For candidates, it's old school ties that bind
WASHINGTON — Stanislaw Maliszewski of Chicago, Princeton University class of '66, is a Republican, and he played football, not basketball, for the school.
But he's a Bill Bradley man - raising money for his fellow Princetonian's presidential campaign. He's done cocktail parties, and events on the East Coast and in his hometown of Davenport, Iowa, a key early nominating state in the 2000 election.
"I've tapped into the Princeton network around the country, anybody with $1,000, anybody that knows me - nobody's safe!" he says.
Former New Jersey Senator Bradley has presented a far more formidable challenge to Vice President Al Gore for the Democratic nomination than most pundits anticipated, partly a result of his secret fund-raising weapon: the Princeton connection.
In candidates' efforts to tap into any networks they can, college ties often prove a good place to start. No hard figures were available from any campaign that show how much college connections have contributed to the bottom line, but political analysts say Sen. John McCain of Arizona, for instance, has been helped by the intense loyalty of his fellow US Naval Academy graduates.
Moreover, Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Mr. Gore have leaned on undergrad Ivy League connections at Yale and Harvard to fill their war chests.
For Bradley, his network of Princeton fund-raisers, donors, and campaign workers goes well beyond people he knew at the school when he was there from 1961 to 1965. He's attracting young Princeton grads, male and female, including former students of renowned literature professor John McPhee, who immortalized Bradley in his 1965 book "A Sense of Where You Are."
Still, says Mr. Maliszewski, Princeton grads' pride in Bradley is "not a 100 percent Bill Bradley phenomenon. It's a Princeton phenomenon."
Ironically, in speeches Bradley has played down the role Princeton played in forging who he is, highlighting instead his 10 years in the National Basketball Association.
But Bradley's people knew from the start Princeton would be important. As the underdog challenging a sitting vice president, Bradley has found many political fund-raising sources unavailable. "We couldn't raise from the usual Democratic lists," says Bradley finance director Rick Wright, class of '64 and a former college basketball teammate.
"I'd go into various cities and try to find leaders from different parts of the community, outside of the political arena - the arts, teaching, business, labor," he says. "And there was always a Princeton group."
A spokesman for the other Princeton graduate in the race - publisher Steve Forbes, class of '70 and a member of the university's board of trustees - says raising money from Princetonians "hasn't been a big focus." But then, Mr. Forbes's campaign is largely self-financed, and he is fighting with Princeton right now over the hiring of a controversial bioethics professor.
For some Princetonians working the phones for Bradley, though, campaign 2000 is nothing less than an Ivy League showdown: Princeton vs. Gore's Harvard and Bush's Yale. Of those three, Princeton is by far the smallest school (6,000 students to Yale's 11,000 and Harvard's 17,500) and has gone the longest without putting a graduate in the White House. The last was President Woodrow Wilson. President John F. Kennedy began at Princeton, but finished at Harvard.
When asked where the Naval Academy fit into this picture, McCain spokesman Howard Opinsky quipped, "Nowhere! If anything, it's still 'Beat Army!' "
What makes Bradley's Princeton connection more compelling to some is the fact that he did the school great honor while there - as an all-American basketball player, a member of the Olympic basketball team, and a top student. None of the other candidates can boast that kind of performance; Mr. Bush and Senator McCain slid through college with mediocre grades.
In a fund-raising letter to members of Yale's class of '68, the section about Bush's time at the school focuses on his personality: "George had more friends - and moved in a wider circle of our fellow classmates - than anyone we know."
For Bradley, his 35-year friendship with Professor McPhee has borne continuing fruit. At least two campaign staffers were McPhee students who met Bradley through their teacher.
In the end, though, not all Princeton grads are so politically loyal to their famous fellow grad. Gerald Parsky - a friend of Bradley's from the class of '64 - is chairman of the Bush campaign in California.
"I think Bill Bradley is a good and honorable person," he says, "but I just happen to think Bush will make a better president."
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society