THERE’S A TV NEWS CREW LURKING IN A VAN outside Jesse and Polly Rothstein’s modern house in the bucolic burg of Purchase tonight. Across the street, two women in towering hair and Lurex sweaters twist under a car’s dome light, working their Revlon in the rearview before heading up the Rothsteins’ driveway convulsed in laughter. A sign stuck outside says this is a fund-raiser for Andy Spano, candidate to become the second-ever Democratic county executive of Westchester. It goes without saying that Spano, while an able local politician, does not ordinarily attract news crews and giggling women. Nor does another of the evening’s featured guests, Congressman Chuck Schumer, who hopes to run against Alfonse D’Amato for the Senate next year. But in the dining room, there is a man who looks positively presidential-well fed, impeccably turned out in a boxy gray suit, white shirt, brown tie, and black oxfords but with the sort of five o’clock shadow that bespeaks along day of campaigning.
Years ago, studying acting with Lee Strasberg, Alec Baldwin learned how to become one with the role he was playing. Now, as he steps before the small crowd to speak, he plays the part of the crusading politician seamlessly, with real conviction. “I’m tired of Democrats being doormats,” Baldwin says, his gravelly D.J. voice filling with emotion. “If Andy Spano wins, it will send a chilling message to our opponents who think the Democrats are dead … ‘ — he pauses a beat — “under the table … flatlined. Next year, there’s a Senate race, and if we don’t put a stake in Big Al [D'Amato]‘s heart, we might as well all change parties.”
While the talk of stakes in hearts and flatlining might not be exactly the way Mario Cuomo would phrase it, the performance is undeniably compelling, and it relegates Schumer and Spano, who follow, to the roles of supporting players. Afterward, pausing briefly in the doorway Baldwin squeezes my arm with a politician’s practiced sincerity. “I’d really rather be home with my kid,” he says. But instead, at 9 P.m., he climbs into Schumer’s car and heads north to Rockland County to meet and greet and pose and speak at another fund-raiser for another Democrat running for county exec.
* * *
ALEC BALDWIN HAS DONE SOMETHING MOST POLITICIANS ONLY dream about-he has attacked a member of the press, a video cameraman who was lying in wait as he and his wife, Kim Basinger, brought their baby daughter home from the hospital.
And his political explorations have opened him up to new areas of conflict with the media. Every time he tries to do something good-as when a couple of weeks ago he led 250 volunteers on a sixteen-hour bus ride through pouring rain to Massachusetts to collect 8,000 signatures on petitions for a campaign-finance-reform initiative-reporters make him sound like another silly celebrity who’s in over his head. “I’m an easy target,” he’ll admit.
At first, Baldwin declined to cooperate for this article, delivering set-piece speeches about a press that refuses to take him as seriously as he takes himself. But having perhaps realized that an aspiring politician needs the press even more than an aging leading man does, he relented and, two nights before Election Day, talked with surprising candor about his long-standing aspirations to run for office. “You don’t think I’ve thought about this?” he asks. “I’ve thought about it. Is this something that I want to do? Yes. Is this something that I believe is possible? I doubt it. The men and women that run the world are in their fifties. It takes time to build that kind of thing. I’m 39.”
So the clock is ticking. Baldwin, in fact, is in the midst of a kind of mid-life crisis; he’s worried that his best movie roles might be behind him, and he doesn’t have the stomach he once did for the Hollywood rat race. Sure, he’ll be playing Macbeth at the Public in February, is in a movie co-starring Bruce Willis that’s in the can, is making several more, and may soon team up with his three acting brothers, Billy Daniel, and Stephen, for a Baldwin Western mini-series jamboree. But truth be told, Baldwin’s film career hasn’t been stellar in some time. He peaked in 1989, when he starred as lack Ryan in The Hunt for Red October. And while it hasn’t exactly been downhill from there, he has demonstrated a remarkable ability to infuriate the very powers he needs to rise to the top again. Just as the brass ring came into reach, he seemed to go off the deep end, playing the prima donna so well that instead of ending up on acting’s A-list, he was blacklisted by such minor movie players as the occupants of the executive suites at Walt Disney and Paramount. He’s more careful these days about biting the hand that feeds him. But he makes his own intentions perfectly clear. “Am I going to give up acting?” he asks. “Yes. I almost can’t wait to give up acting, in one sense. I’m never going to get it right. I’ve resolved this with myself. I’ve made tons of money and seen the world and worked with all these great people, and still feel like a failure out there.”
