Pretender to the Liberal throne

Peter C. Newman on Bob Rae, the man who could be king

by Peter C. Newman

If Bob Rae uses this week’s Liberal party convention in Ottawa to drop the “interim” label affixed to his job description, he will shatter the party’s iron rule of succession. Long before they became Canada’s Natural Governing Party, the Grits recognized the country’s twin cultural roots by strictly alternating between English and French leaders. The honour roll went from Mackenzie to Laurier, to King, to St. Laurent, to Pearson, to Trudeau, to Turner, to Chretien, to Martin, to Dion, to Ignatieff. That bycultural line was not, ever, negotiable.

Rae’s future has become a litmus test of the party’s future, if it has any. Even during the half decade the Michael Ignatieff Caper lasted, Rae’s presence was a daily concern: to himself (feeling under-used and over-anxious); to his fellow MPs (who cornered him to test his Liberal credentials); and for Iggy (whose friendship with the renegade NDPer turned into a duel that became a feud).

Rae has always been an enigma, embedded in the Jewish culture but growing up among Anglican mentors. A one-time political outcast among Toronto’s legal elites, he joined Goodmans, Bay Street’s leading Jewish legal factory, and by playing up his buoyant personality instead of his political record, was accepted as a public service gadabout and itinerant barroom piano player.

Unlike most contenders for the threadbare Liberal throne, Rae had made enemies effortlessly during his time as the only socialist premier in Ontario’s uptight history, when he almost bankrupted the province. Following Rae’s assumption of power in 1990, the business community, afraid of the Barbarian at their gates, panicked. The mood did not improve when a CityTV commentator, the late Colin Vaughan, asked Ontario’s then-treasurer, Floyd Laughren (better known as “Pink Floyd”), exactly when his government “lost its grip on reality.” The minister thought for a minute, then replied with a quip: “It’s hard to pin down precise dates on these things.”

One of the stranger events on Bob Rae’s watch was the Shelley Martel episode. A leading cabinet minister, she had to undergo a lie detector test—to prove that she had lied. On December 5, 1991, Martel became involved in a vicious public exchange about Northern Ontario health care costs with Evelyn Dodds, a key Thunder Bay municipal councilor. Martel ended a rant by declaring that her government was considering legal action against Sudbury doctor Jean-Pierre Donahue on the grounds that his billing practices were illegal, also claiming she had seen an adverse confidential government report on Donahue’s medical practices. Dodds promptly accused Martel of professional slander, and having illegal access to privileged information. In response, Martel insisted she had actually lied to Dodds, and that her accusations had been fabricated in a moment of anger, at the same time denying that she had seen any secret files.

Who to believe? Only one solution: Martel underwent a voluntary lie detector test to prove that she had lied—a first in Canadian political history. She passed the test without cracking a smile. A 1992 parliamentary commission verified the second version of Martel’s story and Rae kept her in cabinet. (There is no record of him having asked her: “What were you thinking?”)

Except for its shattered credit rating, King-Kong-size deficits and the freefall of its industrial base—Ontario survived the Rae debacle, with most power brokers swearing never to allow the NDP near power again.

An apocryphal story that went the rounds at the time involved three unhappy heavy hitters from Bay Street trying to get next to the Rae government so they could extract the odd favour. One of them suggested that his wife had a picture taken with a guy who knew a guy who worked in Rae’s Queen’s Park office. Another claimed he had gone to summer camp with a friend who later became Rae’s barber. “Oh hell!” the third Bay Streeter cut off the debate in a fit of frustration. “Let’s use my cleaning lady. She’s in his cabinet.”

The Rae family denied its Jewish origins until the 1968 Liberal convention, when Pierre Trudeau introduced himself to Jennifer Rae (Bob’s sister) by whispering to her, “Will you go out with me?” They courted, became a steady item and there was serious talk of an imminent engagement. But it never happened. The beauteous Jennifer became a senior executive at IMAX Corporation and faded from view.

Fearing a publicity blitz when the marriage rumours were still alive, Bob’s father, Saul, called the family together and announced to their surprise that they were not Raes at all, but Cohens—that they were Jewish, not Anglican, as they had pretended. The news hit Bob the hardest. From then on, he ate mainly at Jewish restaurants, went out exclusively with Jewish girls, and married one, the magnificent Arlene Perly.

