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The Best Political Piece of the Year
I’m not sure what it says that GQ is quickly becoming a go-to blog about politics, but it is. Larry Platt, the editor of Philadelphia magazine, briefly ran for Congress last year in suburban Philadelphia before dropping out. Why did he drop out? Not because he couldn’t win–but because he could. It’s so far the best political piece I have read this year.
Consider this account of his meeting with House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, whom he has to persuade to support him, after getting support from local Congressman Bob Brady:
Mr. Platt Goes to Washington
Steny Hoyer, the House Majority Leader, is a serious, formal man. He’s not the kind of guy you want to drink a beer with. He’s more the kind of guy who oversees the licensing of those who would serve you beer.
[County Party Chair Marcel] Groen and I had come down to D.C. to schmooze national party leaders. So here I was, sitting on a sofa in Hoyer’s spacious Capitol Hill office. After introductory pleasantries, there was an awkward silence. I decided to fill it with my by-now practiced routine. “When you’re a journalist,” I began, “you’re on the sidelines. At some point, you want to get in the game.”
I paused. Hoyer didn’t jump in.
I babbled on. I pulled out a Bobby Kennedy quote. Hoyer was impassive. I talked about how I knew the Sixth District to be politically moderate and yet populist. Nada. I said that if elected, I would refuse the House’s health coverage. Zip. I made the mistake of saying a local radio talk-show host, Michael Smerconish, a well-known Republican, has his finger on the pulse of my district: fiscally conservative, tough on terror, libertarian on social issues. At which point my chaperone, Groen, interrupted: “Well, he’s a bit conservative to our liking, but what Larry’s saying is there’s an opening against Gerlach in terms of the war on terror.” With this, Groen saved me from appearing to actually like a Republican. (Little did I know that inside the way-too-partisan Beltway, that’s a capital offense.)
When I was done, Hoyer leaned forward and dispensed his words of wisdom. “If Bob Brady vouches for you, that’s good enough for me,” he said.
Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees.
Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses.
Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.
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