The Education of Craig Livingstone

While members of Congress and the media investigate just how hundreds of FBI files on individuals not currently working at the White House ended up in White House security aide Craig Livingstone's office, more than a handful of Colorado politicos are assessing their own history with the corpulent advance man.

Livingstone's first Colorado connection came in 1984 when he joined up with then-Senator Gary Hart's presidential campaign. Livingstone's attorneys have not returned numerous calls from Westword, but he's well-remembered by several former and current Coloradans who dealt with him. The memories are mixed: Depending on whom you talk to, he was either a breathlessly eager nonentity or a cunning political operative.

"He was a big, fat advance guy, living in a hotel," Martin O'Malley recalls. O'Malley met Livingstone on the road, where campaign workers usually meet as they rush from one site to another, trying to spread their candidate as thin as butter over as many registered voters as possible. O'Malley--who, along with future Colorado legislator Paul Weissmann, specialized in "field work" during that Hart campaign--says it was New Jersey where he met Livingstone. And he didn't like him at first sight.

O'Malley, now a city councilman in Baltimore, says advance men are a breed apart. According to him, field guys organize the locals, get support for the candidate and canvass the district; advance guys take care of the logistics. "And," O'Malley says, "they'll do anything to make it work. Which is also why they're so obnoxious and you never want to let them near the locals."

Today the "obnoxious" guy O'Malley and the rest of the field workers were loath to let loose among the public is trying to explain to the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee why those FBI files were in his office. As he does so, the White House is scrambling to answer questions regarding who hired Livingstone, what his role was, whether he was acting alone, and who knew about the files. The stories about Livingstone and his past seem to shift like sand. When he entered the Colorado political scene in 1984, he was an idealistic 24-year-old who told reporters that he was born in Washington, D.C., and managed a bar there. Today it is reported that he was born in Dover, Delaware. To date, the White House has kept its finger firmly pointed at Livingstone, describing him as a bumbling fool who made an enormous error that has embarrassed them all.

Mike Stratton, a fellow Colorado advance man who was Livingstone's supervisor on the 1984 Hart campaign, couldn't disagree more with the description.

"I know he's a good guy, hardworking. He wouldn't have done anything inappropriate," says Stratton, one of Colorado's most prominent Democratic Party operatives. "He knows advance work. He's no fool. He's being victimized."

Others recall the time when Livingstone may have been doing some victimizing himself.

When Hart's bid for the presidential nomination failed at the Democratic Convention in 1984, the "Road Warriors," as his team members liked to call themselves, found other things to do. O'Malley went to law school; Weissmann went back to the University of Colorado to try to complete his degree in education, and Livingstone managed a bar in the Georgetown district of D.C. But Livingstone soon returned to Colorado and to politics: He became an advance man for Democrat Tim Wirth's 1986 U.S. Senate campaign against Republican Ken Kramer. John Frew, the former Denver mayoral candidate who now is executive director of Colorado Ski Country U.S.A., ran Wirth's side of the campaign, which became one of the dirtiest in state history.

The negative advertising flew in both directions, and many blame Livingstone for the bombshells lobbed in Kramer's direction. Campaign director Frew says he didn't personally hire Livingstone, although Livingstone showed up at his office a number of times asking for work.

"Craig had just finished Coca-Cola's 'Hands Across America' campaign, and that was his claim to fame," Frew recalls. "He came to me with this long dossier and said he specifically wanted to be an advance man." (Coca-Cola says it has no record of Livingstone ever having been an employee, a supplier or a consultant.) Frew says he never checked on Livingstone's claim because, as he says, he didn't need his services in the first place.

"You really don't have advance on a senatorial campaign," Frew says. "I told him, I think of advance as whoever is the first guy out of the car."

Frew is reluctant to say much more about Livingstone's hiring, noting, "I don't want to hurt Tim Wirth." But he acknowledges that "it was someone close to the campaign, someone who wanted Livingstone on...but he was really hired by [state party officials]."