“His life is the road I didn’t take,” Ignatieff once told me about Rae. Actually, it was the other way round. It was Rae, who at the crucial moment in their political lives manoeuvred Ignatieff into being ignominiously dumped at the 2006 Liberal leadership convention. Rae pointedly declined to pledge his supporters to his [alleged] best friend after he was dropped from the race. By releasing his followers, instead of being the king-maker, Rae became the king-spoiler—and the “king” never forgave him.

Following the 2006 leadership contest (won by Stéphane Dion) their friendship became a closed subject to Ignatieff, but Rae persisted (for instance, in private e-mails to Jane Taber of the Globe) that their relationship “is an enduring one” and that they must speak every couple of weeks. At one point, Rae messaged Ignatieff: “We’ve got to find a way through this so we don’t blow ourselves up.” There never was a reconciliation.

Following the May 2, 2011 blood-letting and Ignatieff’s vanishing act, Rae accepted the default position as the party’s interim leader. Most observers assumed this was a feint for Rae’s intention of using those training wheels to claim the real thing. He now expects delegates at the Ottawa convention to clear his path.

If it succeeds, his grab for power will leave him in charge of the Liberal party’s campaign in the next federal election, due in 2015. By then, Bob Rae will have turned 67, not the ideal age to take over the wiggling remnants of a political movement on its last legs.




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Pretender to the Liberal throne

  1. BobRae… the neo-typical liberal, leftist Canadian politician, who may be the last, bright hope to unite the Canadian Left into a counterforce to the Conservative behemoth.

    BINGO…BANGO…BUNGO …. remember these happier days??… clap if you do:

    http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v714/stevekog/LibranosBack.jpg

  2. Those poor Lieberals just don’t get it…………….so sad

  3. That’s great. Hey Peter, have you even interviewed Bob Rae….yet?

    • Rae will be at the convention all weekend, probably easy to catch a few minutes with him…

    • Interview Rae? Newman would still manipulate any information to taint his subject. Take the curious and extraneous reference to Rae’s father denying his Jewish heritage.  (Really? When your name is Saul?) A quick wiki search indicates that Saul Rae denied nothing.  Saul Rae’s father (Goodman Cohen), fled Lithuanian pogroms to Scotland in 1890.  There he married a Scottish lass by the name of McRae.  In the predictable scandal (probably on both sides of their families) they emigrated to Canada and changed their name to Rae. Saul, born in Canada was certainly not Jewish, according to the tenets of Judaism which is very clear that the Jewish lineage is bestowed by the MOTHER.  Saul Rae was born to an Anglican mother and baptized in an Anglican Church, there is no rabbi in the world who would accept his Jewishness.  Peter certainly knows this to be true. How much more titillating (though irrelevant) to suggest “a little family secret” … 

  4. If the Liberals fall for the b.s. that Rae is dishing these days then they certainly are headed for the  scrap heap of political history. Canadians will not accept a Bob Rae leadership and in the next election if Rae is leading the party Canadians will run as far away as they can from the Liberal party of Bob Rae.

    • Were I a member of the Liberal party, the grave concerns being expressed by conservatives over the danger of having Rae as permanent leader would have me considering favourably having Rae as permanent leader.

      • I would expect that the Liberals will elect Rae as their leader if they are foolish enough to change the rules. However, I would take the opposite approach. The Conservatives are warning the Liberal party that Rae will get a rough ride. Rae opened the salvo with his speech to the caucus this week where he tried to gloss over his record as the failed ex NDP Premier of Ontario.

        Liberals should think carefully with Rae as leader how are they going to grow their base. Quebec and the West at large have no use for him. The ethnic communities are lost to the Libs in the foreseeable future. Instead of dismissing Peter C. Newman’s book they should take it to heart.

        • Is there anyone more insincere than a spooked Con?

          • Spooked? You got to be joking. If Rae wins the leadership he has more than enough baggage that would even sink the titantic.
            Look at Nanos leadership polls. Canadians don’t trust a word that comes out of his mouth.

        • Rae has no tack record in the west.

          He’s got no track record in Quebec. The little that he has is positive – he’s liked.

          Ethnic communities are far from “lost”

          …are you admitting by any chance that the Tories are specifically targetting the “ethnic” vote?