So, politics. Which, after all, also involves performance. And at politics, Baldwin is no dilettante. He was an activist long before he took the helm of the Creative Coalition, an advocacy group for progressive entertainers and arts executives: At 10, he and his father went to Washington for Bobby Kennedy’s funeral; at 16, Alec was president of his high-school class; at 18, he interned for a Long Island congressman; at 26, he campaigned for Walter Mondale; and at 30, he accompanied Tom Hayden and Rob Lowe-among others-to the notorious (for Lowe, at least) 1988 Democratic Convention in Atlanta. Chuck Schumer is just the latest in a long line of Democrats he has endorsed, including Michael Dukakis, Ted Kennedy and Senator D’Amato’s last challenger, Robert Abrams.
Not surprisingly, Baldwin has the ego to believe he has learned from their mistakes. No lily-livered, Clintonian consensus politics for him. “Democrats of the seventies and eighties are too tolerant, too open-minded, not feral enough,” he says. “I want to be the ferocious liberal.”
Given Ruth Messinger’s recent travails, it’s unclear whether Baldwin’s brand of politics will seize New York’s imagination. But even if you don’t agree with him, it’s hard to doubt his conviction. Even if you think he sounds like a pugnacious jerk, you have to admit he’s a New York kind of jerk, cut from the same cloth as the disparate likes of Cuomo, Koch, D’Amato, and Giuliani. A real jerk-not a phony jerk. But he’s also good at spouting what a friend of mine calls “yesterday’s idealistic crackpot garbage,” the whole politically correct litany. For now, the Democratic tent is big enough for both Alecs, and the party’s welcome mat is out for him. Not long ago, a state Democratic spokesman made it clear that Baldwin’s Hollywood-escape plan isn’t necessarily a fantasy.Though Alec’s indicated he isn’t running for office yet, Peter Ragone told the Daily News, “that doesn’t mean he will not run.”
While Baldwin’s ambitions haven’t yet focused on any one goal, he has clearly spent some time weighing his options, and he’s definitely not thinking small. “Moynihan’s 2000. That’s too quick,” he says. “Could I run against [Long Island congressman Michael] Forties next year and win? I think I could beat the crap out of Forties. Would I want to be a congressman from the East End of Long Island, and go to Washington and be one of 435 people down there in a Republican controlled Congress? No. What’s the job I’d want to have? I’d say Senate. Governor. I would love to be governor of New York. It would be great. You can do a lot of things for a lot of people. Would I ever want to run for governor? Not on your life-with no political background. Where do you get the background and experience to be able to ramp up to that kind of thing? If someone could help me figure out a way I might do it.”
If Baldwin now talks as if acting were a mere detour on the road to his true calling, that’s because he has been steeped in these ideas all his life. What’s the source of Alec’s driving, nearobsessive political passion? “Two words,” says brother Billy. “My father.” Alec hasn’t tilted at Tinseltown windmills for ten years for no reason. He’s the eldest son of Alexander Rae Baldwin, Jr., a man who died thinking he’d failed, a beloved teacher whose brilliant career was stymied because he took on a machine-in his case, the Republicans of Long Island-and lost. Baldwin, in a very real sense, is destined to complete his father’s work.
