Alan Grayson Isn't Taking Any Crap From Anyone
You Got a Problem With That? The GOP and its bloc of supporters do, setting up a fight over the progressive Democrat’s re-election bid. But the congressman from Florida’s 8th District thinks he just may be the ‘lunatic’ voters are looking for.
“There is no reason a Democrat has to be a weakling,” says Rep. Alan Grayson, photographed here in his Washington, D.C., office in March.
Photo By Norma Lopez Molina
His Capitol Hill suite in the House of Representatives’ Longworth Office Building is modest, pretty much what you’d expect of a freshman member of the majority party, with upscale but institutional furnishings that include an imposingly big desk and a half-dozen padded chairs.
What’s different is the vibe, exponentially above the humdrum business of constituent services, federal grant applications, legislative policy, and meetings with lobbyists and visitors from his home district. There’s an electricity, a palpable buzz throughout the warren of rooms, like a hive of agitated bees. In a given day, amid the floor votes and committee meetings, anything can happen here: interview requests from MSNBC or CNN, a lunch with former Democratic honcho Howard Dean, an unscheduled visit from filmmaker Michael Moore, coffee with ’70s folk rocker Carole King. Calls come in from powerful congressional figures, including House Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the Democrats’ chief campaign strategist.
Clearly, this office isn’t occupied by some small-bore, parochial-minded first-term congressman. Instead, its tenant has played a critical role in passing several pieces of high-powered legislation related to health care, financial reform, defense procurement and promoting tourism in the United States, while also steering millions of dollars in new federal spending to his Orlando district. Along the way, he has turned into a provocateur and easily one of the most outspoken figures in Washington, fearlessly firing a withering barrage of criticism and insults at whomever he pleases.
As the brass plate outside the door announces, this is the office of Alan Grayson, of Florida’s 8th District. It could just as well proclaim, as Grayson himself likes to say, borrowing some lyrics from a Billy Joel song: Inside “Just may be the lunatic you’re looking for.”
The Honorable Alan Grayson has been called, among other things, unhinged, nuts and one fry short of a Happy Meal. His ascent to fame—or infamy, depending on your viewpoint—occurred on the afternoon of Sept. 29, 2009, the day Grayson walked onto the House floor in the midst of the health-care debate and, his voice dripping with sarcasm, said, “If you get sick, America, the Republican health-care plan is this: Die quickly! That’s right. The Republicans want you to die quickly if you get sick.”
That performance became the talk of the nation, splashed over newscasts, blogs, Drudge, Chris Matthews’ Hardball. It was blood-red meat and everybody was devouring it in his own way: YouTube suddenly had a new star, progressive Democrats a new hero and Republicans a new target to line up in the political crosshairs for the midterm election.
A virtual unknown in Congress until then, the former Washington, D.C.-based trial lawyer was on a roll and he didn’t let up. Among other incendiary remarks he would call a female former lobbyist a “K Street whore,’’ say that former Vice President Dick Cheney should “STFU” (an abbreviation for a vulgar form of “shut up’’), and call Republicans “foot-dragging, knuckle-dragging Neanderthals’’ as well as compare them to al-Qaeda terrorists. Most often, these pronouncements were delivered with a smirk from beneath somewhat sinister arched eyebrows, the countenance of a smart aleck.
Not surprisingly, Grayson’s blasts unleashed political firestorms, not that he thinks he got burned by them.
“Is it a necessary element of this job that I take shit from people?” he asks. “No one gets a free pass if they attack me. I don’t think it’s beneficial to turn the other cheek. There is no reason a Democrat has to be a weakling.”
So, is this the lunatic we’ve been looking for?
“I like the fact that he is well-educated. I believe he knows what he’s talking about,’’ says constituent David Van Zandt, a lifelong Orlando resident who trained as an electrician but enrolled at UCF to study law when the economy slowed. “In person, he was refreshing, exactly the same person you see on TV, very consistent.” Seeing Grayson on TV, says Van Zandt, who joined the congressman’s re-election campaign as a volunteer, “makes me feel good. He does have some polarizing views, but he represents my views entirely. I like to see someone who has a brain talking for us.’’