          Newman’s book is a good read, but the opinions are just his and not necessarily the final definitive word on the LPC – just interesting.

          Why do you pretend to be an authority on libs when you hate their guts and do nothing everywhere you go but crap on them?

          • Oh yes he has a track record in the West and in the rest of Canada.

            He was a failed NDP Ontario premier who destroyed the economy and loaded debt on that province. So his record is well known. If elected leader of the Liberal party he will carry the NEP baggage of the party, fair or otherwise.

            I have no inside knowledge but I don’t think it has been a hidden fact that Jason Kenney has worked hard in the ethic communities because many of those people carrry conservatives values.

            I have not read Newman’s book so cannot offer a comment on it.

            I did vote for Jean Chretien in 1993 and when he failed to keep his promises I started looking elsewhere. Other than covering the deficit the Chretien government was content on simply managing. He did not deal with the many issues that face Canada i.e. aborigianl, poverty etc. etc.

            I crap on them because they are corrupt, eltists who believe their sh.t doesn’t stink and who would tax us to death in order to social engineer the country into bankruptcy.

          • Our sh.t stinks?

          • Jim_Bob etc. If you will refer to my comments again I was speaking of the elites in the Liberal party.

            They have destroyed their party with incessant infighting and thinking that they could win elections because of their past glories.

            They refuse to catch up with the times. There is a new player in town and he can be as dirty as they ever where. They better wake up and smell the coffee or they will disappear after the next election.,

        • “Rae opened the salvo with his speech to the caucus this week where he tried to gloss over his record as the failed ex NDP Premier of Ontario”

          Boy you’re full of unsupported assertions today. And as always you speak for everyone – the west, Quebec, ethnic communities…do you have an opinion on what the Queen thinks about it?

           Tell me did you listen to his speech of just read about it in Taber’s column?
          He didn’t gloss over his record, he embraced it.

          And for a guy who hasn’t read Newman’s book you sure have alot of unsolicited advise to give. What are you a mindreader?

          • Oh boy you have an ugly on today.

            Could it be your favourite party is not meeting your expectations?

            Yeah the Queen doesn’t like Rae much either. There are not many in the country that do :-)

            As for speaking for everyone you only have to look at the last election results, current polling results and of course the latest Nanos leadership polling which puts Rae close to the bottom. Although it is hard to beat Turmel.

            I listened to his speech and read the accounting of it in the media. Rae did this so he could butter up the lemmings in the cacus so that when he does declare there may not be outright revolt. He is wrong they rejected him twice and if they are smart they will reject him a third time.

            I would suspect that there are many in Ontario who would take a contrary point of view to what Rae said in his speech hence the glossing over comment.

            I had many of these opinions long before Newman wrote his book. I don’t need to read another Liberal’s opinion to form my own.

          • On the contrary no ugly on. The convention seems to be going quite well. I simply don’t trust you to have idependent views of the LPC. But if you did take the time to listen to his speech and form your own opinions then good for you – many can’t be bothered.
            I don’t see any evidence to support your theory of a Rae coup. As isaid earlier he’s behind the push for open primaries, if he really wanted to seize control of the party it’s hardly likely he would choose this route. There’s a pretty good chance that he wont be chosen in an open primary, it’s a big gamble.
            Personally i don’t think he will last beyond the next election. The party is more likely to go for a younger candidate if they open up in any case.

          • If Rae is as bad as you suggest, you would be praying he ends up leading the Liberals.  But you have your knickers so knotted up it is obvious you see him as a threat.  You must be a terrible poker player.

        • People who take Peter Newman’s books to heart have lost their brains.

        • “The Conservatives are warning the Liberal party that Rae will get a rough ride.”

          Pu-leese! So the Harper reputation wrecking crew will back off if the Libs pick someonr else?

          You just made my point.

          • No I did not say that. However, Rae would be such a delcious target that the Conservative would have a treasure trove of information and stats to throw out there that it would be like taking candy from a baby.

      • You are so right. At the Liberal leadership convention in ’05, Conservatives were there and distributing anti-Rae buttons. They have good reason to fear him.