* * *
A PICKET LINE OF TEACHERS MAKES A GHOSTLY CIRCLE in front of the flat expanse of Massapequa High School, where the Baldwin clan is gathering for the opening of the school’s refurbished, renamed Baldwin Auditorium, named for Alec’s father. Inside, guests are reminiscing about the days when Alec’s father walked the halls of the school, a lonely but popular progressive in a town where, says local politician Dal LaMagna, “if you wanted your garbage picked up, you registered Republican.”
“We’re already late, and if I introduced every Baldwin, we’d be here till tomorrow,” says Dr. Jan Holdridge, the school district’s arts director. Jane Baldwin Sasso, Alec’s younger sister, reads a letter to their father, who died of cancer in 1983 at 55, recalling dinner-table debates; his days as a history, currentevents, and government teacher; his coaching junior-varsity football and riflery. “You taught us to stand up for what we believe in, even if it’s not popular,” she says. Then it’s Alec’s turn to speak. “My father passed away very young,” he says somberly, “and achieved JFK-like status in my family as a result … My father would be embarrassed by this. He was not into self-aggrandizement or a self-referential lifestyle … He had holes in his shoes, but he gave us what we needed. My father, my family, constantly overextended themselves trying to be of service. When I see myself stretched thin, trying to do things beyond acting, I know it is genetic.”
Not much has changed in suburban Massapequa since Sander, as Alec was called, left for college in September 1976. In the lower-middle-class Nassau Shores neighborhood where the Baldwins grew up, tidy little houses sit on quarter-acre lots in neat rows on streets with names like Pocahontas, Algonquin, and West Iroquois, the last where the Baldwins lived in a small shingled Cape Cod house. Across the street is a golf course where, Baldwin once told a reporter, he lost his virginity on the third fairway to a local girl who celebrated the occasion by vomiting Boone’s Farm apple wine all over him.
Alec’s father was the son of a Black Irish lawyer from Brooklyn who, Baldwin says, “stopped practicing, and the family’s economic fortunes turned sour.” After a stint in the Marines, Al Baldwin attended Syracuse University, earning a master’s degree before becoming a social-studies teacher at Massapequa High School. Baldwin was ambitious. He quit his job and headed back to Syracuse, his wife’s hometown, to study law, tuition paid by his father-in-law, a successful insurance man. But it didn’t work out, and he returned to Massapequa, hat in hand, begging for his old job back.
This was Al Baldwin’s first encounter with the hard hearts that ruled Massapequa. Alec’s great uncle Charlie Noble, the athletic director of Massapequa High, interceded. Noble says the assistant superintendent of schools responded, “Sure, you can have your job back, but you’ll never go any further.” From that day until his death, Baldwin hoped in vain to become a department head, a principal, or a school superintendent. Colleagues say he crossed swords with everyone from his principal to J. Lewis Ames, a former FBI agent who was head of the local school board. “Al would say what he believed,” recalls teacher AL Midura. “He certainly was not gonna let somebody on the school board tell him how to run his classroom. Had you known Alec’s dad, you’d see very strong similarities.”
Al Baldwin’s politics didn’t help. “At first glance, you would have thought he was the classic right-wing football coach,” says teacher Joe McPartlin, “but his leanings were liberal.” When John F. Kennedy was killed, Baldwin went to Washington to stand on line to view the body in the Capitol rotunda. Four years later, he became a Democratic committeeman. None of which was likely to endear him to a school board that “owed a lot of favors to the Republicans,” says Martin H. Schwartz, political analyst for the Massapequa Post.
Alec remembers Massapequa as “the manifestation of white flight from the city. Ames and all of those people embodied that. If you sold a house to black people in the sixties, your realestate company was never going to get another listing.” As recently as 1986, the New York Times reported that a schoolboard member could not remember a single black student who’d ever graduated from Massapequa High. “Back then,” he says, “the town fathers, particularly the school board, were racist bastards who wanted to keep it a lily-white town. My father grew up in downtown, working-class, bad-ass Brooklyn, and he didn’t have a racist bone in his body. He wouldn’t oppose them, but he wouldn’t be one of them. And he suffered the consequences to his career.”
