The Atlanta Constitution from Atlanta, Georgia on December 11, 1988 · 14
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The Atlanta Constitution from Atlanta, Georgia · 14

Atlanta, Georgia
Issue Date:
Sunday, December 11, 1988
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V- ftflawfa f tmrwat AM) rorenTTTlOX SUNDAY, DECEMBER 11, 1988 i - i THE MAN AND THE VOICE. n n n ; lAjl3lj i From Page 1A' ; days and bad days with his health. Depending on his medication, he might seem uncommunicative. "I was honored," said Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), who never spoke to the phone AH but once excused himself from a private meeting to see Ali in the corridor outside his office. , Senators put such Ali memorabilia as autographed photos and boxing gloves on their office walls. By letter and by telephone, Ali's celebrity was offered for use in campaigns and fund-raising events. Ali himself made campaign appearances for Mr. Hatch in September and on Nov. 8, election night 'Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) gave Ali credit for the Senate's approval of a landmark fair housing bill in August Mr. Hatch declared that Ali "has a visceral ability at politics." During a Sept 1 campaign speech with Ali at his side, Mr. Hatch said: "Ali deserves to be, and should be, a politician. And I intend to see he does someday." ; The calls in Ali's voice dealt primarily with three issues: , The appointment of a law professor to a job in the Justice Department , "An investigation of a federal prosecutor in Norfolk, Va. . Legislation that could have been worth millions of dollars to Ali. .. ,For these projects, the Ali voice enlisted the help of seven U.S. senators, including Mr. Kennedy, J. Strom Thurmond (R-S C ) and Mr. Hatch, as well as then-At? torney General Edwin Meese III. . ,Tlie Ali voice charmed even those who, first wondered if they were marks in a Capitol Hill con game. Snid Augie Tantillo, right-hand man to Mr, .Thurmond: "I was really skeptical, because my image of Ali was 20 years ago and this one didn't sound like that one. But he convinced me. ... You find out ,whp' he really is today. He is a quiet Insightful, kind person. He's liable to call out of the blue to say, 'Just thinking about you.! He's called me at home, too. It's very impressive to your guests, to say that was Muhammad Ali calling." ; Arthur B. Culvahouse Jr., counsel to President Reagan, looked at a phone memo one day and saw Ali's name. (Mr.' Culvahouse did not return the call. He said, "I initially thought it was a prank.") .. Mr, Meese heard from Ali. In conversations with six senators, the Ali voice asked two, Mr. Hatch and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), to play themselves in a movie about Ali's life. Mr. Specter's wife baked double chocolate mousse pies for the champ last summer. , George Bush's campaign wanted to sigh up Ali after its scheduler for celebrities,. Renee Henry, said he received "a fantastic letter" on Ali's political philosophies. Before the national conventions, Ali wrote asking a senator's "confidential guidance" as to which presidential candidate' to endorse, 'y " On Aug. 8, The Washington Times reported an Ali interview in which Ali came out for Mr. Bush for president, declaring that Mr. Bush's foreign policy experience was valuable. On June 9, The Washington Post did a front-page story on Ali, quoting him on politics after what the newspaper called "a rare telephone interview." In that story, the reporter noted an "astonishing contrast" between the public Ali and the ' telephone Ali. The Post reported that Ali, at: a press conference, "struggled thiqugh" a brief statement, but on the pfione expressed rat-a-tat-tat opinions on Mikhail Gorbachev, Mr. Thurmond and JdSse Jackson. I During an Aug. 23 telephone interview with the Journal-Constitution, the Ali ' Vfjjjce said: "You know that movie, 'Mr. Sfliith Goes to Washington'? This is Mr. AM Goes to Washington.'" f To longtime students of the Ali legend, Ali's emergence as a political insider was so bizarre as to invite disbelief. They characterized him as a man not given to thoughtful analysis of politics. Now in his seventh year of retirement Ali twice has " been diagnosed as having suffered brain damage during his 27 years in the ring. His energy level is low and he has trouble wfyh his voice, which is so thin and weak that;he seldom speaks publicly in more thp a