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Reflections on the Great White Way

Flashing lights, a pop-rock score, and actors whizzing by on roller skates!  I couldn’t have been more than 11 years old, and there I sat in the Gershwin Theater experiencing my very first Broadway musical, “Starlight Express!”

©istockphoto.com/ferrantraite

©istockphoto.com/ferrantraite

My parents weren’t wealthy by any stretch of the imagination, but we lived a comfortable middle class existence in the outer borough of Queens.  My mother, an avid opera and theater fan, always looked for ways to expose my brother and me to the fine arts.  And, while dad was more of a “beer and baseball” kind of guy, he, too, enjoyed the finer things in life.  So, after a casual conversation at a family gathering with my Godmother (also a theater junkie), my parents thought it was time to introduce my brother and me to the glittering lights of the Great White Way.

The evening started off with a crash — quite literally.  On the day of the performance, mom picked us up from school, scurried us into the house to get us changed (no jeans and sneakers to a Broadway show, thank you very much), and whisked us into our car where we proceeded to Bensonhurst to pick up my Godmother.  From what I can recall, we were right on schedule to wait in line to purchase discount tickets at the TKTS booth in Duffy Square.  It was first come, first serve at TKTS, and I held my breath, hoping upon hope the tickets for the evening performance weren’t sold out!

Success!  Mom returned to the car with five tickets. First, though, we had to park the car.  That’s when it happened.

The garage my father chose had one of those twisting entrance ramps that went on for what seemed like an eternity before you actually reached an attendant.  Let me put it this way, we never reached “forever.”  At the time, my parents drove a used Lincoln Continental the size of, oh, let’s say, the U.S.S. Intrepid, and as we were winding our way down the ramp, my dad sideswiped the wall.

Everyone was fine, but it was an unwelcomed and unexpected sideshow to the evening’s events.  Miraculously, though, we made it for the performance’s curtain.   The musical was a spectacle like nothing I had ever seen before!  And, I thank you, Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber for giving me my first taste of the narcotic that is Broadway.  Twenty years later, it is an addiction I choose not to break.

That night was more than an introduction.  It was an initiation.  I became a member of the legions who have had the privilege to witness some of the greatest performers in the world take to the boards — Ethel Merman, Angela Lansbury, Jerry Orbach, Mickey Rooney, Chita Rivera, Bernadette Peters, Patti Lupone, Michael Crawford, and the list goes on and on.

But, I ask, will future generations be able to say the same?  To put it mildly, Broadway is not cheap.  According to a 2007 New York Times article, the average paid admission for a show between 1946 and 1947 was $3.90.  From 1986 to 1987, theater goers paid, on average, $29.42, and that jumped to $76.32 between 2006 and 2007.  And, for the week ending May 17, 2009, the average ticket price for a show ranged from $48.00 to $109.88.

I concede.  There are great deals out there to be found.  (Keep an eye out in the Sunday papers.  My family found a terrific 2 for 1 promotion that allowed us to introduce my little cousins to the wonder that is “Mary Poppins.”)  But, with so many “deals” available, does that not mean there is an unstated agreement that ticket prices are just way out of line?  Shouldn’t discounted prices, then, be more of the rule than the exception?  And, with the new discovery that the Broadway League — the trade association of owners and producers — has been charging a $1 league fee on discounted tickets sold at TKTS booths even though they successfully fought and prevented a state tax on theater tickets recently, I ask, “Is nothing sacred?”

Perhaps, Broadway producers should take a cold hard look at the facts.  New Yorkers — an obvious target audience for Broadway shows — think the price of admission is out of line.  In fact, The Marist Poll found that 72% of New York City residents think Broadway shows are not affordable for the average person.  That includes 81% of those who have seen a show in the last three years.  Even worse, perhaps, is that 47% of New Yorkers think Broadway shows are not a good value for their money.

There is nothing in the world like Broadway!  And, trust me when I say, I do not begrudge the struggling actors, singers, and dancers their rightful due.  These men, women, and children bring the words and music to life night after night.  But, there must be some way to strike a balance — to make Broadway affordable while compensating the talented professionals who act, sing, and/or dance  their hearts out six days a week.  If not, I fear that entire generations to come will miss out on the magic that is Broadway.

Sources/Related Stories:

6/4: Bad News for Broadway?

Theater: The Tonys; Broadway by the Numbers: Remember Those $4 Tickets

Opposing a Tax, Broadway Added a Fee

Theater; ‘Starlight Express’ Rolls to Market with a Rock Beat

6/2: Dugout Chatter — Baseball in NYC

By John Sparks

Baseball season is in full swing!  From Major League Baseball’s ticket prices to new stadiums’ impact on the game, there’s a lot of chatter surrounding the sport.  In an interview with The Marist Poll’s John Sparks, sports journalist Len Berman weighs in.  Check out their conversation below.

Len Berman

John Sparks
Len, we conducted a poll and we asked the public if they thought the cost of a ticket to a major league game was a good value for the money.  83% of those who considered themselves baseball fans said, “No, it is not a good value”.  In fact, 84% of those who make $50,000 a year or more also said a big league ticket isn’t a good value.  I was just wondering what you think and why you think folks responded as they did?

Len Berman
Well, I think in some new stadiums and some old stadiums, the price of tickets has gotten out of hand.  I mean clearly all the publicity is focused on the new stadiums in New York City.  I mean to spend hundreds of dollars for a baseball game is patently absurd. We all have long memories.  I mean mine goes back…  I bought a reserved seat at the Old Yankee Stadium for $2.50 because I couldn’t afford the $3.50 box seats, so I mean we all have those memories.  I think it’s just gotten out of hand in some places.

John Sparks
Well, you know, at the beginning of the season, you mentioned the new Yankee Stadium.  I think those premium seats went for $2,500 a game and then they slashed those in half, but those seats are still just too pricey; don’t you think?

Len Berman
Well, absolutely.  In fact, I was just reminiscing about Jay Leno’s last show coming up, and I was fortunate enough to be a guest on his program on the Tonight Show back in 2005.  Now this was four years ago, and one of the questions Jay asked me was, “What would I do if I were commissioner for a day?” and I just off the cuff said that, “Gee, I’d like to make a couple of tickets at every game be affordable.  Maybe, you could buy them by lottery just so the average family could go to the ballpark.”  And, the audience erupted into applause, so I knew I touched on something four years ago and now four years later, things have only gotten worse.

John Sparks
Absolutely.  You may remember that George Steinbrenner was always pressing for more luxury boxes, the old Yankee Stadium built it and back in 1923, it wasn’t equipped with luxury boxes in those days.  That was one of the motivators behind building a new stadium, but those suites are not being filled.  Could it be that major league baseball has finally out-priced itself?

Len Berman
Well, I mean I don’t think anyone predicted the recession.  For years, everything was just going up, up, up, up, up, from housing to luxury cars to everything. I mean there was never a downturn so this was just the perfect storm that killed the golden goose.  I mean I just think – – listen, fortunately I make a nice living and a few friends of mine, we decided to go to baseball game in a couple weeks so we decided to buy a ticket for $190.  Now, it’s per person and it’s just a couple of guys, so I’m going to spend $190 to go to a baseball game. Now I think that’s way out of line but thank God I’m not buying tickets for my family.  I guess the flipside is there are plenty of tickets available online.  I got a great email from somebody the other day saying they were able to buy some cheap seats in the upper deck at Citi Field, and they had a great time.  So, I mean I guess there is a bright side to this somewhere.

John Sparks
Do you think it’s reached a point where the game’s in danger of survival?

Len Berman
I’m not sure survival is ever an issue.  I mean that’s been spoken about for years.  I mean it’s come up during the war. It came up in the 40’s.  It came up when baseball took a year off for the strike in ’94.  I think the game is strong.  I think people will figure out a way, but I think those owners who envision just riches that would be on top of riches, I think there’s another thing coming.  I mean listen, the Giants and Jets built a new stadium.  There was nothing wrong with the old stadium.  It’s a fine – – it’s a fine facility and the Giants always had this legendary waiting list with hundreds of thousands of names for tickets.  Well, they’ve burned through the entire waiting list, and they’re still looking for people because fans are just balking at the idea of personal seat licenses.

