NEW YORK — The late spring sun and smell of trash assault my face as I open my eyes. I am lying down on hard concrete, and I can see the Manhattan skyline sideways.
I have a pounding headache, the result of a long night of drinking and bad decisions. I instinctively reach for my Blackberry to type out an apology note to any women or respected Maine moderates I may have accidentally harassed, but I find my pants pockets are empty.
A styrofoam cup is shoved in my face.
“Hair o’ the dog, Carlos!”
I know that voice. I will never forget that voice.
It’s vagrant Ohio Governor John Kasich.
I am sitting cross-legged beside a fire in a junkyard in Hunts Point, Bronx, a dirty hobo shawl wrapped around me as I sip purple children’s cough syrup from a styrofoam coffee cup. Around me are Gov. Kasich, his top strategists No Name and “Admiral” Joe, and a handful of winos here for a morning dose of politics and suboxone.
As a veteran reporter I’ve followed the Kasich juggernaut from their stunning 2nd place victory in the New Hampshire primary through their crushing win in Ohio to their heartbreaking loss in Wisconsin. In reporter-speak, that’s called access. And I’ve consumed enough gas station coffees and three-day-old bagels to get into Kasich’s inner circle. So it’s no surprise when the candidate addresses me by name.
“Carmel, we’re gonna go all the way here in the Big Windy,” says Kasich as he smashes an empty forty on the seawall. “50, 60… delegates…. yeah… we’re gonna own this tomato.”
“With Cruz forces in the north and Trump’s proxies triangulating their pincer movement, south-by-southeast, we can use a phalanx maneuver in a flank to victory,” says Admiral Joe, who has been retained by the Kasich campaign despite his numerous Stolen Valor scandals.
“Governor, we gotta git movin’!” avers No Name, cupping his ear in the direction of a distant siren. “I hear Johnny Law’s a-comin’!”
“Feets don’t fail me now!” screams Governor Kasich. “You comin’, Carlito?”
John Kasich ushers me into his New York campaign headquarters in the lobby of a Chase bank at 52nd St. and 8th Ave. Here, he and his top lieutenants huddle over an ATM about how to wrest control of the state from Donald Trump, the native son who has led by double-digit margins in every poll.
“Ol’ Donald’s good with the fast talk, but at the end of the day he’s the man dangling that sopping wet roast chicken in front of voters,” offers No Name. “You think the people are gonna take that?”
“What we got here is a vision of how America used to be,” Kasich chimes in. “People looked out for each other. There was a man in the middle of town, and he’d give you a dime if you asked nice. Later…he got into some stuff. Bad people, riverboat gamblers, those sorts….”
“Does everyone got their phones charged up?” asks Admiral Joe, interrupting the narrative-obsessed candidate.
Before the triage of vagrants can answer, a man in blue coveralls enters the premises.
“We’re opening up now, you guys gotta get out. I’m not gonna call the cops or nothing, but y’all can’t be here,” he says.
“We don’t want any trouble, friendo,” Kasich says with tempered authority.
There’s a touch of Reagan in Governor Kasich–he’s hard charging when it comes to certain things. With Reagan, it was air traffic controllers. With Kasich, it is bathroom usage in public facilities. But both also know when to cut their losses. Reagan pulled US troops out of Lebanon in 1983, and Kasich withdrew from the Chase lobby just now.
“We got a fundraiser, Carl! Cuyahoga Johnny’s got a whole routine,” Kasich brags to me as he picks up his campaign bindlestick and marches out of the bank.
The doors of the C subway train towards Euclid Avenue have just closed. John Kasich is standing at the back of this car, perfectly still and straight.
“Hello, ladies and gentlemen. My name is John Richard Kasich. I am 24 months sober from drugs and alcohol. I have two daughters. And I am running for President of the United States of America.”
None of the passengers on the train dare direct their eyes towards the derelict governor.
“But let me check my watch here,” Kasich looks at his naked wrist in a highly exaggerated fashion.
“I believe it’s SHOWTIME!”
Kasich produces a top hat and cane, and bursts into motion.
“Hello my baby
Hello my honey
Hello my showtime gaalllll
If you refuse me
Darling you’ll lose me
Ohio they choose me
Baby, I’m part of God’s plaaaannn
Take a chance, elect me
Oh please select me
Honey I’ll nuke Tehrannnnnn”
Kasich swings around the closest pole in a slow, jerking twirl that causes several passengers to leave their seats.
“Thank you! Thank you!” he shouts to a totally silent car. The former congressman removes his top hat and walks down the car, thrusting it at passengers.
“Anything helps, God bless you, bless you ma’am. Nothin’ today? That’s all right, God bless you.”
A few sympathetic passengers chuck some change in the hat. Kasich dances a little for them, but it serves to only amplify their discomfort.
The train stops, and a duo of young teenage boys board. They are carrying boxes of candy in their extended arms.
“If you want to help us go to camp, buy some candy. Keep kids off the street, buy some candy,” one says in monotone.
Kasich turns to No Name, red-faced. “Cruz’s people are trying to queer my deal again!”
“Hey, you dirty tricksters, a fella’s trying to make an honest buck!” Kasich shouts at the children.