whisper. A longtime Ali friend, Los Angeles photographer Howard Bingham, was .surprised to hear of any Ali political activity. Mi. Bingham laughed and said: "Maybe he? may want to run for senator." Ali him- ' self laughed in Salt Lake City when he told "a press conference, "I'm gradually sneaking around to get my face acquainted; I think I am going to be the first black president" f Twice during television interviews in Salt Lake City, Ali deflected questions about his support of Mr. Hatch. Ali told interviewers: "I don't know nothin' about politics" and "I don't know nothin' much about politics." . , J Ali's previous political experience has be$n superficial. He dabbled celebrity-style. He stopped by the Oval Office to see Presidents Gerald R. Ford, Jimmy Carter anil Ronald Reagan. At Mr. Carter's request Ali made an official visit to Africa' in -1980 to explain the U.S. boycott of the Moscow Olympics only to be confused by the hostility he met Never before this summer had the three-time heavyweight champion shown interest in Washington's f ' i r -- t; "! F py- ' ti u! U ' 1 n x & - -i , r;; - : ''v."5" "Mh i''itr-fp?,'-: ip'tf 'i'iy'rA.' R'CKMcKAyJouml-Constltati Washington Bureau , Sen. Orria G. Hitch (S-t'tah), who had been a fighter rabilia on the wall of his Senate office, said in mid-as a youni? man, said it was a thrill to talk to Jluham- Jaly that he had spoken to the former thaupion mad AH. Sir. Hatch, who has a collection of Ali memo- dozens of times but had met him only ouce in person. 1 L 1 A 1 1 ) v ' Sen. Arlen Specter (left) and Sen J. Strom Thurmond (right) joined Mr. II jtch in seeking a speedy report on an investigation of a district attorney requested by the phone Ali. Hi : I. 1 Mm. Illll P. fi JErFSCHEltVSpeoial Las Vegas casino executive Gene Kilrcy (above), a longtime friend of . Ali, said, 'He's hanging around a couple people in Washington and Ali attended the June 7 Justice Department news conference announcing kw r.,.j finug iU '"v ro... !...,.. li v,VJ,wnl MkUl (VtMi; M UVUiJ i&aiidul ttHlliKJ his head' general. Former Attorney General Edwin Meese III is at left. The Associated Press political machinations. Ali's most controversial political act came in 1967 when he refused induction into the Army. "I ain't got no quarrel with them Viet Congs," he said. But even that was not a political act in Ali's mind; it was demanded by his Muslim religion. He was seldom engaged in mainstream politics. As a member of the separatist Black Muslims in the 1960s, Ali took no part in the civil rights struggle for integration. He once argued for a black nation to be carved out of America's midsection. . Ali's longtime friends say there is nothing in his history that suggests Ali the political mover and shaker. His former fight doctor, Dr. Ferdie Pacheco, said: "Ali is a simple man and : almost a Gandhi-like figure, in that people love his innocence and love his charm. And thank God for that because he deserves it He's a wonderful man. But if you accept him as naive, it doesn't take anything for unscrupulous people to talk their way into him, to use him as a front and use his name. ... Politics? Foreign policy? He knows about foreign policy?" Las Vegas casino executive Gene Kil-roy, for 20 years a member of Ali's inner circle, said: "I don't think Ali would be involved in any foreign policy or know the thinking of the foreign policy. That doesn't sound like Ali. He's hanging around a couple people in Washington and they're probably putting thoughts in his head." Another of Ali's intimates, Lloyd Wells, read a political interview ostensibly given by Ali. "Ali is not capable of that kind of political rhetoric. That does not sound like something that came out of Ali's brain. I bet my life there's no way Ali sat down and uttered that rhetoric." Former Kentucky Gov. John Y. Brown Jr., Ali's friend for IS years and once a business partner with the Louisville native, said: "There's no way Ali could create a hoax like that He has a heart of gold. There's no malice in him. He doesn't have a deceitful bone in his body. Besides, he wouldn't take the time to do it Politicians bore him." For six months of this year, the Ali voice pushed these projects: '. He wanted an assistant attorney general's job for a University of Virginia law professor, Stephen Saltzburg. He also ' proposed a federal judgeship for the professor. Ali's relationship with the professor seems