John Sparks
In that regard, we also asked New York City residents if they follow professional baseball a great deal, somewhat…

Len Berman
I love that question.  I absolutely love that.  In fact, I’m writing about it on my website; but go ahead, I’ll let you finish the question.

John Sparks
Great.  Well, almost 50% said they don’t follow the game at all; and when you add those that don’t follow it very much or somewhat, it’s a whopping 84%.  Now, I grew up loving baseball and I’m concerned that we may have lost a whole generation of fans. Would you agree?

Len Berman
I think there’s two parts to that. Yes, I think some fans have been lost.  You’re certainly going to lose kids who can’t stay up late at night to watch the World Series and whose parents can’t afford to take them to games.  But, the other side of that is I’ve always felt that the number of sports fans were over-rated.  I’ve always argued with people that the majority of people are just not sports fans, and people look at me like I’m crazy.  I think the sports fan or the non-sports fan is intimidated into thinking that he’s in the minority because of ESPN, and All Talk radio, and the tabloids.  The truth of the matter is the majority of the people aren’t big sports fans, so maybe that’s another eye-opener to some of the owners that their audience is dwindling.  That’s one of the reasons I started my website: LenBermanSports.com, and I send out daily emails, the top five, to my subscribers is because I think there are people who aren’t big fans, who would like to know a little bit about what’s going on and that’s what I do.  I provide some water cooler information.

John Sparks
One of the things that I noticed now is that it’s more of a complete entertainment venue.  Besides the game, you’ve got dot races and certainly at the minor league level, a lot of these fan participation stunts between innings, but even at the Rangers and the Yankees…  Between innings, you’ve got all kinds of activities.  The fans are on the Jumbotron engaged in contests and things, so it sounds like that the owners have really expanded beyond the game itself.

Len Berman
Well, it’s the old idea of get them in the tent.  You’ve got to provide entertainment.  I mean I would naively think the ballgame would be enough, especially at the major league level.  At the minor league level, I think it’s wonderful.  I mean the tickets are reasonable.  The players sign autographs. They’re accessible to the fans, and they have all these little fun contests.  It really makes kids and people excited about the sport.  There’s nothing wrong with that at the minor league level.  It’s the major league level that needs a lot of help.

John Sparks
You know, at the major league level, because of the ticket prices, is it a different caliber of fans that go to big league games these days?

Len Berman
Well, that’s another interesting question.  I mean the old idea that corporations are going to buy up the seats used to work, and then they distribute it to people.  Sometimes they’d sit in it themselves, so you wouldn’t have the hardcore blue-collar fan rooting for the home team.  I mean I noted the other day that at a Yankees’ game against Philadelphia, there were so many Philadelphia fans.  Well, that’s another sign of the times of fans.  If your home team can’t afford the tickets or don’t want to buy them or are easily reselling them, then it makes it much easier for the other team to get into your ballpark, and it really does diminish the home field advantage.

John Sparks

You know, I guess in this age of government bailouts, it doesn’t look too good for these corporations to be, whether they’re buying naming rights or even entertaining clients in luxury.

Len Berman
Well, it just doesn’t look good on your corporate report to say you’re spending hundreds of thousand dollars on premium seats.  Listen, you mentioned a $2,500 seat for the first row at the Yankee Stadium, that’s if you bought it on a season ticket basis.  Well, if you bought four seats, that’s $10,000 per game. That’s $800,000 for the season.  Now how’s that going to look on your corporate report?  If you’ve spent $800,000 for baseball seats for your clients, I don’t think it looks very good.

John Sparks
I agree with you. Listen, you mentioned the new Yankee Stadium and, of course, the Mets have a new home field as well.  New York fans were pretty much evenly divided when we asked them if building these new stadiums was a good thing for baseball.  What do you think?  Was it a good thing that they built two (inaudible) ball parks?

Len Berman
I was surprised by your poll results.  I would’ve thought because of all the flack that has transpired, I would’ve thought a bigger percentage would’ve been against the idea that this was good for baseball, so that did surprise me.  I guess it’s good in a way that it draws more interest and more attention.  I’ll tell you the fact in your poll that I found fascinating when it came to New York City was that the only demographic that considered themselves Met fans as opposed to Yankee fans were people over 45.  So, I really got to thinking about that, and I obviously…  It might have something to do with the more recent success of the Yankees.  I mean they won World Series as recently as 2000 where the most recent Mets World Series won was ’86; but I’m also wondering if that has something to do with the fact that the older fans still have an allegiance to the old Dodgers and Giants, who used to play in New York and might have considered themselves national league fans.  But, I thought that was – – There was the fascinating tidbit in your poll about the over 45-year-old people, who are Met fans.

John Sparks
Are you a Mets or a Yankees fan, Len?

Len Berman
Well, the thing is, is that when I became a journalist, I kind of became neutral because I worked in Dayton, Ohio, and that was Cincinnati Reds country, and, then, I worked five years in Boston, so I was a Red Sox reporter.  I grew up a Yankee fan back in the 50’s because Mickey Mantle played for the Yankees, but he doesn’t play for them anymore.  So right now, if anything, I’d probably lean toward the Mets out of compassion. I was actually hoping in 2000 that they could win the subway series.  I mean the Yankees have won so many, so I’m an odd individual to ask. I don’t…  I’m not really a fan from that sense because I am a journalist.

John Sparks
The Yankees certainly struggled last year.  They didn’t make the post-season.  Now, I saw the other day, I think I read that there were 17 games this year in which they’ve come from behind to win.  It seems to me that the free agents aren’t necessarily making a team; and at the same time, the Yankees don’t seem to be good at growing their own on the farm like they did with those great teams of the late 90’s. Yet Tampa Bay, the Red Sox, the Minnesota Twins seem to be having more success with developing their players.  Now is this a problem for the Yankees?  Should they consider a different approach?  Is it a question of their scouting department being inferior to other organizations these days?

Len Berman

I’ve long advocated that the Yankees change their ways.  I mean they have gone about buying free agents every year since their last World Series win in 2000.  None of it has worked.  I mean I can make you the whole list from Mike Mussina, to Jason Giambi, to Randy Johnson, to Alex Rodriguez, to Johnny Damon, to Hideki Matsui, to every… Right down the line, it hasn’t worked, and I’ve long advocated it.  I love the fact what the Red Sox and Tampa Bay and those teams have done, and that’s why I give them an edge.  I mean they have those young people, young players who aren’t afraid to get their uniform dirty and until the Yankees can develop those kinds of players, I think just buying up players, who are older in nature by their age and their free agency, I think it’s a losing proposition.

John Sparks
Listen, I want to kind of divert for a moment. We asked fans in an earlier poll about the effect of steroids in the game.  Now, we had all this A-Rod business this year and, again, this ties into the success of the Yankees or the lack of.  Do you think there’s been some kind of clubhouse dissension that has accompanied A-Rod that not just this year that it really hasn’t reached the service that we haven’t been reading about but it has its affect on the Yankees team?

Len Berman
Well, I mean A-Rod has not been successful anywhere he’s been. Now, I don’t know if that’s cause or effect.  It’s hard to say.  He’s an enormously talented baseball player, but he does seem to cause friction or “look at me” and he comes bigger than the team.  Is that a reason they don’t win?  I mean I don’t know.  I’m not in that clubhouse.  I do know that he’s a unique individual; everything always revolves around him, even when he says it doesn’t.  Maybe at some point, it does have an effect on the team.  I mean I think there’s more factors at work.  I mean obviously it’s all about pitching, and it’s about staying healthy, and it’s about playing some defense.  It’s a lot of other things, but it may not be a coincidence that A-Rod’s never been to the World Series.

John Sparks
Let’s look in the crystal ball and look again to October and just say for the sake of a discussion that we’ve got a repeat of 2000, a subway series. How would you stack up the Mets versus the Yankees?

Len Berman
Wow!  That would be a wonderful… That’s a great question.  I thought you were going to ask me which teams would get there other than the Yankees and the Mets.  Who would stack up better?  In a short series, which is what a subway series is, you have to lean toward the pitching, and the Yankees get the slight edge of the starting pitching.  The Mets get the big edge with the bullpen.  I think, believe it or not, who wins the All-star game will determine home field edge.  I would think if the Mets could play four of the games at Citi Field against the Yankees, Citi Field is a more pitcher-friendly ballpark.  The Mets might have an edge.  That’s weird that it might come down to some anonymous player from the Washington Nationals winning a game in the All- Star game and determining home field edge, and that gives the edge to the World Series; but I guess I would give the Mets the slightest of edges based on their bullpen.