Local political veteran Linda Chapin offers more qualified support. “Voters respond to what they perceive to be authenticity,” says Chapin, former chairman (now called mayor) of Orange County and an unsuccessful Democratic candidate, in 2000, for the seat Grayson now holds. “He’s totally upfront about what he believes. Even if you don’t agree with him, you appreciate that. People are desperate for that quality—that takes him beyond his natural base.” Then she adds, “About a third of the time I’d like to shake him by the shoulders and say, ‘What were you thinking?!’ Some seasoning will make him an even better congressman.”
Then there are those who can barely stand the mention of Grayson’s name.
“Alan Grayson has been a disgrace to Central Florida,’’ says Matt Falconer, who in April got into a shouting match with Grayson–at a Perkins restaurant of all places–when the congressman crashed a meeting of the local Republican Party.
“The 8th District is predominantly conservative, and he is perhaps the most liberal member of the U.S. Congress,’’ says Falconer, a candidate in the Aug. 24 primary for Orange County mayor. “His politics do not at all represent the goals of Central Florida. Alan Grayson represents himself, not his constituents. Politics aside, his demeanor and his rude comments to his own constituents make him unfit to represent us in the House.”
Like Falconer, Mary Lewis, a retiree from The Villages, abhors Grayson’s politics and personality. “He’s a very foul-mouthed and angry person,” says Lewis, who showed up with about 100 Tea Party activists to picket a downtown Orlando fundraiser for Grayson in February. “I cannot understand how anybody voted for him, how he got in that position. . . . He believes in big government. He’s destroying our health care system.”
The thinking among Republicans and conservatives like Falconer and Lewis is that the 52-year-old Grayson, who was unopposed in the primary, is so ideologically and temperamentally out of sync with his district that he’ll be washed away this fall in the expected GOP tsunami. But some political observers aren’t so sure. “He doesn’t play defense—he wins with offense,” says Aubrey Jewett, an associate professor of political science at the University of Central Florida. “I’ve rarely seen him on his heels.”
In late July, The Rothenberg Political Report, a D.C.-based, nonpartisan newsletter that handicaps House and Senate races, rated the 8th District a “tossup, tilting Republican.” However, its editor, Stuart Rothenberg, an independent political analyst, cautions that “no one should underestimate Alan Grayson. We do find that people like him energize their base. The crowded GOP primary is just what the doctor ordered for Alan. He’s the kind of guy who will do what he needs to do” to win.
(At presstime, before the Aug. 24 primary, seven Republicans were vying for their party’s nomination. Among the GOP candidates were former state Sen. Daniel Webster, attorney Todd Long, businessman Bruce O’Donoghue and state Rep. Kurt Kelly.)
Political pundit Craig Crawford, who grew up in Orlando and went on to work as Washington bureau chief for the Orlando Sentinel, describes Grayson as an odd fit for the 8th District, saying, “I’m continually amazed that one of the most fearless liberal congressmen on Capitol Hill represents Central Florida.”
Crawford, now a regular face on political talk shows as well as an author and columnist for Congressional Quarterly, says Grayson’s fate at the polls may hinge on whether he can make the case that he has brought home the bacon to the 8th District, controversy notwithstanding. If he can convince constituents that he is as much of a workhorse as he is a show horse, says Crawford, “that’s a powerful combination.”
Grayson likes to say that Democrats can’t beat a Republican by running as a Republican. But he acknowledges that a Democrat can beat a Republican by campaigning like a Republican: spending lots of money, launching negative attacks and rallying his base. All of which he fully intends to do as the general election draws nearer.
Ousting Grayson won’t be easy, or cheap. By July, he had raised more than $3.5 million from donors around the country, and he still has a personal fortune he could tap, as he did in past campaigns, if need be. Meanwhile, his closest GOP rival in fundraising, O’Donoghue, had raised about $530,000, with $75,000 of that coming from a loan, as Republican candidates in their primary race fought each other for campaign cash.
There’s no doubt that Grayson’s own wealth helped propel him to victory in the last election—in addition to his aggressive campaign tactics.
First, he dispatched the Democrats’ hand-picked hopeful, Charlie Stuart, in the 2008 party primary. Stuart seemed to be the perfect candidate: He was an affable centrist, home grown, married to the same woman for decades, with deep roots in the community and a large family prominent in local politics and civic affairs. He was a member of First Baptist Church of Orlando, and his brothers included an Orlando city commissioner, a former state senator and the head of the local chamber of commerce.