      • The adage in politics is that “the other guy can always win”.  But man, Rae just seems like dead meat.  It’s hard for me to envision him beating Harper.  He’ll be 67 (!), he already looks worn out now (not as worn out as Turner and Martin sitting beside him tonight, but he’s on his way there).  Rae is a great retail politician, I’ll give him that.  But you gotta have something to sell, and he just doesn’t.  The Liberals seriously need to rebound in Ontario, and there’s enough people still alive that remember all too well Rae’s reign in Ontario.  He is dead to those voters.

        I really don’t see anyone in the pipeline for the Libs where you would say “there is an up-and-coming serious politician”, like you would’ve said about Harper circa 1996.  Trudeau is not it, maybe Leblanc or Garneau, but I don’t see any of them having that special something.  That person will come, though by then we might have a merged Liberal Democrat party.  After a few “fights to the death” between the “progressive” parties, of course.

        • Your assessment is bang on. Those that vote will remember Rae and his record of failure as the ex NDP Premier of Ontario. The kids not so much. However, they don’t vote.

          I saw the picture of Rae in the Hill Times with other Liberals going into the tribute dinner. What struck me was they are old. That’s the essence of the Liberal party today. A bunch of old people loving on the dreams of the past.

          You are also right about no apparent person who comes to mind that could become leader. Rae seems to be the only game in town at this point. However, it will not encourage people to run if they believe the fix is in.

        • I think you assessment is bang on. The people who actually come out and vote are the ones who will remember Rae’s record as the ex failed  Premier of Ontario. Of course Rae’s reputation has spread across the country and that reputation is one of failure.

          I saw the picture of Rae on the Hill Times this morning with some of the Liberals entering the hall last nite for the tribute dinner. It struck me that they were all old. That is the Liberal party today….OLD.

          i agree that there does not seem to be someone in the pipeline as a leader. However, the party needs to wait and see who will run. However, giving the impression that the fix is in will not encourage people to spend good money trying to win something that has already been preordained.

  5. Peter Newman, the Kitty Kelley of Canada’s establishment.  Found a tired formula many years ago and has been getting away with garbage for more than a lifetime.  A testimony to Canada’s small pond parochialism that Newman has not been entirely ignored for the last forty years.  What a nothing!

    • What a mean and dispiriting critique. You darken everyone’s day.  

      • Peter C. Newman has been dining out on malignant innuendo since publishing The Canadian Establishment. The gossip monger’s use of twisted facts are what strike me as “mean and dispiriting”.  And that applies just as much to Newman’s treatment of Mulroney as Rae. I invite you to read my reply to Bill Brasky.

  6. You realise, of course, that the recent Ontario budget deficit of $19 billion under Liberal Dalton McGuinty is greater than the $17 billion that the deficit reached under then NDPer Bob Rae

    • Yes, we have not yet recovered the tax base industry used to provide in this province. Much thanks Bob!

  7. Rae betrayed his party, the NDP, and the many thousands of people over the years who believed in him, worked hard to get him elected as MP, MPP, NDP leader and Premier and then squandered the NDP victory in 1990 by abandoning party policies such as public auto insurance. It’s therefore not a surprise that, as a turncoat, he betrayed his “best friend” Michael Ignatieff in 2006. The man simply cannot be trusted.

  8. Good lord, I missed it the first read – you’re using Jane Taber as a source?  

  9. I sincerely hope you Win-   Bobby

  10. Revisionism. Alternation was never non-negotiable. Did anyone make that case on Dion’s behalf when he trailed two anglos on the first ballot and edged another one by 4 votes?

  11. Now that Bob brought all of this history out of the woodwork, I say it’s fair game. He was asking to be fought on it by making that speech, and now, expect the worse. I’m a Liberal, and I will NEVER support Bob Rae as permanent leader. That is not renewal.

    • Well it would be a renewal of “insiders twisting events to suit themselves”(while mumbling the party must stop attaching their leaders) That is renewal. What did you think Bob meant?
      Sad that much touted leadership convention due in a few years that might have allowed rank and file Libs to choose a leader will be all smoke and mirrors. Back room power brokers maneuvering and getting exactly what they want long before paid members even get a chance to vote.

  12. Ooh, sad day will be for the LPC if they let Bob get away with it! They seem to still looking for the Mesiah. And he is not the answer, not even close.

    • Another concerned Con.

  13. well well ! one good thing that can happen to the liberals, best scenario for the party would be to have bob macguinty,or copps running the show~~~~ rflol. after all they cant get any worse in the polls

  14. The “interim” has been dropped for quite some time actually.  Not sure what all the fuss is about.

    How extremely funny it is to see crap dredged up 20 – 30 – 40 years ago.  Desperate are we?