John Sparks
You know, Len, there’s another factor in this home field advantage, and you know the World Series is two, three, and two, and the All-Star game determines the home field advantage now. But, they’re really two different ball games going on: the American League game and the National League game.  Do you think it’s time that they got together and either both leagues do the DH or both leagues go back to the traditional game?

Len Berman
Well, no, that’s a broad question.  I would think once you get to the World Series, you just play under one set of rules. Now, what that rule would be, I don’t know.  I mean teams in the American League are constructed for the designated hitter and that’s how they run their payroll and their roster and play their games and the National League plays a different game, so I guess the only fair way is to have two different rules in the World Series; but I guess if push came to shove, I would favor one set of rules for a sport.  I mean it’s odd to me that you have different rules.  I mean it’s like…

John Sparks
It’s a different ballgame.

Len Berman

Yet half the basketball teams played with six players and half of them against each other, and then the Western conference played with only four players on the court.  I mean that’s how odd it seems.

John Sparks
Finally, Len, tell me what you’re up to these days.  Broadcasting has changed for all of us.  You’re no longer at NBC.  What are you doing these days?

Len Berman
Well, I’ve just recently left my NBC gig, so I’m spending a lot of time on my website, LenBermanSports.com.  I’m sending out daily emails, my top five everyday. I’m talking to a lot of people.  I’m talking to radio.  I think there’s some things I want to do.  I want to continue my “Spanning the World” feature.  I think that’ll continue in some fashion.  So, I definitely plan on continuing in broadcasting, but there’s nothing I’m ready to announce today.

John Sparks
Now, if I go on your website, I can register and get an email sent to me with your top five; is that right?

Len Berman
Yeah, they would just register on my website and they would get my top five; and it goes out Monday through Friday. Some of it’s…  A lot of it’s offbeat.  It’s not hardcore, super hardcore sports. A lot of it is the offbeat stuff that I like to dabble in.

** The views and opinions expressed in this and other interviews found on this site are expressly those of the speakers or authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Marist Poll.

Related Stories:

6/2: Baseball in New York City: Ticket Prices a Big Loser…New Stadiums: Much Ado About Nothing?

6/2: Taking the Plunge at Yankee Stadium

6/2: You Call That a Record?!

6/2: Taking the Plunge at Yankee Stadium

By Dr. Lee M. Miringoff

OK… I did it.  Saturday, May 16th, I swallowed my pinstripe pride and checked out the Bronx Bombers’ new digs.  As we pollsters might say, on a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 meaning I loved it and 10 meaning I despised it… I score the experience around a Ruthian 3.  Nice things / bad things: It didn’t rain / it wasn’t sunny either… Finding a place to park on the way in was easy / exiting the stadium area later was no picnic… Seats were $40 less than last year and weren’t somewhere in Bergen County as I had feared / the closest field feature was the left field foul pole; I was literally out in left field… Concession stands were very convenient / the only Hebrew National Hot dog stand I could locate was a foot long… stadium attendants were very friendly / fans were short-tempered and unruly… great historical artifacts surrounding stadium / field view inside is a little too austere.

Outside the new Yankee Stadium.

Outside the new Yankee Stadium.

It seems I’m not alone in my reluctance to embrace the new stadium.  A recent Marist Poll of NYC Yankee fans found them divided over whether they think the building of new stadiums is a good thing for baseball (50%) or not a good thing for baseball (47%).

Now, there was admittedly a traditional ending to my first game at the new stadium.  Who can complain when A-Rod tags a walk-off homer? Could they be starting to play like the Yankees of old? Overall, a good day at the ballpark even if it’ll take me some getting used to before I can rate this a Frank Crosetti 2 or a Billy Martin 1.

Related Stories:

6/2: Baseball in New York City: Ticket Prices a Big Loser…New Stadiums: Much Ado About Nothing?

6/2: Dugout Chatter — Baseball in New York City

6/2: You Call That a Record?!

6/2: You Call That a Record?!

By Stephanie Calvano

I wait all winter for it to be baseball season again.  I make an annual trip to Tampa in March to visit friends and go to Yankees’ Spring Training.  I feel like a little kid every time I go to a Major League game.  Then, every once in a while, I step back and receive a reality check.

©istockphoto.com/cscredon

©istockphoto.com/cscredon

Robert S. Wieder said, “Baseball fans are junkies, and their heroin is the statistic.”  I could not agree with this statement more.  However, there is a stat that I am having a really hard time wrapping my head around.

On Monday, June 1st, the New York Yankees set a Major League Baseball record for the most consecutive games without an error, surpassing the previous record held by the 2006 Boston Red Sox.  How many games was this streak, you ask?  18.  No, that’s not a typo…it’s 18.  Don’t get me wrong, I love my Yankees, and I love that they are playing good baseball right now, but 18 is a record?!?!  I’m not sure I know of any other job in which one would be commended — better yet, immortalized in the record books —  for going 18 days without making a mistake.

Is it wrong to expect that someone would go to work every day and not make a mistake?  In an era of free agency and big contracts, it’s hard to be excited that my boys of summer went 18 games without committing an error.  Isn’t that what they get paid to do?  Especially when put in context of the entire season…the MLB season is 162 games long plus the post season.  So, 18 games does not seem like a mind-blowing statistic.  What’s worse?  It took three years for this record to be broken.  Not ONE MLB team has managed to go longer than 17 games in a row without an error until last night.

I have a genuine appreciation for the game of baseball, all of its records, and that Elias Sports Bureau has a statistic for a statistic.  I spent the summer of 2003 during college as an intern at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown where I experienced firsthand how sacred it is to be a part of baseball immortality.  While there, I also enhanced my appreciation for the history of the game and how it’s developed.  I can’t help but think back, though, to that summer…one walk into the records room can make anyone feel inferior…and wonder how this record fits with all the rest of the MLB records.  It’s 18 games.

Related Stories:

6/2: Baseball in New York City: Ticket Prices a Big Loser…New Stadiums: Much Ado About Nothing?

6/2: Dugout Chatter — Baseball in New York City

6/2: Taking the Plunge at Yankee Stadium

Bittersweet Farewell…Sending Off One of Our Own

It was a brief introduction to what would become a huge part of Liz Zieniewicz’s college experience.  As an incoming Marist College freshman, Zieniewicz received a letter in the mail advertising employment opportunities at The Marist Poll.

zieniewicz_290

Liz Zieniewicz

That was four years ago — a lifetime in the world of a college student.  But, for Zieniewicz, it feels like it all happened in a flash marked by wonderful memories of her time at The Marist Poll.

Looking back, the 21-year old graduating senior recalls that she desired an on campus job but wasn’t quite sure The Marist Poll was the right fit of her.  Despite her reservations, she took, what would turn out to be, a serendipitous chance.

“I wanted to get a job when I got onto campus.  So, I said, ‘You might as well give it a try,'” Zieniewicz remembers. “I did the training. I like talking to people, and I think I thought it was going be a good opportunity.”

Once inside the phone room door, a MIPO staffer saw Liz’s talent and potential and nudged a reluctant Zieniewicz to apply for a supervisor position at the end of her freshman year.

“I was iffy about going for the supervisory position at first, ’cause, I was like, ‘I don’t know if I can do it or should do it,” Liz explains and goes on to say,  “I’m not a political science major.  I was like, ‘Why would they want a business major as a supervisor?'”

However, Zieniewicz soon discovered her chosen course of study was not a factor in the hiring process.  She got the job.  And, today, she credits that experience with helping her round out her professional and interpersonal skills.

“I think it’s made me more outgoing with having to talk to others and tell them…the pros and cons of what they are doing while they are in an interview and asking respondents questions,” she notes.  “You can’t always be positive about things, but you have to be critical yet keep the positive intertwined with them.”

A determined Zieniewicz went even further at MIPO.  She became Poll Assistant.  In that role, which the senior says she “absolutely loved,” Zieniewicz got a more in-depth, behind the scenes look at the polling process.  And, for her four years of faithful service, Zieniewicz has joined the ranks of Marist College students who have been awarded The Marist Poll’s highest honor — The MIPO Excellence Award.  It is an honor she doesn’t take lightly.