The elder Baldwin was obsessed with Massapequa High. Besides teaching and coaching, Baldwin led trips, chaperoned dances, moderated battles of the bands, handled crowd control at school sports events, mentored athletes, visited families of troubled students. “He was a very selfless guy-I mean selfless to a fault,” Alec says. “You would almost say pathologically selfless.”
As Alec approaches 40, he has realized that his father’s heart was broken partly by politics. “My dad turned 40 in October 1967,” he says. “In April ’68, Martin Luther King was killed. In June ’68, Robert Kennedy was killed. And in the fall of ’68, my dad’s mother died. He was left, on an existential level, saying, `This is what I am. I’ve got the love of my students and I’ve got nothing else. My country is going to hell.’ After 1968, he was never the same again. All the air went out of him.” Teachers remember Xander Baldwin as a good, outgoing student who played sports, always sat in front of the class, and was encouraged by his educated parents to be well read and issueconscious. He had a vague interest in theater, which his father encouraged by sitting up late with him watching old movies on television and taking him to Broadway. But show business was merely a pastime. “He was unavailable to you emotionally unless you could speak his language,” Alec says. “When I was 10 years old, unless I learned what Dien Bien Phu was, unless I learned about the Tet Offensive, unless I learned who Gordon Liddy was, I was out.”
Baldwin was programmed by his parents to go to law school and become a prosecutor, a public servant, maybe president. So in 1976, he enrolled in George Washington University and declared a major in political science. His first year, the bearded Alex Baldwin-as he was now known-worked on Capitol Hill opening a congressman’s mail and helped pay his tuition by working odd jobs.
The next year, Baldwin ran for chairman of the university’s Program Board, which produced campus events; a perk of the job was a 50 percent tuition discount. He booked Bonnie Raitt, Kenny Loggins, Mel Blanc, Bob Woodward , and British prime minister Harold Wilson, who regaled him with stories of Charles de Gaulle’s cheating at poker. He attracted attention. “He was handsome, very charming, he had an assurance, a commanding personality, women were attracted to him,” says Pete Aloe, an exroommate. “We said he should be an actor. He said, `No, no, no.’”
GWUSA, the student government, controlled Baldwin’s budget. After a year, he ran for its presidency, hoping to seize control of the funding process (and not coincidentally, have his tuition paid entirely). The student newspaper, The Hatchet, editorialized against him. “Alex Baldwin has not demonstrated the capacity to listen to other viewpoints and cooperate with others,” it wrote.
In the first round of elections, Baldwin came in third, losing a place in a runoff by a single vote. He’d stopped campaigning when his girlfriend broke up with him. “I understand she didn’t vote,” says Jeffrey Nash, who replaced Baldwin on the Program Board.
Crushed by these losses, he was primed to change course. So when a friend suggested he had what it took to be an actor, he went to audition for the head of NYU’s drama program. “There was a possibility that I could do this-a slight possibility” he says. “I walked away from it all. I walked into acting school.”
Baldwin says that decision helped him find himself. It certainly helped him find fast success. Within months, he was discovered at a cattle-call audition for the movie The Idolmaker. He didn’t get that part, but it led to an audition for the soap opera The Doctors “We were looking for a young maverick,” says casting director Susan Scudder. “The ne’er-do-well son, a little dangerous, so mothers watching the show would say, `No, don’t go with him.’ Alec did it more naturally than most.”
Scudder’s producer put him on camera, fed him lunch, and sent him home with a signed contract and the name of an agent, J. Michael Bloom. The newly christened Alec Baldwin stayed on the low-rated soap until it was about to be canceled in 1982, when he and Tuck Milligan, another actor, piled into Alec’s Kharmann Ghia and headed to Los Angeles for pilot season.
He left a mess behind. His parents had separated a year earlier, and his father had taken off to drive cross-country. Father and son had words about family responsibility. No one told Alec, who was busy taping a pilot in March, that his father was dying of cancer; a longtime pipe smoker, he’d exacerbated his condition coaching riflery in the school’s unventilated basement range. “He lied to me,” says Alec. “And my mother lied to me, too. They did not tell me how bad off he was.”