minimal. On Jan. 26 of this year, he appeared in Mr. Saltzburg's class during a lecture on the Supreme Court's 1971 re versal of Ali's draft-evasion conviction. Mr. Saltzburg's closer connection seems to be with Ali's lawyer, Mr. Hirschfeld; they are friends as well as occasional le- ' gal associates. On June 7, Mr. Saltzburg was named deputy assistant attorney general in the Justice Department's Criminal Division. Mr. Thurmond's right-hand man, Mr. Tantillo, said the South Carolina senator, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, "went to the wall" for Mr. Saltzburg. Mr. Tantillo also said, "If it , wasn't for Ali getting involved, Saltzburg wouldn't be there." The Ali voice wanted senators to ask the Justice Department for an investiga-tion of a federal prosecutor in Norfolk, Va. ' '" The prosecutor had no interest in Ali. ' But she had completed a case against a former business associate of Mr. Hirschfeld. At the time of the Ali calls, the prosecutor was investigating Mr. Hirschfeld. Because it is routine for the Justice Department to investigate every allegation raised against the department the Office of Professional Responsibility . (OPR) began an investigation of the Nor-' folk prosecutor, Susan L. Watt During a July 27 senate hearing, Sens. Hatch, Thurmond and Specter asked that the new boss of the Criminal Division report within 2Vi days on the investigation. That report said Ms. Watt's immediate su-'perior found the charges groundless. The OPR investigation is on-going. The Ali voice also asked U.S. senators to enact a law that might have been worth big money to the former fighter. . He wanted a law saying he could sue the government again on a dispute that Ali had already lost once. On Sept 6 a federal judge dismissed Ali's 4-year-old suit seeking $50 million in damages from his wrongful conviction in the 1967 draft-evasion case. That lawsuit had been filed with Mr. Hirschfeld as one of the original lawyers. The day Ali lost that suit Mr. Hatch proposed what he called "a concession of error remedy" in which a person whose ; conviction had been overturned at the Supreme Court level could seek damages if the government admitted error in the original conviction. The legislation, Mr. Hatch said, was designed for Ali. The first draft of the legislation was written by Mr. Saltzburg, who said Mr. Hirschfeld requested it The legislation died on Sept 21, defeated at first reading. Mr. Hatch said he hopes to bring it up again next year. People to whom the Ali voice made political phone calls in '88: 6 U.S. senators 2 administrative assistants 10 press secretaries 9 journalists 5 secretaries 14 senatorial aides 1 each: attorney general (and his chief of staff), former governor, lieutenant gov- ' ernor and county attorney. , The Ali phone calls began at a time when Ali's most recent public appearance had been a melancholy one in Atlantic City on Jan. 22. He was brought into the ring for introductions before the Mike Tyson-Larry Holmes fight Ali looked stiff and unsteady. His face was puffy and fixed. He wore dark-rimmed glasses and walked awkwardly. Promoter Don King lifted Ali's right arm to acknowledge the, crowd's applause. When the promoter let go of Ali's arm, it fell to his side. '; On June 9, The Washington Post car-; ried a front-page story about Ali as an insightful observer of national politics. The story began: "At first the pronouncements seem odd coming from Muhammad Ali, the former heavyweight champ whose slurred, stumbling speech of recent years has led millions of his former fans to believe that all those punches to his head had turned him into a punch-drunk palooka. "Now he's talking like a machine gun, floating and stinging, jabbing and stab bing, like the Ali of old and about everything that pops into his bead from Jesse L Jackson to Mikhail Gorbachev to his own Parkinson's syndrome. The thoughts, the words tumble out faster than a reporter can note them down." Ali had been on Capitol Hill for a Justice Department news conference on June 7 announcing the Saltzburg appointment The newspaper's hourlong interview had been done by phone. The telephone Ali talked so much better than Ali had on the Hill that reporter Nancy Lewis wrote about the "astonishing contrast" " Now often the Ali voice called: . . "Haifa dozen, dozen times. " (Glenn Simpson, Washington Times) "Numerous times." (Nancy lewis, Washington Post) "A lot" (Dorothy Minor, Mr. Hatch's office) "Ten, 12 times." (Jeff Blatner, Mr. Kennedy's office) "Fifty times at least" (Sylvia Nolde, Sen. Arlen Specter's office) ; "He pestered us. " (Chris Simpson, Mr. Thurmond's office) :' . The phone calls began in March. The Ali voice first called Sen. John W. Warner (R.