Jewish World Review Oct. 23, 2003 / 27 Tishrei, 5764

Lloyd Grove

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Ace up Howard Dean's sleeve; Woody's ordeal; Paul Simon's kid makes good; the non-beginning of a beautiful friendship? | NEW YORK — Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean likes to present himself as a breath of fresh air: He won't join the cynical insider political culture that he repeatedly describes in speeches as: "Say whatever it takes to get elected."

So it was with considerable glee this week that a top aide to a Dean opponent informed me that the former Vermont governor has just hired killer gumshoe Ace Smith to gather dirt on political rivals.

The very same Ace Smith who ran "oppo research" for sharp-elbowed, soon-to-be-ex California Gov. Gray Davis — "puke campaigns," in the words of Arnold Schwarzenegger.

"Ace certainly has that jugular instinct," says an operative who has worked closely with him on Davis's campaigns.

The 44-year-old Smith — who operates from a San Francisco office building that was used in the movie "Dirty Harry" as a crazed sniper's perch, didn't sound pleased when I phoned him Wednesday.

"I'm trying to be really low-key," he told me. "My name appearing in a newspaper somewhere doesn't do me a whole lot of good. I'm not doing anything tremendously interesting anyway. I'm just helping them get their whole research department organized. It's really quite bureaucratic and boring."

Political consultants such as Smith can receive fees of as much as $30,000 monthly, but neither Smith nor the Dean campaign would comment on his compensation.

As for rival campaigns who might accuse Dean of hypocrisy for recruiting this hired gun, "Personally, I think it's laughable," Smith said. "Gimme a break. I don't think anyone cares about who the consultants are anyway."

Dean campaign spokesman Jay Carson told me: "Whenever you get attacked by a bunch of Washington insiders, it's good to have someone on your side who knows them well."

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He's the son of pop legend Paul Simon of Simon & Garfunkel fame. But Harper Simon is making his own way in the music business.

"Sometimes, we'll talk about music, not so much the band," the 31-year-old lead guitarist told me after his group, Menlo Park, wowed the Tuesday night crowd at Tonic. "We don't talk about it that much really. He has seen us play in London."

Simon, whose mother is Peggy Harper, is a newcomer to the London-based foursome, and the show in the tiny downtown club was Menlo Park's American debut.

"It's great to come over here — to make a little splash," he said. "We've got an audience in London, but it's hard to make that happen here on your first show. I write for the band. Everyone writes some things. I sort of have a kind of Keith Richards role — in that I play guitar and sing harmonies."

Their style is eclectic — variously described as "hip-hop country," "voodoo folk" and "Bar Mitzvah cabaret." Along with founding members Chris Taylor, John Greswell and Sebastian Rochford, Simon wears a suit jacket — stylized and theatrical. Taylor, the lead singer, wore a tight, foppish ensemble, and punctuated his riffs by having what looked like a seizure. The perversely delighted audience included Sean Lennon. "That was a surprise — I hadn't seen him in a really long time," Simon said. "We've known each other a long time. We've known each other since we were kids."


THE NON-BEGINNING OF A BEAUTIFUL FRIENDSHIP?: Foo Fighters front man Dave Grohl isn't the type to scare easy, but an apparently enraged George Will was enough to spook him Tuesday. At Tuesday night's "GQ Man of the Year" party, after Grohl collected the "Rock Icon of the Year" statuette, he told me that a few hours earlier he and his wife Jordan were on the New York-bound Amtrak Acela a couple of rows behind the acerbic ABC News pundit. "It was George Will all right. I called my father, who's a conservative Republican and a big George Will fan, and he told me I had to go up and say hi for him. I was going to, but then I saw that he was very unhappy about somebody spilling a drink on him or something. His face turned red. I heard some Amtrak employee trying to soothe him: 'We're just trying to make you comfortable, sir.' So I didn't think it would be a good idea."

Will, who readily admitted to not having the slightest idea who Grohl is, laughed when I gave him the rocker's version of events. "He's a better rock star than he is a reporter," he said. "Here's what happened. You know those trays that you pull off the seat, the ones with springs on them? Well, mine wouldn't go level with the ground, so when I put the pretzels on it, they slid off. So I moved my seat. End of story." And would Will have welcomed Grohl's greeting? "Of course!"

WOODY'S ORDEAL: I hear that associates of Woody Allen — who's been taking a public relations hammering over the tacky book proposal in which he offered to tell all about his life with Soon-Yi and various other women "for a lot of money" — are privately blaming International Creative Management agents John Burnham and Binky Urban for the fiasco. Allen withdrew the book proposal, ostensibly because no one offered the necessary bucks, after he was attacked by New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd among others. For the moment, it doesn't appear that he'll fire his longtime agent Burnham, who asked Urban to shop the book around. Allen's flack, Leslee Dart, declined to comment Wednesday.

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10/22/03: Showing the flag; Joe Frazier, smokin'!; see Carville bruised-up — sort of
10/21/03: Morris & Jaci's charm offensive; Hell hath no fury; Wintertime for Hitler
10/20/03: Isn't it rich?; men (and the occasional woman) behaving badly; peacenik John Lennon supporting the U.S. military?; courageous Connie
10/16/03: George Clooney and intolerable Drudgery; Cameron goes native; and you thought the war in Iraq was nasty?; now it can be revealed; star wars?
10/15/03: Kerik into the breach?; holiday pander?; "the Dink" corrects the record; more
10/14/03: Madge gets mad, lips are sealed; the candidates who listen; he who hesitates is Beatty
10/13/03: Clothes, but no cigar; New Yorkers put a Sox in it; mad at Matalin?; more
10/09/03: Gray Davis goes to the movies; Ali Wentworth, working blue; Law & Order?; pot of gold at the end of the rainbow room?
10/08/03: Art-time for Hitler; the actress who hates movies; lying "Liam"
10/07/03: Pond scum of the rich and famous
07/24/03: Ali and George, living it up; Mel Gibson's Washington power play
07/21/03: White House smear?
07/17/03: Yet another intern scandal; it's her party and she can pay if she wants to
07/14/03: On the auction block: JFK'S boxer shorts; love bytes the maestro
07/10/03: A hairy situation at Homeland Security; Van Susteren v. Orth
06/30/03: Rep. Patrick Kennedy: I've never worked a (bleeping) day in my life; Drudge's dressing down; Ken Lay's Kerry connection
06/26/03: Rapping the beat
06/23/03: Another Watergate scandal?; AL GORE TV!
06/19/03: Tony Snow, rocker?; that won't be crow on Mr. Carlson's plate
06/16/03: Missing dog, ransom demand, Hollywood ending
06/12/03: Giving both parties the needle
06/05/03: Incoming from Barbara Bush?
06/02/03: Bob Dole's plan for fighting unemployment
05/29/03: Newt's new novel
05/27/03: Hitchens & Blumenthal, together again; He still believes in a man called Hope
05/09/03: Close, but no cigar; Romeo & Juliet with a happy ending?; Geraldo to help Heebs?
05/05/03: So Bill Gates and Tom Brokaw walk into a coffee bar . . .; hotel hell; more

© 2003, Creators Syndicate