Grayson was Stuart’s polar opposite—an abrasive, Harvard-educated lawyer and a left-wing Jew who was a relative newcomer to Orlando. And yet Grayson nearly beat Stuart in the 2006 primary as a late entry (contributing $675,000 of the $730,146 spent in the losing effort), and trounced him in their Democratic rematch two years later. After that, thanks to a brilliant field operation, hundreds of dedicated volunteers, dramatic TV commercials, sophisticated polling and, most critically, Barack Obama’s coattails, Grayson went on to beat Republican incumbent Ric Keller and become the unlikely representative of a Sunbelt swing district. Of the $3.2 million Grayson spent in the primary and general election, $2.62 million came from personal contributions and loans.
Embedded in his victory over Keller, however, was the hint of a failing that would return to haunt Grayson in the months that followed—a tendency to take his rhetoric a half-step too far, and in the process undermine his message as well as his credibility. In his health care remarks on the House floor, Grayson charged that the number of Americans who died each year as a result of not having health insurance was a “holocaust.” That reference upset Jewish leaders, prompting Grayson to apologize for his choice
of words. (Three weeks later, he would apologize for the “K Street whore” remark.)
In May, he suggested in an interview aired on WFTV-Channel 9 that putting Republicans back in control of Congress would be like putting al-Qaeda terrorists at the controls of jetliners.
An official with a group that monitors liberal bias in the media got so worked up recently over Grayson chastising Republicans for opposing an extension of unemployment benefits that he offered $100 to the first member of the House who punches the Orlando congressman in the nose.
Dan Gainor, vice president of the Media Research Center, claimed in late July that the offer he made via Twitter was a
joke, but added he would “love to see the video” of Grayson getting slugged.
Grayson responded in pugilistic fashion: “I punch back.”
The day after Gainor’s “joke,” Grayson claimed someone called his office and said, “10 people are going to kill the congressman within 24 hours.” The two episodes were fresh material for Grayson to whip up support for his re-election, citing them as right-wing bullying tactics in a social media blitz seeking campaign contributions. Grayson’s constant use of such Internet sites as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have made him a celebrity politician, garnering tens of thousands of followers (see “The Viral Congressman,” page 47).
Grayson seems to enjoy his national profile as one of the most recognized Democrats, outside of Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. “We’ve shown people how much fun it can be to be a Democrat,” he says. “We’re the ‘party’ party. Why can’t we have fun? We can make a point, and make a difference, but still have a good time.’’
His crusade against the GOP isn’t limited to Washington. In early April, Grayson received a Republican flier boasting that one of its operatives had infiltrated a grassroots Democratic organizing session and that he intended to report on it to a Thursday evening meeting of the Orange County Republican Committee at a Perkins restaurant near Grayson’s Windermere-area house. As it happened, Grayson had been invited to a homeowners’ association meeting scheduled for the same restaurant at the same time.
So, flier in hand, Grayson walked into the Republican gathering and promptly got into an argument—captured on at least one cell phone camera and uploaded to YouTube—with Falconer. Brushing aside Grayson’s complaints about Nixon-style dirty tricks, Falconer demanded that Grayson apologize to Orange County Republican Party Chairman Lew Oliver for what he said about him in an e-mail: “Oliver couldn’t find his rear end with both hands, unless there was a twenty-dollar bill sticking out of it.” The closest Grayson will come to admitting the restaurant confrontation was an error is grudging and oblique: “I don’t think that was the best use of my time—because I didn’t get answers.”
What makes Alan Grayson take the offensive? Or be so offensive, in the minds of many?
Go to graysonforcongress.com and you’ll find a possible clue. There, in a bio of the legislator, next to a photo of him, his wife and five kids, is this nugget:
“At the age of 11, a bully threw him under a moving bus. He lived.’’
Grayson is fond of recounting that anecdote from his childhood in the Bronx. But he won’t really say if that accounts, in part, for his combative manner. Ask Grayson to reflect on his character or his fame, and you essentially get a shrug, with a clever comeback, of course:
“I don’t know what to tell you, except that the second quarter-century of my life has been somewhat more eventful than the first quarter-century. I don’t recall any interview requests at my law school graduation ceremony.