“It obviously did mean a lot to me just because over the last four years….I’ve really put in a lot of time and effort and just to be recognized for that really means a lot especially since I was given this opportunity,” says a teary-eyed Zienewiecz, “And, to see that it’s all paid back…It’s given me a lot more.  So, to even be recognized for having this position, it means a lot.  I’m going to miss this place.”

And, The Marist Poll will miss her, too.

“Liz’s work ethic, determination, academic record, and her pleasant demeanor made her an exceptional role model and a pleasure to work with,” states Marist Poll Director Barbara Carvalho, “We are extremely grateful to Liz for her service and know she has the talent and ability to be successful in her future endeavors.”

So, just what is next for Zieniewicz?  The Seaford native will return to her Long Island roots and put her degree in Business Administration to good use.  After a brief, six week respite, Zieniewicz will begin a training program with Target Corporation.  Once up to speed, she will then take custody of a Target store in Suffolk County as its manager.

But no matter, where life takes Zieniewicz, she will always have fond memories of her years at The Marist Poll and will hold dear her most memorable interview.

“Going into my first interview, I was so nervous…At the end of the first survey, I remember this, [the respondent] was like, ‘How long have you been doing this?’ And, I was like, ‘Actually this is my first night,’ and he said, ‘Well, I just want to say that you did an awesome job,” an exuberant Zieniewicz recounts, “I was like, ‘Wow!’  That made me feel so good especially since it was my first one.”

Now that Zieniewicz has made her last call as a student employee at MIPO, she has some parting advice for any student interested in joining The Marist Poll team.

“Keep an open mind.  Don’t let anyone get you down…Just keep up with it,” she says.

And, what about for the incoming class of 2013?

“Enjoy it.  It will fly by,” Zieniewicz states wistfully, “I know.  Everyone says that, but enjoy every single minute of it.”

A $2 Bet May Pay Off on Gillibrand

By Dr. Lee M. Miringoff

What’s worse than being an appointed senator, selected by an unelected governor?  Perhaps, it’s being an appointed senator, selected by a very unpopular, unelected governor.  Want to turn the crank again?  How about an appointed senator, selected by a very unpopular, unelected governor following a messy selection process…and you can throw in Caroline Kennedy, pro-gun control views, and Upstate New York status for extra effect. Doesn’t this spell political trouble?

Kirsten Gillibrand

Kirsten Gillibrand

The latest Marist Poll of New Yorkers confirms how all this translates electorally.  Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s approval rating is rock bottom at 19%.  How have things changed since she relocated from the House to the Senate?  Not much.  In Marist’s March Poll, 18% liked the job Senator Gillibrand was doing.  As her “unsures” dropped from 50% then to 43% in Marist’s May survey, her approval rating clearly did not materially improve.

Should Senator Gillibrand be discounted from the  2010 senatorial horserace?  Not by any means.  Odds may be long but she has a better chance than the 50 to 1 upset winner in the Kentucky Derby and certainly, a filly winning the Preakness for the first time since 1924 cannot be overlooked.  Here’s why.

If you allow me one more equestrian metaphor, reference the Breeder’s Guide.  Gillibrand is no political novice.  She has strong ties to the Albany political machine.  Also, she demonstrated excellent vote getting ability in winning a congressional seat in territory typically hostile to Democrats…and then was re-elected overwhelmingly.  She’s a proven fund-raiser…with a high energy campaigning style.  Senator Schumer is firmly in her corner.  Former President Bill Clinton has held a fund-raiser for her.  The White House has convinced one of her potential primary opponents, Congressman Steve Israel, to rethink his 2010 plans.  Manhattan Borough President  Scott Stringer has also decided not to throw his hat into the ring.  She has garnered the endorsement of NARAL.  Most importantly, in this very blue state, no GOPer has stepped forward despite poll numbers that are encouraging to former Governor George Pataki.

So, what should be Senator Gillibrand’s biggest fear to winning this seat in her own right?  A primary challenge from the left could disrupt her plans.  But, it appears that individual must come to the table with mega-bucks.  Traditional fund-raising doors may already be closing for such an effort.

The Next 100 Days

By Dr. Lee M. Miringoff

Following the deluge of pollsters and pundits weighing in on President Obama’s first 100 days, the obvious follow-up question in this era of rapidly changing public perceptions is: what will the chattering class be saying on August 7th — Day 200 — about the Obama Administration?

Lee Miringoff

Lee Miringoff

The late Tim Russert used to point out that politics was simple: say you’re going to do it, do it, and say you’ve done it…everything else made politics too complicated.  Well, according to The Marist Poll’s national survey marking President Obama’s 100th day, and those conducted by many other national pollsters, President Obama has stolen the page right out of that political playbook.

So far, the American electorate rates its new president positively.  His Democratic base is sizeable, his appeal with independents provides him with important support from swing voters, and he attracts majority approval from every key electoral group with the exception of GOPers.  On key image questions, President Obama is a political consultant’s dream come true.  He is seen by 64% as a good leader for the nation, 67% think he cares about people like them, and 59% believe he shares their values.  Is he honest, trustworthy, and tough enough?  Voters think so.  Approximately two-thirds of the electorate think President Obama is fulfilling campaign promises.

With barely an exception, changes initiated by the Obama Administration are putting points on the national scoreboard from his handling of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to ordering the EPA to institute higher fuel efficiency standards, making it easier for workers to sue companies on pay discrimination, providing federal funding for stem cell research, and getting his economic stimulus package passed.

Although historians  would likely grade the first 100 days of President  Obama as “incomplete” and choose to wait for the remaining 1,361 days to clock in, not so for public opinion where 58% of the national electorate grade him, so far, with an “A” or “B.”  59% think he is moving the country in the right direction.

In the next 100 days, President Obama will be judged by improvements in the economy.  If he does nothing else but take away people’s fiscal worries, President Obama’s popularity on Day 200 will resemble Day 100.  If the economic recovery lags, all other accomplishments will pale and the Obama Administration will have to scramble to preserve his standing.

Right now, President Obama has political cover.  Four out of every five voters nationwide view the economic problems President Obama is tackling as mostly inherited, and there is the sense that the economy is beginning to turn around.  But, with unemployment nearing 10%, will this also be the time when the public places ownership for their economic woes on him?

There will be other tests.  President Obama pledges to make advances on health care and energy.  Daunting tasks.  When asked about this new administration, the political gamble of wading into many areas is evident.  The criticism, already at 56%, is that he is doing too much too soon.  This can grow.  The international situation is shaky and always unpredictable.

Still, when Marist asked voters to describe the word that best captures their emotions about President Obama’s first 100 days in office, the one most often mentioned is hopeful.  As it was for the last, this is the foundation for the next 100 days.

Cluing Kids In About Cash: An Interview

By John Sparks

Talking to children about money can present its own set of problems.  What’s the appropriate age to discuss money matters with your kids?  And, how can you teach them financial responsibility?

Carol Anne Riddell

Carol Anne Riddell

Parenting and Education Reporter Carol Anne Riddell shared some of her insights with the Marist Poll’s John Sparks.  Read the transcript of the full interview below.

John Sparks
Carol Anne, what do you think is a good age to start talking to children about money?

Carol Anne Riddell
Well, it’s an interesting thing. I think that you can start almost at any age, as early as kids are interested in it.  I’ve always been surprised at how much kids know even before we think they do, and I think even very young children can really benefit from some discussion about money.  I think I first talked to my son, you know, in a more in-depth way about money when he was five or six years old when he started to covet very specific things.  I think the key is to keep the conversation age-appropriate and relevant to the things that kids understand or care about.

John Sparks
So what do you tell a six-year-old about money?

Carol Anne Riddell
I think it’s important for children to understand that money is earned and money is a means to get the things that we need and we want, but we, as adults, also have to really stress that there’s lots of things that money can’t buy like health and happiness and some of the things that kids like the best, like playing outdoors or hanging out with their friends.  Those things are completely free.

John Sparks
Well now, you have kids yourself, tell me what you tell them about money.