On April 1, Alec finally saw his father in a Philadelphia hospital. “It was horrible,” he recalls. “I could not recognize him.” Two weeks later, Al Baldwin was dead.
* * *
IN 1984, BALDWIN-WHO’D TURNED DOWN MORE INTERESTING work for a lucrative recurring role on the primetime soap Knots Landing-wandered into the headquarters of onetime radical leader Tom Hayden, then a California assemblyman, and answered phones anonymously until someone recognized him. Hayden and his wife, Jane Fonda, then lured him into Network, a group of young Hollywood stars who’d discovered that their celebrity could focus attention on progressive issues-and pay a dividend in P.R.
A pattern was soon established. Baldwin alternated between politics and acting, and when he was acting, between the bigmoney movie where you were embarrassed by the script and the wonderful play that paid only in satisfaction. He did a TV mini-series, Dress Gray, in 1986. Then he came back to the New York stage in Joe Orton’s Loot and the Broadway production of Caryl Churchill’s Serious Money. He and Bloom decided to seek supporting roles in lower-budget films by top directors-he did Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice, She’s Having a Baby by John Hughes, Oliver Stone’s Talk Radio, Jonathan Demme’s Married to the Mob, and Mike Nichols’s Working Girl, then won his first lead in a cool, quirky thriller, Miami Blues. He attended the 1988 Democratic Convention, flew across the country to attend a Dukakis fund-raiser, and went to Washington to lobby for arts funding. He was developing The Fugitive, auditioning for the likes of Spielberg and Scorsese, dating Holly Gagnier of Baywatch. He was the next leading man.
Baldwin calls where he was the Lottery. “To become Nicholson, Brad Pitt-that’s an act of God,” he says. “It has nothing to do with your ability. I had an excellent chance at the Lottery. And I did not do what I was supposed to do. I was angry, very bitter that my father had died. I didn’t have anyone to advise me.”
And as much as he loved national politics, he hated Hollywood’s. “You had to pretend that you liked all these people and wanted to be their friend,” he says. Six years in L.A. had turned him into a phone-throwing, rage-spewing Los Angeles-hater, and he took every opportunity to disparage the town: “A godless place.” “I fucking hate L.A.” “Rich and famous in L.A. is more toxic than anything.” “The whole poison cocktail in one glass.”
He had his price, though. Cast in The Hunt for Red October, he dove right back into the toxic swamp. The film, which grossed $120 million, was his biggest hit. “It changed everything,” he says. “I got on that big-movie-studio ride.” Baldwin met his future wife, Kim Basinger, herself a newly minted star, at a 1990 script reading. Afterward, they went to Morton’s, where his car died. “‘Alec Baldwin, you make too much money to have car trouble,’ ” the valet said. “I think that helped my cause of seducing Kim,” who drove him home that night, he says.
Love led him directly into career hell. Baldwin and Basinger were accused of going on a rampage on the set of The Marrying Man, a Neil Simon comedy in 1990 and 1991. In articles in People and Premiere, Basinger was accused of habitual lateness, flashing the crew, talking filthy on open walkie-talkies, refusing to shoot in sunlight, demanding that no one look at her. Baldwin supposedly smashed the cell phones of Disney executives because he didn’t have one, punched dents in walls, kicked over a case of lenses, and threw his director’s chair.
Baldwin, who denies many of the charges, says that promises made to the couple were not kept. He railed against the studio, called its cost-cutting executive Jeffrey Katzenberg “the eighth dwarf, Greedy,” and fired his publicist for counseling him not to respond to the bad press. No one’s behavior on The Marrying Man was politic. “It becomes a sticker on your luggage,” Alec says. “A stamp in your passport. But it never stopped me.”