“I had a sled, but it was not named ‘Rosebud.’ ’’
Unquestionably, Grayson has a trial lawyer’s instinct for the jugular and the self-confidence of a surgeon in finding it. But for all his tough talk, he also could serve as the patron saint of the nation’s chess and math club nerds: Grayson was in both groups in high school and on his trips abroad often seeks out locals who are chess enthusiasts. He is a lifelong fan of science fiction, from the complete works of Philip K. Dick and Robert Heinlein to Battlestar Galactica and Futurama. In more than six hours of face-to-face interviews, he is relaxed, often self-deprecating in his humor, never dodging a question. He often tears up, especially when discussing the sacrifices his parents made for him or the guilt he feels while being away from his family.
He has a restless, omnivorous mind, and like many successful politicians he is a tireless self-promoter. But Grayson brushes aside supporters’ claims that he is some kind of political rock star, pointing out that it is an unlikely rock star who can neither sing nor dance.
At times Grayson can be reflective and even philosophical: “It is more than fair to say that I do not suffer fools gladly. . . . I think I’ve made some mistakes, and I freely admit that some of these may be rooted in my character. But I think we’re getting better.”
Noted Orlando trial lawyer Mark NeJame, a friend as well as a supporter of Grayson, acknowledges that his southwest Orange County neighbor is “a passionate person who’s not afraid to take on people or causes he believes are wrong. He absolutely becomes outraged when he sees waste and fraud. Does he get intense when he talks about these things? Sure.”
Still, NeJame wishes people who know the congressman only from controversial sound bites could see the human, private side. “The Alan Grayson I know doesn’t just talk about family values, he lives them. He’s an incredibly dedicated family man, a loving and doting father and husband. . . . He’s a funny guy. . . . If some of his critics could see that side of him they would realize their criticism is misplaced.”
Ira Hoffman has known Grayson since they both clerked at the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington in the 1980s, later becoming law partners. “He’s always had this good heart for the underdog, the less privileged. . . . He liked to do good deeds,” often spontaneously, says Hoffman, like buying pricey tickets to athletic events for his friends.
Once, Grayson decided that his firm should hold an office retreat in Iceland, and he says he paid for employees’ families to attend. That destination isn’t as strange as it might seem when you take into account Grayson’s world travels include a “vacation” in lawless Somalia, in 2007.
As the senior partner of the firm, Grayson had little tolerance for young attorneys who did not meet his standards. But, recalls Hoffman, “He didn’t like firing anybody because it would cause hardship.” Instead, Grayson would give underperformers less work to do so they would have more time to find another job.
These days, some of his staffers, interns and volunteers who fall short of his expectations report having their heads ripped off or new orifices created. “When he thinks that you cross him, he screams at you,” says one of those cast aside.
“He has no tolerance for people who fall short of his idea of perfection.”
A few suggest that their boss is an erratic control freak. Anything can set him off, like someone talking on a cell phone in the back seat of the car while he is on his own phone in the front seat. Once he blew his top when the staff rented a car for a local parade, rather than using Grayson’s own Sebring convertible—the same kind of car driven by the narcissistic boss Michael Scott in the early seasons of the TV sitcom The Office.
When it comes to official biographies and campaign materials, most politicians gild the lily to some extent, and Grayson is no exception. One version on his website paints his life and career as a cross between Charles Dickens and Horatio Alger. But rather than living in “tenements” in the Bronx, Grayson actually grew up in very respectable and safe high-rise public housing. It was a tough neighborhood, yet no drug-infested slum. He was sickly as a child, although there is debate today even within his family about whether the illness was life threatening, as the bio states. Grayson did work his way through Harvard, Harvard Law School and the Kennedy School of Government—doing everything from cleaning dorm toilets to writing for a local alternative weekly paper—in part because his parents’ combined income as public-school teachers made him ineligible for a full, need-based scholarship.
And for all the acclaim his whistle-blower suits against defense contractors like KBR and Custer Battles have earned him—including a laudatory profile in a 2007 issue of Vanity Fair—it is unclear how much, if any, money his Washington, D.C., law firm has actually cleared, and how much of the billions of dollars allegedly defrauded from the government has been returned to the U.S. Treasury.
Grayson lists his net worth with the Clerk of the House at between $34 million and $78 million. He declines to detail the source of his wealth, but part of it apparently came from stock he owned in a telecom startup called IDT, founded by childhood friends in 1992 and sold to AT&T in 1998 for $1 billion. Grayson says he became a minority stockholder in exchange for managerial (he was listed as president for a year) and legal services to the company.
