Thursday, December 06, 2007

ROUNDHOUSE ROUNDUP: MORE "MACACA" MEMORIES COME TO NEW MEXICO

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
December 6, 2007

A young Democratic campaign worker whose video of U.S. Sen. George Allen helped end the Virginia Republican’s political career last year now works in Santa Fe for Gov. Bill Richardson’s presidential campaign.

S.R. Sidarth — whom Allen mockingly dubbed “Macaca” during a campaign appearance last year while Sidarth videotaped his speech — is working in Richardson’s campaign communications office, according to a recent blog item in The Washington Post. He is responsible for “compiling daily newspaper articles for the governor, drafting press releases and performing other communication tasks,” the Post said.

Unlike his work for Sen. Jim Webb, a Democrat who unseated Allen last year, Sidarth is not working in the Richardson campaign as a “tracker” recording speeches of opponents.

Sidarth declined a request for an interview from The New Mexican. On Monday, he told a reporter to submit questions in writing, and he’d have to clear an interview with “my boss.” On Wednesday, he told a reporter, “I’m not interested.”

Allen’s “Macaca moment” quickly spread over the Internet as well as television, raising questions about racism on the senator’s part.

Macaca is the name of a genus of monkeys, but it’s been used as a slur against Africans by white colonists.

“After Allen’s remarks, my heritage suddenly became a matter of widespread interest,” Sidarth wrote in a first-person essay for The Washington Post last year. “I am proud to be a second-generation Indian American and a practicing Hindu. My parents were born and raised in India and immigrated here more than 25 years ago.”

And even though Allen sarcastically “welcomed” him to America and “the real world of Virginia,” Sidarth wrote, “I have known no home other than Northern Virginia.”

He was named Salon.com’s “person of the year.” The Internet magazine called Sidarth “a symbol of politics in the 21st century, a brave new world in which any video clip can be broadcast instantly everywhere and any 20-year-old with a camera can change the world.”

According to published reports, Sidarth is the son of a mortgage banker from Fairfax County, Va. Politics appears to be a major passion of his. Beside the Richardson and Webb campaigns, he worked one summer as an intern for Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn.

Sidarth used the Allen incident to get into an exclusive campaigns-and-elections seminar at the University of Virginia taught by Larry Sabato, a frequently quoted political scientist who directs the university’s Center For Politics.

Sabato said this week that Sidarth was admitted on the basis of a three-word essay: “I am Macaca.”

Apparently Richardson is lucky to have Sidarth, based on what his old professor told me. He has “an instinctive sense of politics,” Sabato said.

“Sidarth was a wonderful student,” he said. “One of the great joys of teaching is that you meet extremely able young people like Sidarth. He’ll be involved in politics, one way or another, for his whole life. ... Sidarth showed great maturity under fire last year. He was treated very roughly by some adults, and he took it in stride.” (Sabato said some partisan Republicans at the school gave Sidarth a hard time.) “He is well prepared for the trials of life.”

Another “Macaca” connection: Sidarth isn’t the only tie New Mexico has to the Allen-Webb contest this election cycle.

As reported in this column a few weeks ago, Albuquerque Mayor Marty Chávez, who is running for U.S. Senate, hired Blackrock Associates, a California firm that served last year as Webb’s Internet strategist.

The Iowa surprise: It’s only four weeks until the Jan. 3 Iowa presidential caucuses, or as a Wednesday e-mail from the Richardson called it “The Iowa Surprise.”

According to recent polls, it would indeed be a surprise if Richardson pulled off a move into the top tier of Democratic candidates.

Real Clear Politics, which averages several polls conducted in the past week, shows Richardson still in a distant fourth place in Iowa, averaging 6.8 percent. The top three candidates are Barack Obama (27.2 percent), Hillary Clinton (25.8 percent) and John Edwards (23.2 percent).

The polls tell a similar story for Richardson in New Hampshire, where he’s in fourth place, averaging 9.1 percent. New Hampshire’s primary is Jan. 8.

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