Soon afterward, Paramount offered Baldwin $10.5 million for two more Jack Ryan movies. But then came an offer to do A Streetcar Named Desire on Broadway, an irresistible prospect for a Strasberg-trained actor. The window during which the play could be put on was limited, and Alec wasn’t happy with the next Ryan script, so he played tough and made demands, apparently hoping the studio would delay the picture to suit him.
“It was attitude,” says a former employee. “He always had attitude. He’s full of self-doubt-that’s why his movie choices are right down the middle, not good, not bad-but his insecurity doesn’t manifest itself as shyness. He’s full of rage and resentment. He’s arrogant and cocky. He has a terrible temper. He’s very impatient. It’s his big foible, and it’s gonna dog him. I always wondered how someone so political couldn’t see the damage he does.”
Alec played chicken with Paramount; he refused to sign his contract. “It became in their interest to move on to somebody else,” Baldwin says. “I began to believe that winning the Lottery meant just more face time with people I found it increasingly difficult to communicate with. You get tired of the problems. I want to have a good time. I’ve had enough of difficult situations.” So in August 1991, Baldwin flew east to start Streetcar, and Harrison Ford stepped into Jack Ryan’s shoes.
“I don’t know that Alec ever considered the politics of it,” says Gregory Mosher, who directed Streetcar. “I admired the shit out of him for making the decision he made.” Asked whether Baldwin’s behavior hurt his reputation, Red October’s co-producer Mace Neufeld, who hasn’t spoken to him since, lets out a small laugh. “He’s a very talented actor,” Neufeld says. “I like his brothers. They’re very nice boys.”
In the wake of Red October, Baldwin fired his agent and jumped to CAA. “His exact quote to me was, `I don’t need a Cadillac or a Mercedes to dig me out of the hole I’ve dug my career into; I need a tow truck,’ ” Bloom says. “Someday he will come to terms with his anger.”
Streetcar opened on April 1992, to mixed notices. His reviews were even worse when he testified before the New York City Council supporting a law restricting the city’s horse-drawn carriages, which he decried as animal cruelty. As he left the hearing room, he got into a shouting match with a carriage driver.
“His exact words were,” Baldwin says, affecting a brogue,”`Takin’ the food out of our fuckin’ mouths-and your nigger lovin’ wife, too — you fuckin’ faggot!’ He said that about my wife because she dated Prince. I guess that pushed a button because of my retarded middle-class upbringing, so I turned and I said, `Fuck you, faggot.’ And there was a battery of reporters outside.” They reported Baldwin’s outburst, pointedly adding that he was scheduled to speak at an AIDS rally later that week. Needless to say, he was disinvited. “And [that] made things difficult for me for a long time,” Baldwin says. “Aside from the negative P.R., I was even more sorry that people who believed I was on their side thought me just like everybody else.”
The bad press continued after he stopped giving interviews. During the next four years, the few movies he made were ritually panned, he was embroiled in a zoning dispute in Amagansett that kept cropping up in gossip columns, he married Basinger (who’s had some bad press of her own — over her purchase of a Georgia town, her lawsuit over the film Boxing Helena, as well as her recent beagle rescue mission) in August 1993, and two years later came the notorious cameraman-attack incident. When he left CAA for William Morris that year, neither Hollywood trade paper covered the switch. It was clearly time for a reappraisal. “I would turn to friends and say, `I’m starting to sound like Richard Nixon,’ ” Baldwin says. “I was tired, very tired, of not getting it right in Hollywood.”
* * *
BALDWIN IS BACK IN HIS POLITICIAN’S SHIRT AND TIE at 5:50 a.m. on a foul fall Saturday, the predawn of his last major effort as president of the Creative Coalition: a campaign-finance-reform petition drive. As volunteers and a handful of reporters fill two buses parked on 42nd Street, Baldwin and his brother Billy stand hatless in the pouring rain, worrying about where the third bus is. It finally arrives, and as the caravan departs, Alec takes to the P.A. system. “Did anyone not get coffee, tea, or fatty, greasy baked goods?” he asks. “Somebody already spilled their coffee? We’re going to ask them to get off the bus. Things you got away with in high school will not be tolerated here.”
