I’ve held off as long as I can, but I must give you my thoughts on the Romney TV campaign commercial that has been dominating the airwaves lately. It’s a good 5 years old having made its debut back in 2007 when Mitt was running unsuccessfully for the 2008 republican presidential nomination. In all likelihood you’ve seen this commercial in the last few weeks if you missed the first cycle. It paints Romney as a combination of McGruff the Crime Dog and Mother Teresa.
Here is the message of Romney’s abounding goodness as reflected by the talking head of one of the former partners with Mitt in Bain Capital. This is the campaign commercial message Robert Gay has been conveying thousands of times since 2007.
“My 14 year old daughter had disappeared in New York City for 3 days. No one could find her. My business partner stepped forward to take charge. He closed the company and brought almost all our employees to New York. He said I don’t care how long it takes; we’re going to find her. He set up a command center and searched through the night. The man who helped save my daughter was Mitt Romney. Mitt’s done a lot of things that people say are nearly impossible. But, for me, the most important thing he’s ever done is to help save my daughter.”
I’m a father. That message certainly resonates with me. And, yes, Mitt actually did spearhead a search for the young lady – who, as it turns out, was laid low by a bad ecstasy trip at a Randall’s Island ‘rave’. She apparently had secretly taken a train from her Ridgefield, Connecticut home into the big city where she got into the kind of trouble kids can get into.
Upon hearing of Gay’s plight in July of 1996, Mitt gathered the Boston Bain troops, allegedly closed the place down and flew off with his colleagues to New York. Upon arrival, a command post was set up at the LaGuardia Marriott and a Private Investigative agency immediately retained. R.R. Donnelley contributed some 300,000 flyers to the effort. Bain employees in New York helped as well. A drug store owned by Bain stuffed a flyer in every customer’s bag upon departure. Bain’s accountant stuck up posters on every available pole. CBS New ran the story on the Evening News.
As it turned out, daughter Melissa was in Jersey. A teenage boy had called 911 and inquired about a reward. He hung up before authorities could talk with him further. They traced the call to a Montville Township, New Jersey residence and sure enough there was young Miss Gay, a bit disheveled, but essentially none the worse for wear. No foul play was suspected and she was taken home.
OK as far as it goes. Now let’s take a tiny bit of the bloom off this rose. I always think it’s somewhat unseemly and self-serving to expose and exploit a deeply personal and embarrassing family matter, whatever your ‘heroic’ role. Just how did Romney play into this little one-act? Was he really the ‘Lead’? Accounts are all over the place. One source says Gay only told Romney of the situation whereupon Mitt collared all his fellow partners and workers and said, “we’re going to New York and find Melissa.” Others say that Gay told everybody at the same time and asked for volunteers to help find his daughter. Romney being Romney and the CEO and Managing Partner, simply took over.
Just how many ‘volunteers’ hopped aboard a Bain charter out of Boston is also open to debate. I’ve read 15, 16, 30, 50, as high as 200. And the idea that Bain would close down their Boston operation is preposterous. The company was in its 12th year as a private equity, venture capital, hedge fund and investment player. It owned some valuable and well-known properties. Others were heavily leveraged. All business, investments and funds had to be overseen, bought and sold with a keen and attentive eye. Close ‘em down? For as long as 3 days? Not on your life.
In 2002, the Boston Globe decided to gild the Romney story even further mid-campaign as Mitt had long since left Bain and was dipping his toe into Massachusetts’s gubernatorial waters. An article intimated that a doctor reported at the time Melissa was found that she “might not have lived another day.” A contemporary account quoted the Gay family doctor as saying after a thorough examination “I found her in fairly good condition. We gave her hugs and brought her back home.”
Romney has since assumed the lion’s share of the credit for finding Melissa even though that connection has never been established.
Not to engage in class warfare here – the Tea Party has warned me against it – but I must point out that if you, my dear middle-class friend, lose a 14 year old in New York, your access to 300,000 R.R. Donnelley freebie handout flyers will probably be limited to maybe 30. Try chartering a jet for anywhere from 15 – 200 of your closest concerned friends, even for the short Boston/New York hop. Got 5 grand tucked away at minimum? If the number is 200, sell the house. How long can you hole up in the LaGuardia Marriott with dozens of these same helpful pals? Sell the boat. Hire a New York Private Investigator firm? A high-end Gotham Private Eye will set you back at least $150 an hour, probably much more. And you’ll need more than one. Got a bunch of CPA’s tacking up posters? At least they’ll do that for nothing. But they have to be YOUR CPA’s.
During the search Mitt apparently visited some drug dens and some really sleazy parts of town. He was taken aback that there were people living like this. The shock seems to have completely worn off however as his current policies pretty much ignore the poor and those in turmoil.
There is every sign that the object of all this good-Samaritan frenzy is growing weary of the continued attention. Robert Gay, who has risen to the rank of General Authority in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), has recently been refusing virtually all interviews on the subject expressing a desire to “move on.” His wife, Lynette, also very active in the church, shares his reluctance to stay in even the dimmest of spotlights and it’s quite likely that Melissa, now a mature 30 year old well past the naïve and experimental ways of a foolish young teenager, would much appreciate being just another anonymous adult.
So props to Mitt for a well-intentioned and apolitical gesture for a friend…back in ’96. It’s something altogether different in 2012.