Carol Anne Riddell
I’ve had many conversations, John.  I’ve told them that they are lucky that we have enough money to have things that we need and sometimes the things that we want.  I try to on a pretty regular basis to give them some financial decision-making power by letting them choose between things, so maybe is it going to be a coloring book today, or is it going to be a ice cream cone.  So, they feel like they’ve had some power in that process.  We have a tradition in our family:  we regularly take the spare change that they save to their local bank and we use the coin counter, and then when we get the cash from that, I let them spend a portion of it, and then they have to take another portion of it and save it, and another portion of it we give to charity which usually means just walking across the street to the soup kitchen or a church in our neighborhood.  But, I feel like it’s giving them a very good sense of the different things that money can be used for, not just to get things in the immediate, but to save for things long-term and to help other people.

John Sparks
I think that’s great.  Now you know we’re in an economic recession.  Does it add to the stress to talk about money problems with children? I know all of us are experiencing instances where we must tighten our belts.

Carol Anne Riddell
You know, as I was saying before, I really think that our kids usually know so much more than we realize about adult topics.  So, if we are stressed out about money, they are almost undoubtedly sense that.  They overhear our conversations. They pick up information from the news, and even if we are very careful about moderating what we say in front of kids, other adults may not be, and other children may not be.  So, I think we have to start from a baseline that they may very well know more than we think.  So, if you understand that, the thing is that kids often imagine something worse than the actual reality.  You have to remember that kids may think that if they hear a parent talking about being concerned about getting all the bills paid this month you know they may take that and think that it means they’re not going to have a roof over their head, or they’re not going to be able to have food on the table.  They may take it at a different level than actually exists, so it’s important, I think, to make sure they understand in a kid-friendly way what actual reality is.  We have to be honest with them, but I think as the parents, we have to also be reassuring so that the kids understand that even if families have to make some different, maybe even difficult choices, they will always be taken care of.  Another thing that I’ve really heard a lot over the years is that an important thing when you talk to kids about things like this is to follow their lead because you’ll get a sense of when they have enough information so you don’t want to overload them with details they don’t need or they don’t want.

John Sparks

Now, you’ve done several stories about money and kids.  What tips have you picked up on how the parents should deal with their kids about money?

Carol Anne Riddell
You know, one of the things that I’ve heard and I’ve thought about a lot myself as a parent, and I think it’s a pretty good point is that adults should distinguish between giving children the opportunity to earn money and spend money and using money as bribery to get the behavior that we want.  Also that process of saving for money, saving money for something a child wants, can be really rewarding. My son wanted this particular video game, so he saved for weeks. Then he brought his little toy safe down to the store, and he bought this game, and he was so proud of himself, and I think that the reward of having the game was great in itself, but the fact that he had purchased it made it much more significant to him.  It was also hilarious to watch him like crack open the plastic safe at the store, but you know, I think it’s a very important lesson for kids, and it’s a simple thing, but it’s meaningful. Another really important tool is the allowance. Now in our house, the allowance is tied to chores. My kids have to do certain sort of simple chores in order to earn their allowance.  Some people disagree with that and feel like chores should be part of just family responsibility and not tied to an allowance.  Families do it different ways. I think that you can do that either way, and it’s something you have to be comfortable with, but the allowance itself is a good way to teach kids about I have X amount of money and I want Y, so here’s how long I have to save for it.

John Sparks
I’m curious, when you were a child, did you get an allowance?

Carol Anne Riddell
You know, I did get an allowance, but it was not such a regular thing.  Often I went to my parents when I wanted something, and I would ask for money, and sometimes I got it, and sometimes I didn’t.  I do remember being rewarded with money for good report cards.  Again, that’s something that some people would say is probably not the best use of money, but I don’t think it had any negative effect on me. I think I always understood that the goal was learning and good grades and not that I would get the $20 at the end of the year, the school year, but that’s really sort of an individual choice. I think the allowance concept in itself is a great one, and then each family has to determine what they’re most comfortable with within their own family.

John Sparks
Are there specific things that parents can teach their children about handling money that could make us better off as a whole, perhaps if we had done certain things we could’ve avoided some of the economic pitfalls that we find ourselves in today?

Carol Anne Riddell
Yeah.  You know I think, John, yes, yes, and yes.  We really need to teach our children the difference between need and want, and this is a conversation that I have with my kids all the time.  This moment in history is really one of those what they call — what teachers like to call “teachable moments.”  It’s a chance for us to point out repercussions, again in a kid-friendly way, for aggressive greed and dishonesty. It’s also a chance for us to talk to our kids about how connected all of us are.  You know when people lose their jobs, they can’t spend their money at the local grocer, the local shoe store, then the grocer or the shoe owner, have trouble paying their bills. I think it’s a good way to show children the way all – – the way there is an interdependency among all of us.

John Sparks
Carol Anne, you reported extensively on public education.  What, if anything, are schools teaching our kids about money?

Carol Anne Riddell
I think that the landscape is really changing on that front because I have been in a lot of schools in the last few years that have been getting very serious about this, schools that are teaching financial literacy classes to even grade school, middle school children.  Some schools are working directly with banks and other financial institutions. They’re teaching kids how to budget, how to manage a checking account, how to manage a savings account, and I think that a lot of schools look at that as much more a part of the real important curriculum than they used to because we are in such a difficult financial time and kids are going to need those skills.

John Sparks
One of the things that has landed us in this difficult financial situation we find ourselves is credit and being irresponsible with credit.  How do you talk to your kids about credit and about being responsible and budgeting and things like doing without?

Carol Anne Riddell

Well you know, we’ve all heard those stories about college kids who end up in tremendous trouble because of credit debt.  I think one way to avoid that is to really teach kids money management early on in small ways and in big ways, and I mean when they’re young.  For example, let them help you make a budget for going to the grocery store or for a family vacation.  Here’s the list of all the things we’d like to do on our vacation.  We can only afford to do three of those things.  Let’s sit down and look at what each one costs and pick the ones that we want to do.  I think it’s a great way for them to understand that we have to make financial sacrifices.  I think it’s also a great idea to get kids savings accounts and then to go over statements with them and, again, let them earn money. Let them save money, and then let them purchase something that they’ve wanted.  It’s a great lesson.  My son, as I said before, has to take out the garbage and the recycling to earn his weekly allowance. It’s taken him a lot of trips to the garbage room to get some of the video games he wanted, but I think the reward is sweeter because of that.

John Sparks
Should our sons and daughters have responsibilities or share the responsibility in contributing to the family’s overall finances?

Carol Anne Riddell
You know, John, I think that it’s a tricky and it’s sort of a complicated question because we all know that there are families for whom there’s just no other choice and a lot of times that’s just the case.  But I would say that ideally a child should not have to do anything other than go to school, be a good student, and learn, and that’s the ideal situation. If a child is sort of forced to actually have to go out and earn money, that can really cut into, you know, their ability to focus on academics. Now I have a different opinion on this when we start talking about older children or adult children because I’ve done a lot of stories about adult children returning and living at home, and I think in that case, if you have a college age student who comes back home, I think it’s important that those students, those young people, contribute to the family because it can alleviate a lot of stress if everyone knows what the expectations are for both the parents and the adult children, and I think that also in that case with an older child helps them adapt to what they will face as an adult living on their own.

John Sparks
Carol Anne, obviously you’ve given all these things a lot of thought.  Are there any other thoughts that you might have or would want to add in thinking about children and money?

Carol Anne Riddell
You know, I was thinking a little bit about this before we chatted today about what age is great to start an allowance at, and there’s a lot of debate back and forth. I think one of the things I would say is that you have to really listen to your child because some kids can develop a fascination with money very early on, and so it’s important to know your child and what they can handle. Some people say that a good gauge is about a dollar a year, so a five-year-old would get $5 a week, or you know a ten-year-old would get $10 a week.  I’ve found that less is more in our case.  I usually start on the lower end, and then I move it up about like a dollar a year, and I feel like that’s been pretty effective, but I’ve also noticed real differences between my two children.  While my son is very thoughtful about saving his money and wanting to spend his money, my daughter less interested in it, less focused on it, less focused on buying things, and so for her, I haven’t started her an allowance yet because I just don’t think she’s really ready to handle it.  So one point I would make to parents is really try to gauge your child’s interest level and their responsibility level before you give them an allowance.

John Sparks
Do you ever have conversations with your kids about envy?  For instance, does your son come home and say, “Well, Johnny has this and I want this,” or conversations about greed?

