Sunday, April 1, 2007

Romney to the Rescue

Mitt Romney's Got the
Right Stuff for 2008

By Ronald Kessler

Mitt Romney was faced with a crisis in July 1996. The 14-year-old daughter of Robert Gay, a partner in Romney's new venture capital firm, Bain Capital, had disappeared. As it turned out, she had attended a rave party in New York City and had become high on ecstasy. Three days later, her distraught father had no idea where she was.

Romney took immediate action. He closed down the entire firm and asked all 30 partners and employees to fly to New York to try to find Gay's daughter.

Romney set up a command center in a conference room at the LaGuardia Marriott just outside Manhattan. He hired a private detective firm to assist with the search and established a toll-free number for tips, coordinating the effort with the New York City Police Department, but he still wasn't satisfied. He raced through his Rolodex and called everyone Bain did business with in New York. He asked them to help his company find their friend's missing daughter.

The company's accounting firm, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and its law firm, put up posters on street poles with a photo of the missing teenager. Cashiers at Duane Reade Pharmacies, which was owned by Bain Capital, put fliers in the bag of each shopper.

Romney and others from the Bain Capital posse trudged through every part of New York, even scouring Central Park, and talked with everyone they could - prostitutes, drug addicts - anyone who may have seen her. They also made rounds at the local nightclubs at 3 a.m., hoping someone somewhere could identify her.

The same day the Romney team came to New York, the hunt made the evening news. Television cameras showed photos of the girl and video of investment banker types prowling through Central Park.

The next day, a teenage boy she was with phoned in. He asked if there was a reward. But the boy got nervous and quickly hung up. Luckily, the police traced the call to a home in Montville Township, N.J.

Gay's daughter, when they found her in the basement of that home, was shivering through detox after a massive dose of ecstasy. Doctors later told Gay that he was indeed fortunate - his daughter probably would not have lasted another day.

"It was the most amazing thing, and I'll never forget this to the day I die," Gay says, adding of Romney's intervention, "I'm not sure we would have gotten her back without him."

It is often during a crisis that we gain insight into a person's real character. Romney's action demonstrated leadership, loyalty, and selflessness - attributes that Americans just might like to see in a president of the United States.

Reaganesque Demeanor

People say that Mitt Romney lights up a room. But there are all kinds of ways to light up a room - fluorescent, neon, sunlight, strobe. Romney alternates between sparkle and a warm, steady glow. He is not in your face. He is low-key, self-assured, and self-contained.

That could be a metaphor for Romney's candidacy. When the subject of the 2008 presidential election comes up, Republicans talk about the prospects of the obvious front-runners, Arizona Sen. John McCain and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. But they often end the conversation by saying, "You know, I really like Mitt Romney."

The fact that Massachusetts, where only 13 percent of registered voters are Republicans, could elect Romney governor by a five-point margin (50 percent versus 45 percent for his Democratic opponent) underscores his popularity among Republicans and Democrats alike.

In the coming months, Americans will be focusing on the candidates - and most of their initial impressions will be based on how the candidates come across on TV. In this media-driven age, Romney begins with a decisive advantage.

First, he has sensational good looks. People magazine named him one of the 50 most beautiful people in America. Standing 6 feet, 2 inches tall, Romney has jet-black hair, graying naturally at the temples. Women - who will play a critical role in this coming election - have a word for him: hot.

But it's more than good looks. In an hour-long NewsMax interview at Romney's Boston headquarters, the candidate is Reaganesque: a man with a sunny, positive disposition. On his desk he has a desk plate that states "America Is Never Stuck."

Sounding like a television character from the 1950s, he is not self-conscious about saying "gosh" or "my goodness."

Romney speaks with the effortless delivery of the best news anchors, making the 60-year-old "the un-Bush," according to Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform.

Similar to Bush, Romney has had a successful business career that made him a multimillionaire.

While running for the Senate in 1994, Romney filed a disclosure statement showing assets of $16 million to $25 million. In 1992 and 1993, he collected income of $6.8 million, including fees as a director of Staples and Marriott.

If elected president, he will have to disclose his tax returns but not his assets. He will not say how much he is worth today, but his net worth is likely well into the tens of millions.

"I'll have to ask my wife how much she's worth," Romney jokes.

With looks, charisma, money, and family all working for him, can anything hold Romney back?

Perhaps the lurking problem for him is the Mormon thing - "Mitt the Mormon," as Romney sardonically refers to the issue.

Despite the media fixation on his religion, it's difficult to find national evangelical leaders who openly oppose Romney on religious grounds. Not so liberal pundits.

Jacob Weisberg, editor of Slate, the online magazine owned by the Washington Post Co., had no compunctions about writing, "Romney's religion will become an issue with moderate and secular voters - and rightly so."

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