Later, he gives a speech we’ll hear over and over that day, about how campaign-finance laws have turned politicians into money junkies. “They’re not getting the job done because they’re too busy raising money” he says. Somehow he connects military spending, pollution, big tobacco, and cancer to campaign-finance reform before someone hands him a cell phone and he heads to the back of the bus to do radio interviews. He’s still on the phone at 9:30 as the buses pull into Springfield, Massachusetts.
For the next two hours, Alec and Billy work the crowd, answering questions, posing for pictures, even kissing babies. People hover, stare, make small talk, and take photos with the stars as the volunteers eat breakfast and pick up T-shirts and petition kits, and local news crews get footage of the action. On the sidelines, Katie Pierce, an angel-faced junior-high student in jeans, a nubby sweater, and a chenille hat, stares at Billy Baldwin. “They asked in our government class if we wanted to help out,” she explains. “I’m more interested in getting to know him. Why is he married? He’s a Baldwin. They shouldn’t be married. They’re so cute and hot. We wanted to drool awhile.”
* * *
LATELY, THE EPICENTER OF BALDWIN CONTROVERSIES HAS BEEN NOT Hollywood but Amagansett. Trouble has been percolating there since 1988, when Baldwin bought his house and got to know his neighbors by way of a minor zoning squabble, blown out of proportion by his celebrity. Ever since, he has made regular appearances in the letters columns of the East Hampton Star, where, Republican congressman Michael Forbes says, “he’s never shied away from taking on the Bonackers,” under his own and several assumed names. He’s made enemies all over, ranging from Montauk’s feistiest right-winger, restaurant owner Bill “the Last American” Addeo (who once challenged Baldwin to a charity boxing match), to Jerry Della Femina, the outspoken adman who publishes the Star’s competition, The Independent. “He’s abusive, a bully,” says Della Femina, who repeatedly poked fun at Baldwin in print after the actor accused him of having an interest in a land-gobbling golf-course development. Alec was equally opinionated about local politics. “I began to see that the town Republican power structure out there was completely full of shit in every way. They want to build more hotels, have casino gambling, have ferries-they don’t care about water quality.”
Local Democrats were more to his taste. East Hampton town supervisor Tony Bullock, now Senator Daniel P. Moynihan’s chief of staff, helped Baldwin with his zoning spat, and they became fast friends. “That’s what you’re supposed to do in local government, make it sensitive,” Bullock says. Baldwin would later fly cross-country to appear at a Bullock fund-raiser.
These days, East End Democrats are aching for him to run against Forbes, who, though a scion of a powerful Democratic family, is the area’s first Republican congressman in 26 years. “I think he might [run],” Bullock says. “I’ve talked to him and he’s made it pretty clear he wants to run for office. Either Congress or the Senate would make sense for him.” Dominic Baranello, the top Democrat in Suffolk County, agrees. “He’d make a very attractive candidate,” Baranello says. “We suspect he may be interested. All that’s needed is his consent. I hope he will consider it, but that’s not a commitment to support him.”
At the moment, Forbes isn’t worried. “Alec thinks Congress is beneath him. The question is timing. If there’s ever an opportunity to mix it up, he will. He sees the Democrats don’t have much going on. And he clearly has a statewide ego.”
Baldwin’s political profile has ratcheted up since Creative Coalition president Christopher Reeve fell off a horse two years ago and Baldwin replaced him. He put his career on hold to work on issues like health care, gun control, and reproductive rights as well as arts advocacy. “We’ve been on the bus, literally and figuratively, for two years,” says Sharon O’Connell, the coalition’s executive director. “Alec has been extraordinarily committed.”