“Hey man, we’re just trying to sell some candy. I don’t know what’s going on with you, but we’re not doing anything illegal,” one retorts.
“I’m the one not doing anything illegal!” shouts Kasich.
He makes a beeline towards the kid and tries to snatch the candy, but the entrepreneurial teen proves unusually strong. Kasich is on his heels, trying to drag away the candy with all his might. The kid remains firm.
“Admiral, No Name, get over here!”
The two chief architects of his presidential ambition hobble over and try to take the candy for the Kasich campaign. This would be a major coup for their ailing war chest, if added up with the coins in the governor’s hat.
The box gives, and M&Ms fly everywhere.
“Joe, you don’t know your own damned strength!” screams Kasich. “Now the law’s gonna be here any minute!”
Turning to the disinterested subway passengers, he screams: “Remember to vote John Kasich! God bless you all! Let’s scram!”
The three man bumble out of the car, almost leaving a cloud of dust in their wake as the teenage boys look quizzically at their jumbled confections.
It’s night time now, and Kasich’s advisors are begging the famously indefatigable candidate to go to bed. But John, hopped up on the high of campaigning and of methamphetamines, instead decides to do a jig in Times Square. A handful of tourists take photos and throw quarters at the Governor’s feet.
A man in an Elmo costume comes up to Kasich and screams in the Governor’s face, accusing him of infringing on his territory. Kasich, a believer in free markets, refuses to back down, yelling a stream of violent invective at Elmo.
“You’re a Goddamned red fool,” screams Governor Kasich, jabbing a gnarled finger into Elmo’s filthy costume. “This is a public square. A. Public. Square! You… you just have it out for me, don’t you!”
As Governor and Costumed Idiot have it out, I hear sirens in the distance. Suddenly an NYPD car pulls up next to Kasich, and two cops are interrogating him.
“What is your problem, sir?” says one big police officer, putting the weight of his body into Kasich’s face.
Kasich stutters and tries to respond but is cut off by the huge cop, who sneers, “This is a family area, sir. Not a place for crankheads. Let’s see those hands.”
Kasich overcomes the cop’s intimidating physicality to say, “I–I have a right to be here, as a citizen of the Constitution of these U.S.–ited States.”
No Name and Admiral Joe duck, trembling, behind a falafel cart. The Governor looks to me with eyes that seem to say, “Please, Carl, please tell them I’m a serious Presidential candidate,” but as an impartial reporter I fear I cannot interfere. Either way Kasich’s fate is sealed when another NYPD car rolls up, and out struts a five foot eight Irishman whirling a billyclub.
“Ay, jay-sus! What’s the commotion here, then? Ol’ Johnny Kasich causin’ trouble, Faith and Begorra!”
“We ain’t doing nothing illegal, Commissioner Bratton,” pleads Kasich, attempting diplomacy.
“If it weren’t for me Colleen at home tendin’ to Eamon, Mary-Beth, John Paul, Kathleen, Peter John, John Peter, Kathleen 3, and Stevie-Joe, I’d be layin’ a beatin’ upon the ole Kasich boys. Yees are conspiring for one of yee hobo grifts, isn’t ye?”
“I’m not Cuyahoga Johnny no more, sir. Those days are passed. I been off the stuff three whole months, and if you give me any trouble, I’ll ring up my half-brother. He’s a paralegal.”
“There shan’t be nary a peep of the courts now, Johnny.”
No Name and Admiral Joe look at each other and register a comically audible gulp between themselves. Nodding, they sprint in the opposite direction.
“Ah jeez, ah, we’re not doing anything illegal, boys. Ah, phooey!” mumbles Kasich.
“Yee shoulda hoofed it with your boyos there, Johnny. Yees about to get taken for a ride, now.”
Bratton unceremoniously grabs a hold of Kasich, who immediately starts shouting about his sovereignty and Bratton’s lack of authority. It’s of no use, as Bratton kicks him into the back of his squad car.
“Carlito, they’re gonna toss me in a ditch!” cries the Governor. “This is a Midnight Ride, Carla!”
Kasich’s pleas echo in my head like the painful hangover from the morning.
“Carly!” he screams from the back of the cop car. “Carly you gotta tell ’em! Tell ’em you know me! I’m beggin’ ya, Carlo! Please!”
As a journalist, I cannot interfere with the legal process. But when I returned home, I got a collect call on my Blackberry. It was Kasich–they dropped him in Essex County, New Jersey, “just to get [him] outta city limits.” When I asked what the meaning of all this was, I was told, “Bratton has it out for me.”
I don’t know what his next play is. Kasich has had numerous shortfalls in New York, both in campaigning and the law. Still, the wily pol may already be en route to a win in upstate New York, where communities of opiate-abusing congenital DUI-sufferers offer a refreshing dose of familiarity for the Ohioan.
Stay tuned for how I see the New York primary playing out tomorrow!
Carl “The Dig” Diggler has covered national politics for 30 years, and is the author of “Think-ocracy: The Rise Of The Brainy Congressman”. Got a question for the Dig? E-mail him at [email protected] or Tweet to @carl_diggler.
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