It was near the end of the campaign, sometime around October 1986, Frew says, that Livingstone came on board. "It was a barn-burner," Frew says of the incredibly heated campaign.

Frew insists that Livingstone "did grunt work--nothing else. The reason I didn't hire him in the first place is because I knew he didn't know a yardstick from a polo stick. He had virtually nothing to do with strategy or running a campaign. I didn't even talk to him."

Steve Durham, a veteran political operative who was field director for the Kramer campaign back then, says that depiction of Livingstone's role is far from the truth.

As the campaign neared the November 5 election day, allegations flew at a furious pace, but none so infamous as the accusation that Kramer had been a member of the Universalist Church--essentially a "Moonie"--or the reminder to voters that Kramer's ex-wife had killed herself (years after their divorce).

Durham says Livingstone was not only Frew's employee, but also his right-hand-man and strategist--and directly to blame for the attacks.

"It was Livingstone that planted the story about Ken Kramer being associated with the Moonies," Durham says. "And he and Frew made a big issue over Ken's ex-wife's suicide. It was really dirty pool."

And despite what Frew says, others remember Livingstone as an advance man. Two days before the election, Livingstone performed the advance work for one of the Wirth campaign's biggest events: a Stevie Wonder concert on the 16th Street Mall. Campaign workers recall that it went off without a hitch.

Livingstone himself, though, has touted his experience in more hard-hitting campaign tactics. House Government Reform Committee chairman William Clinger has written that Livingstone took credit for a number of well-known stratagems while serving as a "senior consultant" to the Clinton-Gore campaign in 1992. Among other things, the Republican Clinger noted, Livingstone "successfully deployed several of the infamous 'Pinocchio' and 'Chicken George' media events."

That doesn't surprise Durham. Where Livingstone's involved, Durham says, "you should expect hardball."

The Wirth campaign apparently helped Livingstone's career. After Wirth won, the devoted campaign workers were rewarded in the usual fashion: with jobs. The Wall Street Journal reported two weeks ago that Livingstone was hired only as a "transitional" member of the Wirth staff, "used to move furniture around." But Senate salary documents tell a different story. Two years after Wirth's election, the documents show, Livingstone was still working for Wirth, with the title of "executive assistant" and a salary of $27,611--higher than the pay of a number of better-known Coloradan political workers on Wirth's staff at the time.

During the time he was being paid by Wirth's office, Livingstone also served as the lead advance man for Gary Hart's 1987 announcement at Red Rocks that he was back in the presidential race. "That was his event," recalls Mike Stratton, sounding like a proud father. "That was all him."

Many Democrats are trying to distance themselves from Livingstone these days. But it wasn't always like that. A story circulating in D.C. says that Livingstone was brought on to the Wirth staff after the 1986 election by Paige Reffe, who at the time was Wirth's legislative director. Reffe now is President Clinton's head of advance and scheduling, so that may explain Livingstone's presence at the White House. The White House denies that Reffe hired Livingstone for his security job there, saying instead that it was Eli Segal (a former Hart campaign operative) who recommended Livingstone. But other reports say Segal recommended Livingstone only for advance work, not for security work.

Whatever the truth is in that part of Livingstone's work record, it probably was Stratton who gave Livingstone his first taste of security work. When Clinton was elected in 1992, former secretary of commerce Ron Brown was appointed as head of the inaugural committee. Stratton, a longtime friend of Brown's, was appointed a member of the inaugural committee. Livingstone was hired as head of security for the inaugural committee.

And it's not only Stratton who thinks Livingstone was able. Larry Martinez, another Coloradan who makes his living on advance work (mostly for the Gores), says he met Livingstone on a presidential trip with the Clintons in 1992, and he, too, disputes the current depiction of Livingstone as incompetent. "You wouldn't be able to exist that long if you were a bumbling fool," says Martinez. Livingstone, he recalls, was typical of a lot of staff in the White House: young, eager, and willing to devote his entire life to the glorification of someone else. "He probably sucked up a lot to the right people," says Martinez. "He did everything you've got to do to end up with a position like that. And then he abused it.

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Michelle Johnston