Carol Anne Riddell
Absolutely, a lot of conversations about that, and I think it’s a human reaction.  All of us feel envious of something at some point. One of the things I found that’s helpful to get around that is just to acknowledge it, and say, “Well that must be nice that Tommy has X, but let’s talk about the things that you have,” and I don’t necessarily mean materialistic things, but sometimes we’ll go through a list of all the wonderful things in my kid’s life that they should be happy for, they may be material or nonmaterial, and I think in a way it just sort of helps to count your own blessings, and it can bring you back and make you a little more centered. I mean, it works for me as an adult, so I try to make it work for my kids.

John Sparks
Very good. I sure appreciate it Carol Anne.  It was great talking with you, and I appreciate your thoughtful answers.

Carol Anne Riddell
All right, thanks so much.  It’s been great talking to you.

** The views and opinions expressed in this and other interviews found on this site are expressly those of the speakers or authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Marist Poll.

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4/28: Talking to Kids About Money

Kids and Money: Lessons from the Past and Dealing with the Present

Kids and Money: Lessons from the Past and Dealing with the Present

By John Sparks

Any parent reading the interview with Carol Anne Riddell about talking to kids about money, can’t help picking up some very valuable tips in teaching their children about handling finances.

John Sparks

John Sparks

Carol Anne suggested if we teach our sons and daughters how to handle money responsibly at an early age, they might avoid falling into some of the pitfalls we find ourselves in today — most notably borrowing ourselves out of house and home with no means of repaying our debts.

Talking to Carol Anne brought back memories of my childhood and valuable lessons I learned about money from my parents.

I grew up in Fort Worth, Texas in the 1950’s when a gallon of gasoline cost 19 cents, a bottle of Coca-Cola set you back a nickel and 3 cents would mail a letter.  My father’s take-home pay was about $100 a week.  We were considered middle class.

Fridays meant payday.  Dad would cash his check at the grocery store that evening, and he and mother would sit down at the kitchen table and stack the money in different piles — grocery money, mortgage payment, utilities, etc.  I was very aware that this Friday night business about budgets was something very important.  I also realized that Dad built our house as a duplex so that the rent he collected could pay the mortgage.

I didn’t get an allowance, but I can’t remember doing without anything important, yet toys were strictly for birthdays and Christmas.  I’m not so sure I was aware of things I did not have.  Television, a very powerful medium supported by advertisers whose message is designed to create a need for something you can probably do without in the first place, was in its infancy and was just beginning to become a pervasive force.

My first lesson about credit came in the form of an after school treat.  My mother set up an account at a small grocery that I passed by on my way home from school.  Each day I could get a coke and a nickel candy bar.  The grocer would enter it in a small ledger book, and at the end of the week, my parents would pay the 50 cents.

Before the days of gasoline credit cards, we traded at a Sinclair gasoline station down the hill.  Dad made an arrangement with the owner to keep an account of his purchases, and on Mondays, Dad would always settle up.  We lived within our means.

I opened my first bank account at the age of 6.  In those days, the public schools had an arrangement with the Fort Worth National Bank.  Tuesday was bank day at every school in the city.  Teachers would take time out from lessons.  Students would line up at the teacher’s desk with their pennies, nickels, and dimes.  The teachers would collect the change, fill out each boy and girl’s savings passbook, complete a deposit slip and receipt, and an armored car would pick up the collections at each school.  I’m not sure who came up with the idea and how the Fort Worth National got the business, but it taught us a good habit and the value of saving money.  Today no doubt they would question teachers taking up valuable classroom time to do the bank’s administrative work.

Another childhood lesson was about becoming an entrepreneur.  The business?  Converting used soda pop bottles into baseball cards.  You could collect old bottles and get 2 cents a piece for them at Mr. Holland’s Grocery.  The money was quickly used to purchase penny wax packs.  It’s too bad we didn’t know much about investments.  Today that near-mint 1959 Mickey Mantle we bought for a penny will fetch $1,000.  Not a bad return in 50 years.

When I was in the 4th grade, I learned about incentives.  I was paid $1.25 each Thursday to throw a weekly paper route for a small neighborhood newspaper, but every fourth week I was paid $2.25 — as an encouragement to stay with the job.

By that time, Dad had taken me downtown to the lobby of the old First National Bank where I opened up a passbook savings account to deposit the money I made off the paper route.  Dad said I’d need it to go to college.  As the years went by, the paper route was replaced by other jobs.  I continued to bank most of the money, and the day came when my bank balance reached triple digits!

Then Dad told me, “You’re going to borrow $100.”  He had me use the money in my savings account as collateral and deposit the loan in the same savings account where it would draw interest.  He told me the interest on the loan would cost a bit more, but it would pay off in the long run because it was the first step toward establishing credit.

Establishing credit was a far cry from today when almost every day we receive unsolicited applications for credit cards encouraging us to borrow to the hilt.  Most lenders don’t even care if you even have a job and are able to pay back anything but the minimum monthly payment.

Certainly times have changed, but principles taught by parents who cared and took the time last a lifetime.  Teaching a child about money, debt, credit, responsibility, and living within your means is not only an investment in that person, but an investment in the economic future of our country.

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4/28: Talking to Kids About Money

Cluing Kids In About Cash: An Interview

First Ladies’ Footsteps: An Interview

By John Sparks

She’s covered every first lady since Mamie Eisenhower.  Now, former White House correspondent and author, Bonnie Angelo, shares her views about Michelle Obama with The Marist Poll’s John Sparks.  Read the transcript of the full interview below.

Bonnie Angelo, author of "First Families: The Impact of the White House on Their Lives" and "First Mothers: The Women Who Shaped the Presidents" (courtesy HarperCollins).

John Sparks
Bonnie, I want to start out by talking about Michelle Obama.  How would you rate Michelle and the job she’s doing as first lady?

Bonnie Angelo
I’m trying to think of how you’d say she’s a ten-plus.  She hit the ground running.  She knew what she wanted to do and instantly without any break in time set about doing it, which was to reach out to many, many more kinds of people, and then we’ve had the opportunity in these recent days to see her absolutely a star on the world stage.  Every move she made, the London newspapers just wrote and wrote about.  Now they’re on the Continent, and I’m sure there will be the same kind of coverage.  But she simply swamped the 20 Nation Summit with her presence and her activities.

John Sparks
Which former first lady does she remind you most of?

Bonnie Angelo
Michelle is cutting a new pattern.  She reminds me of a cross-section of people.  There is a big slice of Eleanor Roosevelt who was very concerned with shining her light into the darkness of the forgotten people in this country during those depression years.  She’s partly Lady Bird Johnson wanting to make things more beautiful.  She set about planting a vegetable garden in the White House grounds, on the White House grounds.  That’s something that Lady Bird would’ve certainly approved of.  She was like Jackie Kennedy in that she has a great sense of fashion and doesn’t mind being ahead of the game on that.  So, she’s got a blend of many of the best attributes of several of our first ladies.

John Sparks
We took a recent poll, and we asked the respondents which of the following first ladies that they would like to see Michelle follow in the tradition of and mentioned Barbara Bush, Laura Bush, Hillary [Clinton], Jackie Kennedy, Nancy Reagan, and Eleanor Roosevelt. I’m just curious.  You covered all of these, well probably with the exception of Eleanor.  Would you like to see her follow in the tradition of one of these?

Bonnie Angelo
Well, no, not one of those necessarily because I think that list omits the most crucial person that she might be following, and that’s Lady Bird Johnson.  Lady Bird Johnson never set a foot wrong.  She never caused any problems in the White House, but she did things. Her beautification program across the country left lasting imprints that this nation still appreciates.  So how she could… She must be included on that list, and I would say that certainly Michelle would take a lot of comfort in what she could see that Lady Bird did.  On the others, of course, Eleanor Roosevelt would’ve been a great to her historic figure in that she shone her light on economically distressed families, on the woes that America was facing and needed to address. I think Michelle will not do as much of that, but I think she has already shown that, for example, she turned up on a Sunday morning with absolutely minimal, minimal press, maybe one reporter was allowed, working in a soup kitchen for the homeless here in Washington.  Now, none of the others have ever done that, and she did it with minimal publicity.  So, I think she has a very deep social conscience, and I see a lot of Eleanor Roosevelt in that. I think she also has a sense of style that has beguiled particularly on her trip to Europe.  Every time she sets foot out of their quarters, the British press is just falling all over to write about Michelle.  She has a sense of style like no other first lady since Jacqueline Kennedy.  She wears the clothes that are quite daring and very fashionable, very chic.  So, I think she can be compared to a number of the other first ladies, but certainly to the activists on the list.

