Harry for Senator?
by Mike Grayeb
In one of the last songs Harry wrote and recorded, he sang "I Don't Want to Be President." Did he really mean that, or was there some hidden message to the contrary? For years fans have wondered whether Harry really had political aspirations.
After all, he spent a great deal of time lobbying Congress and President Jimmy Carter to establish a Presidential Commission on World Hunger. He strummed his guitar on the steps of the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., and hung around the restrooms inside the rotunda to corner and secure support from senators and representatives on hunger-related legislation.
And, of course, he always reminded his audiences of the importance of a participatory democracy.
In 1980 Ronald Reagan was elected to replace Jimmy Carter as President of the United States, and Al D'Amato was elected as a Republican U.S. Senator from New York. Several of the candidates Harry had campaigned for were not elected or re-elected. "I think Harry was discouraged, frustrated, and disappointed," Sandy Chapin recalled.
That same year Harry initiated a plan to run for U.S. Senator in six years when D'Amato would be up for re-election. "He thought it was a way to work for change," she said. "You might wonder about that today, but he believed it then."
Harry, his brother James and Long Island Rep. Tom Downey had strategy meetings around the breakfast table at the Chapin home, she said. "James was very serious about it, and they decided Harry was the candidate, and James was going to orchestrate the campaign."
Harry had put an insert in his concert program to get people to sign up for his mailing list, and he had amassed about 25,000 names, she said. The list was to be used to generate support for his political run. He also had a very strong network of Long Island businessmen who knew how to get things done, and he saw himself in the same light, she explained.
But would Harry have tried to juggle a music and political career at the same time?
"I think he would have given up his music career, but that was a possibility anyway because he saw himself as having other careers, one of which was being a film director," she noted. "He was always juggling a number of things anyway. Some days I think he thought of doing all of them simultaneously."
Sandy recently mused about what role she might have had to assume in Harry's campaign, particularly considering the quiet role some of the wives of this year's presidential candidates have taken. "I think about Dr. Dean's wife, and it never occurred to me that I would have the option to say no [to a prominent role in the campaign] like she did," she said. "I just thought I would have to learn how to go out and do public speaking."
Watch for the Next Issue of Circle! on June 7