-Va.) to recommend Mr. Saltzburg. Soon, the phone Ali had spoken to five U.S. senators: Mr. Warner, Mr. Thurmond, Mr. Hatch, Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Specter. A sixth senator, Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), was added to Ali's phone list in September. ' Mr. Hatch took the most Ali phone calls. In mid-July the senator said he had spoken to "Ali" dozens of times. At that time, Mr. Hatch had met Ali in person only once, and that on the day when Ali's inability to speak brought tears to Ruth Carroll, Mr. Hatch's secretary.. . j Mr. Hatch had been a fighter as a young man,' The senator said it was a thrill to speak to the greatest fighter who ever lived. He added, "But it's not idol , worship here." Mr. Hatch said that through the phone calls he had come to know Ali the thinker. "Don't sell Ali short He has a visceral ability at politics. He reads all day long. He's written me a few letters. . . . He's one shrewd, smart man. ... If he wanted to get a Ph.D. in philosophy, he could do it" Mr. Hatch cleared a spot on his office wall for Ali memorabilia inscribed, "To my dear friend Orrin Hatch, The man who should be President of the United States From one Champion to another, Love, Muhammad Ali, 8-1-88." The collection included a replica of Ali's World Boxing Council championship "belt buckle. There was The Washington Times article, in which Ali praised Mr. Hatch for his work during the Iran-contra hearings and Robert H. Bork confirmation hearings and said of the senator: , "Another thing I admire about him was that he came up the hard way. He was born on the wrong side of the tracks,' and he worked as a laborer a union , man, as strange as that may sound and it's always difficult to outgrow your, environment" Mr.. Hatch has worn a ring that he said is one of seven championship rings1 that Ali gave to his seven best friends. The senator also had an Ali punching bag on his office mantel. The real Ali went to Salt Lake City on Sept 1 to help Mr. Hatch kick off his reelection bid. ' At a reception on the state Capitol lawn, Ali kissed babies, shook hands and traded small talk with Hatch supporters. Standing at Mr. Hatch's side, he made a. three-minute speech that was received ' with warm applause from a crowd of perhaps 300 people. In the disjointed, slurred speech, Ali made only a passing mention of the senator's name and -touched on politics only indirectly. ; Many people in the crowd patted Ali on the shoulders as he walked to a waiting car. Beads of sweat touched Ali's hair-,, line. He walked quickly and smoothly.: There was a regal air about him, almost as if he had won a big fight What people thought when the All voice called: "He was totally in the know." (la vera Walker, Mr. Kennedy's office) "A quick wit Extremely bright Smarter than I'd have ever thought When you discuss a particular issue with him, he can weigh it and if it's an action thing, he ' knows what steps need to be taken. ... .Ali's not only interested in politics, he's damn good at it" (Mark levin, former . chief of staff to ex-Attorney General Edwin Meese) . : The Ali voice had been busy on the telephone with journalists. He spoke to reporters and producers from the televi- ALI Continued on ISA 1 "" 11 giiii-uiu iioii i ! .7 .f Kindred About This Series on Muhammad Ali Atlanta Journal-Constitution sports columnist Dave Kindred met Muhammad Ali 22 years ago and has made a continuing study of Ali the man and boxer. From 1966 to 1977, Mr. Kindred covered Ali for the fighter's hometown newspaper, the Louisville (Ky.) Courier-Journal. As a columnist at The Washington Post until 1984, Mr. Kindred covered the final years of Ali's fighting career. By Mr. Kindred's estimate, he has interviewed Ali 300 times at sites as diverse as Miami Beach's Fifth Street Gym and New York's Madison Square Garden as well as at Ali's homes in Louisville, Los Angeles, Chicago and Cherry Hill, N.J. Special correspondent Kathy Blumenstock assisted Mr. Kindred in the reporting of the Ali series. She is a former Washington Post and NBC News reporter. r

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