John Sparks
Bonnie, you know most first ladies usually take on a project. You referred to Lady Bird and the beautification project.  With Laura Bush, it was literacy, Rosalynn Carter mental health, Hillary [Clinton] and healthcare, I suppose.  What does it say about a first lady when she chooses a project, and what does it say about what she might be willing to bite off?

Bonnie Angelo
Well, I think it shows her commitment to her new position. The first ladies must realize that they have enormous influence, not power, but influence, and certainly Michelle realized that from the campaign right on.  There are those who didn’t do it.  Nancy Reagan did minimal. Her concern was Ronald Reagan, making him happy. Her children never even visited the White House. I think after their first month there, I’m not sure that her own children, Patty and Ronald Jr., I’m not sure they were ever even in the White House again. They were totally irrelevant to the life of Nancy and Ronald Reagan.  There were others.  You mentioned Laura Bush and Barbara Bush. I mean remember Barbara Bush got us in – – got the country interested in literacy and reading. That was her project. She broke ground on that.  Laura really was just following in her footsteps on that. I certainly think Laura did a lot in that regard, but there was nothing original about it.

John Sparks
Let’s go back to Michelle for a moment.  Do you think that in the short time that she has been in the White House that she has changed or is in the process of changing the role of the first lady?

Bonnie Angelo
Yes, I do.  I think compare her to Laura Bush, who’s a very popular, likeable person and chose a very safe topic, activity to be on.  Who can be against literacy?  I mean really nobody.  But, Laura was very much the supporting person to her husband. They did practically nothing in a social way in the White House.  In eight years there, they had only eight state – – only six state dinners, which is really quite an incredible lack of understanding.  State dinners are not just where you show off your best silverware.  It’s where you’re creating a stage for your visitors from foreign countries. I think that they overlooked, didn’t understand that function.  So, I’m saying that Michelle is going back beyond them. Hillary, as first lady, got – – maybe stuck her neck out too far at the beginning when she really wanted to manage their healthcare initiative.  Now, she’s totally qualified. She’s much, much more qualified now than she was then of course, much, but she got burned by the criticism, because that effort didn’t go well.  So, she sort of retreated into being a more conventional person than she really was in her heart.  Once again, you go back to Lady Bird whose imprint is still across this whole nation. She did… She woke up the nation to both beautifying itself and preserving its historic places. People forget that aspect of her work.  But, nobody’s going to be against those, so she was – – it was safe, but she put energy and organization behind it; therefore, it has lasted all these years. Lady Bird’s work continues to this day. There’s not a thing you could point to from say Nancy Reagan who was a devoted wife to her husband.  She adored him as you know, but I can’t think of anything that Nancy Reagan did in the White House that was lasting. There was some little effort about, oh, a couple of projects but they were not – – they didn’t catch on. They were not crucial.  Her heart was not in it.  So, I think you can go back to Lady Bird.  You can then go back to Eleanor Roosevelt.  Now, remember that the first lady who followed Eleanor Roosevelt’s tenure, and Eleanor had broken ground to do things beyond any – – and got much criticism, much harsh criticism and even scoffing at her work, which was so important, shining her light on the dark corners of our country.  They would laugh about it.  Her enemies, and they were multiple, would laugh about it going down to coal mines.  She pointed out the terrible conditions that workers in this country must labor under for pitiful wages in many cases, so Eleanor Roosevelt’s got to be a basically White House saint on that. I think that Michelle is reaching out very much to African American projects to bring African Americans into the fold.  In London where they are not nearly, nearly as advanced in their racial adjustments as this country is, I was Bureau Chief over there for quite a long time – – for a time. In London, she went to a girls school, an inspirational thing. Those girls are never going to forget that.  She also did a number of other personal efforts to make people think particularly on that whole issue of bringing the black British into their – – more definitely into their society.  They’re way behind us on that.  I think that now she is on continental Europe, we’re going to see how it goes over there. I have no reason to think it will be other than the same outstanding success.  This is a woman of great ability. People forget that she was a Princeton graduate.  She was a Harvard Law graduate.  She was a person who could achieve just almost anything on her own merits.  She doesn’t get there from just being the wife of the president, and I think that is extremely important in this day and age when so many women are in the marketplace.

John Sparks
Bonnie, you covered, I think, every first lady in modern times since Mamie Eisenhower.

Bonnie Angelo
I have basically, yes.

John Sparks
Of all of those that you knew and covered, who do you think was the strongest and who was the weakest?

Bonnie Angelo
Bess Truman was the weakest, no question in my mind.  She simply rejected any kind of function other than shaking hands at the mandatory tea receptions for ladies of standing.  She did… And everything she did she was grumpy about. When you read her books about their tenure, it’s really quite sad that she never saw… now they lived most of their time, which she much, much enjoyed, living across Pennsylvania Avenue in what is now and has been for many years, the president’s guest house. They lived there about three years because, possibly four, because the White House during that time was totally renovated, totally renovated, but she was delighted not to have to live in the White House. She had no sense of the role of the White House or what the White House could do, what it symbolizes for this country, which was very sad. You hate for somebody to gripe about all of their time as first lady when it is really such a – – it can be such an effective role for accomplishing things, so I put her as the most ineffective. I think the others you have to look at them for what they specifically do.  Rosalynn Carter certainly did a lot for mental health to make people aware, but it’s not a subject that you can get good photo opportunities out of, which is – – gets you in the newspapers and on television so that her choice of fields of subjects was extremely important, but it didn’t package very well.  Lady Bird’s, as we said, is important and lasting and it was packaged wonderfully and never caused… oh people sometimes grumbled about the money or whatever that Lady Bird was spending on her gardens, which was a shabby way to look at it.  She was a woman who was interested in the environment of this country, not just planting a rose bush here or there.  I think Hillary Clinton did not live up to her capabilities at all, which we saw fully developed in the Senate, but she was not that — she didn’t kind of work out her place in the White House as well as she could have because we saw what she could do as Senator and as what she’s doing as Secretary of State and also what a powerful candidate she was in the presidential campaign.  But Michelle Obama is just now – – we haven’t seen her in action for three months and she’s already done so much. Europe is just swooning over her.

John Sparks
What do you think is most important thing a first lady contributes?

Bonnie Angelo
I think a first lady should contribute concern for some big issue facing the whole country, not… I’m not saying political issue.  I’m specifically not saying that, but a big issue like the environment, which is what Lady Bird was really all about, saving our environment and our history.  Eleanor Roosevelt, you could see what her concern was, bringing the part of our country that was vanished almost into the darkness of poverty. Then, you get into the later times, now both of the Bush first ladies did a lot to emphasize literacy. I think that was admirable. I don’t think it probably connected that much to the nitty-gritty of black schools that are having such problems keeping their students. I don’t think it had any effect on that issue which is – – was – – is much graver than literacy per se.

John Sparks
Let’s talk about the influence that a first lady might have over her husband. Can you tell me of those that you covered who had the most influence over her husband and her husband’s actions?

Bonnie Angelo
I think Hillary Clinton had a great deal of influence because he respected her really first class brain and her sense of… I mean she was top of the class at Yale Law School. She was a person who had academic qualifications and had practiced in law. I think he respected her views on just about any subject that crossed their screen. I certainly know that Lyndon Johnson took a lot of his very thorny problems to Lady Bird, to talk to Lady Bird about, because he so held in high regard her good clear thinking, not publicly but he did that constantly.  I don’t know.  I didn’t get any sense of that with the Bush first ladies, but they certainly probably did more than perhaps seen publicly.  Barbara Bush is such a strong personality that I’m sure that any issue that was current during their tenure, their four-year tenure, that she would’ve weighed in without hesitation to talk about her view, give her views to her husband.  I think there’s no question about that.  Jackie Kennedy didn’t care really what John Kennedy was doing as president. She had no bent toward the political world, but she put a lasting legacy, her stamp on the White House with her very careful historically correct refurbishings and established it in a formal legal way that people could donate accepted gifts, not just any little knick-knack,to the White House if it passed muster.  So, she made people much more aware of the White House as a grand treasure of this country, and her stamp will be left on the White House for all years to come.  She also set a very high standard for just elegance, elegance. Now I don’t think she had any real care for the common folk. I don’t think that figured in her mentality at all.  She was a society girl who had wonderful taste, but I don’t think that she had any real compassion for the people who were struggling.

