "The country is polarized with emotion over who we are and where we are going as a people."
"Senator Kerry will have to bring together the wisdom of a statesman and the valor of a warrior tempered by the tolerance and compassion that are at the core of Western civilization."
"This administration has run the most irresponsible, reckless, inept and ideological foreign policy in American history," Kerry said.
But for most of his half-hour-long speech in New Canaan, Kerry stressed domestic issues. The Bush administration has cost the country jobs, reduced financial aid for college students and protected corporations out-sourcing labor overseas, he said.
"The people I have been meeting all across the country. . . they are scared, they are working harder than ever, they are working two and three jobs to get ahead," he said.
Kerry promised to "rekindle the spirit of America, which is a can-do country."
"We are not creating the jobs we were in the 1990s," he said.
Instead of subsidizing moving jobs overseas through the tax code he would offer a 5 percent corporate tax rate for the vast majority of companies if they sought to keep jobs here.
He asked the guests drinking wine and beer on the lawn behind Simon's white-painted brick house to not only give money, but convince the Republicans they know to change their votes.
"This race is not about parties," he said. "It's about mainstream common sense values."
Actors and musicians were joined by many Connecticut Democratic leaders, including Westport First Selectwoman Diane Farrell, who is running against U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Bridgeport, this fall; State Sen. Andrew McDonald, D-Stamford; and Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz, who is expected to run for governor.
State Attorney General Richard Blumenthal introduced Simon.
"Tonight is one of the high points of my political career," he said. This is "a man who I have long admired, although he is not an elected official."
Copyright © 2004, Southern Connecticut Newspapers, Inc.