Even with all of his money, however, Grayson doesn’t live as conspicuously grand as his over-the-top character would lead you to believe. Although he can certainly afford better, he insists on buying his suits at Central Florida warehouse stores. His few sartorial indulgences include dozens of pairs of exotic cowboy boots and a collection of outlandish ties, including a reproduction of Vincent van Gogh’s “Starry Night” in Halloween colors.
Grayson, his Philippine-born wife, Lolita, and their five children, ranging in age from 5 to 15, live in a beige, 5,300-square-foot, 12-room, stucco house with a red tile roof, a circular driveway out front and two tennis courts on an adjoining lot. Their house, purchased for $1 million in 2005, is not in a gated community and is in proportion to the neighborhood. The only hints of the home belonging to anyone out of the ordinary on this affluent street are the old, white stretch limo and the 1981 DeLorean parked out back.
Grayson’s children walk to public schools, and his home phone number is listed. His home office is just inside the front door, lined with African and Caribbean masks—hung near the ceiling to keep out of reach of his younger children—and stuffed with books and other artifacts from his extensive world travels.
As his Harvard education may affirm, Grayson is supremely confident in his intellectual aptitude. Still, he does not display the need to demonstrate that he is the smartest guy in the room–although that may just be another mask like those on the
home office wall.
Though it’s been more than 18 months since he moved to Washington to serve in the House, there are still unpacked boxes on the floor of Grayson’s congressional office. Framed articles about the congressman—most from his time suing defense contractors—line one wall, facing half-empty shelves with books stacked on their side and photos waiting to be hung. Scattered on other shelves are knick-knacks, including a small shofar—a ram’s horn used in Jewish observances—and two blue ceramic coffee cups. On the wall behind Grayson, and on his desk, are photos of his family and his mother, now retired from teaching. On the door jamb is a mezuzah, the small container of prayers and scripture Jews set by their front doors.
Over the years, as an old, framed photo on one shelf dramatically demonstrates, Grayson has given himself a slow-motion makeover: Lasik eye surgery to ditch his aviator glasses, braces to close the gap in his front teeth, and periodic dieting to maintain his trim, 6-foot-4 frame. Before the 2008 campaign, he shaved off the bushy, black goatee that gave him a sinister Faustian look. Despite this transformation, he’s still no matinee idol. His short dark hair is thinning and, when the TV lights come on, his large, pasty, potato-shaped face is given to sweating, not unlike the American president he most reviles, Richard Nixon. (With his naturally hunched shoulders, Grayson can imitate Nixon to perfection.)
Throughout the day, an aide sticks his or her head in the office to let Grayson know that a floor vote is imminent. Together they gather his black rolling suitcase and head down the hall to the elevators and the underground tram that carries him to the House chamber. Sometimes, Grayson walks with a lumbering gait. His posture is stiff and slightly bent forward, a result of longstanding back trouble. Other times, he takes small, careful, almost mincing steps, as if to avoid toppling over.
From the gallery, he is easy to spot, towering over most other members. On the floor, which is barely organized chaos in the March week leading up to the climactic vote on the Obama health care plan, Grayson casts his votes and then works the chamber, buttonholing other liberal Democrats to become co-sponsors of his own single-payer health plan, the “Medicare You Can Buy Into Act.”
Grayson navigates the House floor like a geeky candidate for student council, but instead of petitions on a clipboard he carries copies of his legislation clutched to his chest with his right hand. Gesturing with his left, he assiduously scans the seats in search of likely candidates to sign his proposal. When the floor empties after the voting, Grayson remains with a handful of legislators, reluctant to lose any opportunity to advance his latest initiative.
Certainly, Grayson has grabbed headlines with the most utopian of those efforts, including the “War is Making You Poor Act,” which would cut funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and at the same time eliminate federal income tax on individuals earning less that $35,000 a year and couples making less than $70,000. But he’s also proved that he’s an expert in politics as usual—namely bringing truckloads of political pork to the district. And he’s proud of having done a fine job of it in only his first term.
“I have no trouble making the assertion that I know how to spend that money better than some bureaucrat in Washington, D.C., who’s never been in the district,” says Grayson, who has a full-time federal grants administrator on his staff.