    • Crap is the appropriate word for it.  The “power brokers” didn’t resolve to never let the NDP near power after Rae.. they’d vowed it even before he got in, taking out advertisements in the Wall Street Journal warning businesses to stay away if he got in, etc.

      That, coupled with Ontario’s import driven economy at a time of sky-high interest rates and bottom of the barrel Canadian dollar meant that avoiding bankruptcy at all was actually a pretty reasonable feat for Ontario, especially when you look at the situation he inherited from the previous CPC governments, and what happened immediately after him — when Alberta got it’s influx of people who lost their jobs in Ontario.

      • You can defend Rae all you want but there are many in Ontario and across the country who disagree with you.
        There is one thing that a Premier facing a recession etc and that is to do no further harm. Rae did many things that continued to hurt the Ontario economy. That is why the NDP will never get the reins of power in Ottawa.
        For him to suggest that he did not do as bad as the PM is disingenous. Harper is running a federal government and is responsible for the whole country. Rae was running one province. Hardly a fair comparison.

        • And there’s many people who believe the earth is flat. Your appeal to the masses is irrelevant.

      • Do you know your history at all?  It was Peterson’s Liberals who were in office before Rae, from 1985-1990.  The Ontario Liberals did ramp up spending and leave the province vulnerable in the case of a downturn, which of course came.  But Rae did nothing to stop it … pretty much EVERY action he took made things worse.  He TRIPLED Ontario’s debt within the space of 5 years!!!  That’s right … I said debt and not deficit.  He was a horrible Premier, and it’s laughable and quite galling that he thinks he has any sort of shot at replicating that record on a national level.  Pull the other one Bob!

  15. If Rae wants to run for the permanent leadership, he should resign as interim leader. Today. It is unfair to the rest of the field to allow Rae to campaign for the leadership from the position of incumbency.

  16. “If it succeeds, his grab for power will leave him in charge of the Liberal party’s campaign in the next federal election, due in 2015. By then, Bob Rae will have turned 67, not the ideal age to take over the wiggling remnants of a political movement on its last legs”

    No biggie but Peter might want to aknowledge that this is pretty well all cut and pasted out of his recent book, except for a couple lines like these.
    He also might like to aknowledge that even those in Raes corner like Copps have said that the race for leader should be thrown open to everyone – including Rae – nothing secret about that. The only real question is whether it is inherently unfair to other candidates for him to campaign from position of interim leader – yes it is; but is it really such a big deal given the parties circumstances? If Rae hadn’t performed pretty well since taking over this likely wouldn’t be much of an issue. Unfair yes – but since when has politics been about being fair? As long as the other as the other candidates get a fair crack at the leadership why punish Rae’s success? Remember he’s also pushing the idea of open primaries for electing a new leader. This could very well spiral out of the parties control and choose anyone but Rae. Give the guy some credit for taking the risk for himself and the party.
    I’m not a Rae fan particularly – i’ll wait and see what comes up. My choice would almost certainly be someone who can fire up young people, but that’s no reason to fault Rae because of his age.

  17. The current Liberal event will help me make up my mind about my voting future. The Southern Ontario crowd being so inept at what they do, and, of course, Oshawa Liberals are totally dysfunctional, had me on the edge, then along comes the word that Rae has wormed his, I use “wormed” as just maybe slither labels him a snake, his way into maybe being the leader in the next election. This will be the final push, my decision made, to wander over to the Green Party who has an economic platform closer to what us old Liberals used to believe in and a green platform advocated by our last full membership elected Liberal leader, Stephane Dion.
    History shows that the ever-tell-them-what-they-want-to-hear Rae left us Michael Harris to destroy Ontario, now he will facilitate the PSEUDOCONS surviving to almost 2020. this is no reflection on his religion, but is Rae, like Manley before him,  really Canada’s Lieberman, a conservative in liberal clothing?
    During the last election, Rae came into UOIT to support the 407, thinking this is Oshawa, it will be so easy as, well, they are a GM town. He drew a stellar crowd, maybe 25, 15 who were PSEUDOCONS I knew. Assuming we are all car obsessed, he was all for the 407. When asked about farmland, Rae answers, “the 407 will have little effect on farmland”. Now this is where it gets interesting and perplexing for Rae, “but what is the Liberal Party policy on farmland protection especially areas like the Delta region of British Columbia”…”Dah, Toto, thought I was in Oshawa”; he had no answer. Does not end there, “but Quebec has a policy” “Well that is something we will have to look into”
    Then he is asked what he thinks of nuclear power. “I am a supporter of nuclear power.” But did he not kill it when he was premier? The best being the question about affordable education, this avowed “socialist” come “Liberal” who support Harper, had no plan. He also had no real answer about the Tar, oops,  Oil Sands, Rae says “I prefer to call it Oil Sands, Canada’s greatest economic advantage”. Now it gets difficult for him again, “But what about the environmental damage and the decimation of native nations and the future of a pipeline and oil tankers traveling the British Columbia coast.” Forgetting the last part of the question was Liberal policy, no tankers inside the 12 mile limit, he said “but we want the extraction done responsibly. OK…ask Turtle Island all about that one Bob.