John Sparks
Bonnie, a minute ago you talked about Michelle and her credentials. She is a woman in her own right. She also has kids.  Do you think that she is changing how people view the balance between work and family?

Bonnie Angelo
Oh, I think that’s a wonderful issue because she is certainly concerned about it, and it’s plain that she could’ve had all kinds of appointments across the board with her background and with her knowledge of not just politics, but public policy, but she is steering a more cautious course of social issues, shining her light where there’s been not enough light shone. Now she’s not going to let those two little girls go unattended, and the best thing about that is that those two little girls and Michelle are seeing their father/husband more than they’ve ever been with him. When he was in the Senate, they were back in Chicago.  He would go for weekends, but mostly he was tied up in politics where the last two years before his election were campaign years.  So, they actually are going to have more of a family life in the White House than they have ever been able to have, and I think that is a wonderful set of circumstances. I think they both seem to be very well adjusted little girls, each of them seems — that seems to be. They’re bringing their beloved grandmother to live with them. That’s a good thing to do. It gives stability when as for this present trip to the Summit in London and then on to many different meetings across the Continental Europe, they’re away, but they are at home with their grandmother, and I think they now are… From the very first days, they made those little girls enjoy it. They had their friends in from the first night. They had a scavenger hunt the first — the night of the inauguration.  They think about them.  Both of them do really well in school. They’re both smart little girls. That doesn’t surprise anybody.  I think they are going to be really happy. I believe they’re going to have the best family life they’ve ever known.

John Sparks
Do you think that Michelle will influence fashion to the extent that Jackie did?

Bonnie Angelo
Not to that extent but, yes, she is going to influence it.  But Jackie was about fashion, and she was beautiful as a model is beautiful and spent enormous amounts on clothes, much more than was known at the time, and so she set a standard for fashion that we had never had before, and people still remember it.  She was so glamorous.  I think Michelle is going to have a more down to earth fashion because she has been a career woman, but I think that she’s always going to look very smart, and she obviously enjoys clothes, so I think… I think she’s going to say, “Look, you can be a mother. You can do all kinds of things, and you can still enjoy looking quite wonderful.”

John Sparks
You know I just realized, I did not ask you about Pat Nixon.  Tell me about Pat Nixon.

Bonnie Angelo
Oh, you know, that tells you something.  That tells you something pertinent that she was so overlooked as First Lady, and she was — had the abilities to do so much more than she was allowed to do.  But Nixon’s west wing cadre did not see any real particular value in the president’s wife, you know. They would use her for certain things, but they didn’t let Pat be Pat.  Now, I traveled with her on all of her trips that she did solo, and the first ones were for – – they sent her out much too early really to hotspots of poverty programs, and that was very difficult. She ran into jeering crowds. It was not a well thought through trip that her staff threw her out onto really early.  I was with her in Peru when she went down again solo, when they had that massive earthquake, and the United States came through with plane loads of goods and clothing, and she was down there on the mountain top with the local people. She also met with the president of Peru who had been very difficult with America in the months before she was – – came, and she smoothed things over to the degree that it was really noticed in diplomatic circles.  So, she had more talents than the president’s hard-eyed men were willing to see.  When I went to Africa with Pat Nixon, it was again, Pat was on her own.  We went to, I guess, three countries in black Africa on the western nations — Ghana, and Ivory Coast, and Liberia. She was a sensation. The streets were lined with people leaping and shouting and playing music, and she just blossomed. It was marvelous to see.  It was a tremendously successful trip.  I think when she was with him, she was just so cast in the little wife along side, you know. I don’t… When she was on her own, she blossomed into being Pat Ryan again, and I watched that on numerous trips. It was visible, and this strange coldness or stiffness with which he greeted her after some of those really tough trips on the — at a White House south lawn greeting, he was just — it was just very cold.  I remember coming back, the earthquake trip into Peru, which she had been a wonderful success worldwide, and she met up with him at the Grand Ole Opry where they were — it was supposed to be her birthday, well he forgot to introduce her, and Roy Acuff stepped in and very smoothly just did it.  But, he… But the president was supposed to. I mean, it was just a lack of appreciation for what she could have done, so I feel that that’s why we forgot to mention her in the first instance in this conversation is that she was not free to be Pat.

John Sparks
Well it reminds also of one other person I did not ask you about, and this one was not really elected to the White House and was a very short term, but yet Betty Ford…

Bonnie Angelo
Betty Ford, yes.  Betty Ford was a breath of fresh air.  She came when the White House had been in its absolute dismal time coming up to the impeachment and the resignation, and the Fords came in, and they were so unaffected and straightforward and untarnished by any of the Nixon shenanigans, and she didn’t have very long to establish herself, but she brought a breath of openness and fresh air to the White House that was… and let me tell you one other thing she did that was really, really crucial. I remember the day so well. She had been making a speech to a great big group of women’s organizations out of one of Washington’s major hotels.  From that speech… now she stopped at the door because she and I had arranged that we would have our picture taken together there because I was doing a cover story for Time that week on the hard things that face first ladies.  Pat Nixon was in travail, well not just firstly, political-wise. Joan Kennedy had just gone to an alcoholic institution, and all of a sudden from that meeting that she very nicely addressed this large group, she went straight to the National Institutes of Health for a breast cancer operation. She let nobody know.  She was her own smiling self. I think the strength of her to do what she was supposed to do without letting on that she was facing a crisis in her life, to me, that was very impressive, and it showed that this person had great strength in her soul.

John Sparks
You know, you mention her name today and she’s been gone for quite awhile, but I equate it with the Betty Ford Center for…

Bonnie Angelo
Exactly.  She used…. now she had a tendency to alcoholism. She had that tendency in the White House. They always attributed it to taking — she had shoulder and difficulties that she had to take drugs for. They always attributed it to that, to the painkillers for her bad shoulders.  Well, it wasn’t really. It wasn’t, but that was the way it was.  So, when they got out of the White House, then, it got worse and when they retired to Colorado at that time, President Ford said to his beloved Betty, “We can’t go on like this. You have got to do something about this, Betty.  I will help you.  We will do anything, but you have got to do it yourself.”  And, when he just talked straight to her, she realized that she… and he said to her, “You’re strong and you’ve done other — everything. This you’ve got to do yourself,” so that’s when she went for treatment in the California establishment facility and was never afflicted with alcoholism again. But what happened from there, she realized she could turn it into a positive thing in her life, and she established the Betty Ford Clinic. She made alcoholism as a social problem something you talk about, something you deal with. She made a lasting imprint on who knows how many people across this country who were able to pull themselves out of an alcoholic habit for — by the inspiration of Betty Ford. So, I think she left a tremendous imprint.

John Sparks
Bonnie, I’m going to have to wrap things up, but I can’t do that without asking you one final question and that is that as you well know, and I do too, newspapers are folding, the television networks are closing bureaus and making deep cuts.  What kind of impact will this have on covering the first family which – – and the first lady, which of course was your expertise?

Bonnie Angelo
Well, I covered much more than that.  I did that, but I also covered politics and the White House. I covered the first ladies when they were news, which was a good way to do it.  I was not with them all the time, but a lot of them really made news, you know.

John Sparks
Sure.

Bonnie Angelo
I think it’s… You know my mind can’t even wrap itself around this problem because it requires a certain kind of coverage for their activities to make a national impact, and these women, almost all of them in the modern times, have done something major, have really left footprints on our society.  I don’t exactly… I know you can do it on all kinds of Internet outlets, and there are new ones coming along even as we speak, I just don’t think it’s quite the same as reading about it in your morning newspaper, but maybe that’s because I love my morning newspapers and my news magazines, yes.

John Sparks
So do I. So do I. Bonnie, it’s been a real pleasure talking with you. I really appreciate your time today.

Bonnie Angelo
Well, I love talking with you because this experience — these experiences, these women were great events in my life and in our history, and I’m just always happy to talk a little bit more about how they really were.

John Sparks
Well, thank you so much for your time.

** The views and opinions expressed in this and other interviews found on this site are expressly those of the speakers or authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Marist Poll.

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