He got $400,000 for the Orlando Housing Authority, and steered $5 million from the Department of Defense to Florida Hospital’s Nicholson Center for Surgical Advancement to further research in civilian and military uses of robotic surgery. At a town meeting on the hospitality industry, held at UCF’s Rosen School of Hospitality Management, U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke praised Grayson as a leading force in getting the “Travel Promotion Act” passed in Congress through a complicated legislative procedure that included bouncing the bill back and forth between the House and Senate. Signed into law by President Obama, the legislation creates a marketing fund to promote the United States as a travel destination for foreigners.
Always a quick study, Grayson also has mastered the art of political deal-making. He famously—or infamously—voted in favor of the administration’s climate-change bill after he extracted a “commitment” from House leaders to support a $50 million hurricane-research center he wants to build in Orlando. (At presstime, the House version of the climate-change bill was all but dead in the Senate.)
Between floor votes on a day in March, Grayson returns to his office for meetings. There he talks with nine Orlando and Orange County firefighters concerned about losing union jobs as the recession weakens local budgets. They want to make sure Grayson continues fighting to get the city and county their share of federal stimulus money that could be used to save firefighter jobs. Grayson is a strong union man—both his parents were members of the teachers’ union in the Bronx—and the representatives are grateful for his support.
Not all the office meetings are strictly business, though. Michael Moore and several members of his film crew arrive one afternoon with little notice and are welcomed heartily by Grayson. Moore says he gets a big kick out of listening to Grayson on the House floor, on YouTube and on television. The congressman says he likes to take all of his children to Moore’s films, and took his wife to one on their first date. Moore wants to talk about Grayson’s Medicare health proposal, noting its elegant simplicity, and asking what he could do to build support for it.
Most Democratic candidates from swing districts would run the other way from the controversial director of Roger & Me and Sicko, but Grayson asks Moore to appear in a video with him, and, outside the Longworth House Office Building, the pair pose for pictures. Later, Moore writes Grayson a check for his campaign—$2,400, the maximum allowed. “To lose your voice would not be good,” Moore says, adding: “He’s a friend of neither Goldman nor Sachs,” a reference to the Wall Street investment firm the congressman likes to bash.
You get the feeling that the only way for Grayson to lose his voice would be for him to use it too much. And that’s exactly what happens as a long day in the House winds down. It’s nearly 8 p.m. when he makes his final return trip from the House floor to his office, his carry-on suitcase in tow. There’s a chicken sandwich wrapped in foil on his desk along with a bottle of Coke Zero. He settles into his chair, with his seasoned chief of staff, Julie Tagen, sitting facing him on the left side of his desk. She surveys the lineup of questions on her laptop as Grayson prepares to hold a “telephone town hall” with constituents.
The district, which includes portions of Marion, Lake, Osceola and Orange counties, most of Orlando and a sliver of Winter Park, has become “too big to go door-to-door—we wish we could,” Grayson offers as an explanation for the phone link-up with voters. He is already hoarse as he begins taking calls: William in Orlando, Jeanette and Myra in Tavares, Linda and John in Mount Dora, Tom in Eustis, Laura in Leesburg. They mostly want to talk about jobs, Social Security, Medicare—although some just want to vent about the federal government. Grayson corrects one caller who wants to rant about welfare and aid given to teenaged, single mothers, citing the amount and percentage of the federal budget allocated to such entitlements, which he says are miniscule. He listens at least as much as he talks, slowly rocking back and forth in the padded leather chair, rubbing his eyes. When a questioner takes a long time to make a point, Grayson uses the opportunity to unwrap his sandwich, take a bite and drink the soda.
Occasionally, the more familiar persona of Alan Grayson surfaces—and flares. When a caller asks about the impact the Obama health plan is likely to have on the deficit, the congressman cites the projected cost of the Iraq War—$3 trillion—and says, “I want my money back.” He takes off on the big banks and the Federal Reserve, saying Wall Street took bailout money and then refused to lend it to small business owners and people who want to refinance their homes—and the Fed has done nothing about it. D.C. lobbyists, he says, are “blood-sucking leeches.” He quotes the French writer Anatole France about the unfairness of government.
He is patient and low key, reasonable even with critics. But after an hour and a half, with scores of callers waiting and his voice growing weaker by the minute, he sees his chief of staff gesturing for him to wrap up the call-in session.
Grayson ends the last call with the same words he has ended almost every call this evening. The politician famous for dozens of biting sound bites that inspire his supporters and infuriate his enemies leans into the desk phone’s mic, his voice a whisper:
“God bless you,’’ he says.