Al D’Amato’s 20 Minute Gap

It was one of those election-night oddities that seemed to prove that when political careers implode even inanimate objects turn malevolent. On his way to deliver the first concession speech of his long political career, Al D’Amato got stuck in an elevator at the New York Hilton. Accompanied by his political pallbearers (including former Mayor Ed “I Used to be a Democrat” Koch and Governor George “The Soul of a Vice President” Pataki), D’Amato spent 20 minutes in limbo between the 44th and 45th floors. In a preface to his surprisingly graceful remarks conceding defeat, D’Amato declared, “When they tell you `Six people in the elevator’ listen to them.”

What gives this three-week-old tale new life is a rumor going around New York that D’Amato’s election-night misadventure was far different than advertised. In the version Chatterbox heard, D’Amato began sobbing uncontrollably in the elevator about the end of his 18-year Senate career. Pataki, displaying hitherto hidden leadership skills, deliberately pressed the “Emergency” button to give D’Amato a few moments to compose himself. What no one counted on was that it would take a full 20 minutes in the crowded elevator to bottle up D’Amato’s Niagara of tears. Now that the lachrymose D’Amato has had three weeks to prepare himself for his new life in the private sector, Chatterbox hears that it is Pataki himself who is recounting this “now it can be told” election-night saga.

Chatterbox believes that certain rumors like the D’Amato story fall under the journalistic rubric of “too good to check.” But what adds plausibility to D’Amato’s purported elevator breakdown is a column that Jim Dwyer wrote for the Daily News a few days after the election. Dwyer quoted an unnamed D’Amato intimate who claimed that earlier in the evening, as the first returns came in, the defrocked New York senator “was crying and heartbroken. He was inconsolable. He thought he was going to win.” Dwyer, however, assumed that the stalled elevator story was 100 percent legit.

Even though Chatterbox has always had scant political sympathy for Senator Pothole, he does find it touching to learn that tough guys can indeed cry.

–Walter Shapiro