    Your poll asks today if the Liberals will come back, my answer, no, they are dead under Rae. and lastly, bragging rights, this from the one who was called delusional by some Liberals because I called their third party standing almost a year before it came down.

    • What does Delta farmland have to do witht he Feds?

  18. Peter Newman really needs to get over himself; enough trees have died.

  19. That’s the problem.  He’s now resorted to cluttering bandwidth…

  20. That’s the problem.  He’s now resorted to cluttering bandwidth…

  21. ” Rae did many things that continued to hurt the Ontario economy.”

    Oh?  Like what? 

    Harper p.ssed away a huge surplus and stole our EI surplus to boot.  We’re further broke than when Mulroney made us be!

  22. Two things seem to be missing from the closing summary dismissal of the Liberal Party as “a political movement on its last last legs,” and the depiction of Rae as the mariner with the albatross around his neck:

    1) I recall a time not long ago when the “Conservative Party” had only two seats in the house. Their resurgence as the governing majority came about with the unification of the right under the banner of cross party political power brokers (who are now enjoying some pretty lavish perks), and a public sense of rot fuelled by the sponsorship scandal. Since Jack is no longer with us, I find it hard to imagine a leading figure on the left, more qualified then Bob Rae, at this time, to broker the necessary unification deal to seriously oppose the tories and their dynasty-building dismatling of our democracy. It’s not too difficult to imagine a scandal of this scale occurring within the next 4 years, and The Liberal Democratic Party of Canada has a nice ring to it.

    2) The recent political events of the past several months have cast Mr. Rae as the current effective leader of the opposition. Is there a better prerequisite to be the official leader of the opposition, or the leader of the official opposition, or even the Prime Minister? Being the Premier of Ontario, and a Rhodes Scholar don’t hurt either.

  23. Two things seem to be missing from the closing summary dismissal of the Liberal Party as “a political movement on its last last legs,” and the depiction of Rae as the mariner with the albatross around his neck:

    1) I recall a time not long ago when the “Conservative Party” had only two seats in the house. Their resurgence as the governing majority came about with the unification of the right under the banner of cross party political power brokers (who are now enjoying some pretty lavish perks), and a public sense of rot fuelled by the sponsorship scandal. Since Jack is no longer with us, I find it hard to imagine a leading figure on the left, more qualified then Bob Rae, at this time, to broker the necessary unification deal to seriously oppose the tories and their dynasty-building dismatling of our democracy. It’s not too difficult to imagine a scandal of this scale occurring within the next 4 years, and The Liberal Democratic Party of Canada has a nice ring to it.

    2) The recent political events of the past several months have cast Mr. Rae as the current effective leader of the opposition. Is there a better prerequisite to be the official leader of the opposition, or the leader of the official opposition, or even the Prime Minister? Being the Premier of Ontario, and a Rhodes Scholar don’t hurt either.

  24. I didn’t know until this moment that Bob was Jewish not that there is anything wrong with that. Why is Peter running it like a flag? Is Bob the new Disreali? I find this article very off-putting.

  25. What an ugly piece of hack journalism. I hope your book on the death of the Liberal Party ends up in bargain bins for 99¢ a copy.

  26. This is a very unhelpful gossipy article – very typical of Newman.  I hope and trust something more substantive will follow.

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