In the past few years, Baldwin has been in Washington as often as he’s been in Hollywood. It was there that he first met Chuck Schumer, whom he endorsed for the Senate this fall. “I’m in overwhelming agreement with Chuck about the overwhelming majority of his stands on issues,” Baldwin says. “I think he’s the best candidate, I think he gets it, he has the better record, he would make the best senator.”
Schumer sought his advice when he began considering a run in 1998. “Alec’s a class act,” Schumer says. “He doesn’t want attention on this. He just wants to do the right thing, he cares about things, he has good judgment, he’s willing to put his time and energy where his mouth is. I’ve rarely-please quote me on this-met anyone more selfless than Alec.”
Schumer declines to speak on the record about Baldwin’s political ambitions. But party sources guess that Schumer’s office has been the source of many of the Baldwin-for-Anything rumors. “Chuck needs statewide credibility” says Michael Forbes. “He needs to get his name in the press.” Baldwin does that for him and gets something in return, an experienced hand guiding him as he builds his own political base. “He wants a Spano to remember him,” Forbes continues. “Any good politico collects chits.”
Forbes says Baldwin’s even learning diplomacy. Forbes and Al D’Amato turned up at the opening of the Carol M. Baldwin Breast Care Center, named for Alec’s mother, a mastectomy survivor turned breast-cancer activist. D’Amato was carrying a check for $20,000. “Alec was truly appreciative,” Forbes says. “It was very collegial, very friendly-a couple times, we were all yukking it up.”
Baldwin’s activities with Schumer haven’t pleased everybody, though. “We have the better Baldwin,” snipes a source in Mark Green’s camp, referring to Alec’s younger brother Billy, who has endorsed Green, also a contender for D’Amato’s seat. Sources say that Judith Hope, another former East Hampton supervisor, now chairman of the flailing state Democrats, was annoyed when Baldwin showed up unannounced at Schumer’s side at the party’s midterm convention in Rye in September. But when she asked him, he stood up and offered his fund-raising and propaganda services to Democrats statewide. “He electrified the room” when he offered to help retire Al D’Amato, is all Hope will say about that. “He’s ferociously political. As political as anyone I’ve met, and it’s my business.” She reports that she asked him, “When are you going to run?” He demurred, but she hasn’t given up hope.
“We need some stars,” she says. “I recognize that.”
If Baldwin’s Hollywood career is any indication, he has not been motivated by gain but compelled by his passions-passions that sometimes boil over into anger, a failing that stymied him as a star. “He’s gonna have to learn to master diplomacy and compromise,” says brother Billy, “but he’ll still speak his mind.” If Baldwin can turn his passions productive, and communicate his interest in the greater good without the arrogance that has, until now, too often betrayed celebrity politicos, he may well become the man his father wanted him to be, the candidate he wasn’t in college, the mensch he didn’t know how to be in Hollywood.
* * *
IN THE HALLWAY OF BALDWIN’S CENTRAL Park West apartment is an Eisenstadt photo of John E Kennedy, the sort of image that no amount of Camelot-bashing revisionism can efface. Wearing soft, expensive clothes, Baldwin sits in his Art Deco office, talking about his father and his family and his potential future in politics. “The most important thing for my father in the end was family, and that is what has happened to me,” he tells me.
“I tell you what,” he says. “Write anything that will make people believe I have a political future. How’s that? I think it’s amusing if you keep that alive. But I have all these doubts about it. I don’t want to get divorced. It’s time away from my wife and my kid.” How does Basinger feel about all this? “She fluctuates,” he admits.
Afterward, Baldwin walks me to the lobby. During the interview, he’d been calm, serious, and-dare I say it-politic. But while we’re shaking hands, the old Alec Baldwin emerges to get in the last word. “On the other hand,” he says, “when someone says, ‘Aren’t you worried how nefarious politics can be?,’ I say ‘Nothing is worse than the movie business.’ And I mean that from the bottom of my soul.
“Nothing is worse than the movie business,” he says, almost gleefully. “Washington is just like the Boy Scouts compared to the movies.”
©1997 Michael Gross