Mark Curtis's blog

“The Sunday Political Brunch” -- May 10, 2015


(Providence, Rhode Island) – Happy Mother’s Day to all the great moms out there. I was in a job interview a few weeks ago; and the boss asked me, “How did you get interested in politics?” Well, believe it or not, it all happened when I was five years old; and my mom had everything to do with it. It was the start of a lifelong journey, so let’s “brunch” on that this Mother’s Day:

“Johnson v. Goldwater, 1964” – In November, 1964, I was in my first semester of kindergarten at Leland School in Elm Grove, Wisconsin. Since Leland was the community polling place, school was cancelled for the day. I was excited to spend the day at home, hoping to watch the “Mickey Mouse Club,” “Leave it to Beaver,” and my other favorite TV shows with my mom. I was shocked when they weren’t on. Instead, I was subjected to a day full of Walter Cronkite, "The Huntley-Brinkley Report," and all sorts of wall-to-wall television coverage about the election. At first, I was mad; but then I got hooked. I’ve never looked back!

“News Junkie; Political Junkie” – Even before the election, I was fascinated by television and radio. A guy named Bob Herzog lived across the street, and was the anchorman on WISN-TV, then the local CBS affiliate in Milwaukee. A number of my dad’s patients were personalities on local radio and TV, including Tommy Richards who was “Pops” on the local kids' show; popular radio deejay Robb Thomas; and another local anchorman legend, Carl Zimmerman. These were people who came to our house – in person or via the airwaves. As a child, I was star-struck. Since my dad worked a lot, my main TV watching companion was my mom.

“The Kennedy Assassination” – Some of my earliest memories as a child surrounded the Kennedy assassination in 1964, when I was just four years old. While my parents were Irish-Catholics, they were fairly conservative and voted for Richard Nixon for President in 1960. But I always remember how hard my mom cried on the day of the Kennedy murder, and in the days after, including his funeral. It was a national tragedy, and it seemed as if the televisions in our house were on all day long. As he was America’s first and only Irish-Catholic President, there was a great deal of pride and symbolism in Kennedy's election, even for those who did not vote for him.

“Political Tensions” – As mentioned, my parents were moderate-to-conservative Republicans. While they loved Ronald Reagan, they were probably more of the moderate Gerald Ford and Nelson Rockefeller persuasion. However, they broke ranks in the 1968 U.S. Senate race in Wisconsin, with my mom backing the ardent environmentalist and Earth Day founder, Senator Gaylord Nelson (D-WI), while my Dad backed State Senator Jerry Leonard (R-WI). Senator Nelson was supporting changes to the nation’s medical profession, which my dad opposed. My parents didn’t really fight, but rather had some very spirited debates. Nelson was reelected, and years later when I interviewed him as the head of the Wilderness Society, he laughed when I told him the story of my parents' conflict.

“Those Were the Days” – The 60s and 70s were some of the most raucous decades in United States history. Think of all that happened: The Cuban Missile Crisis, John F. Kennedy's assassination, the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights movement, the Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King assassinations just three months apart, the Beatles, Woodstock, and the whole cultural change, the space race culminating with the moon landing, then Watergate and beyond. Ours was one of those odd families that had a TV on the kitchen counter, and we watched the newscasts every night while having dinner. Imagine the kitchen table debate with nine people gathered around! It was feisty and fun; and my mom was a great cook, too!

“The Nixon Resignation” – Maybe the darkest memory I have of me, my mom, and politics took place the night of August 8, 1974. That was when President Nixon gave his televised address to the nation, saying that he would resign effective noon the next day. Most of my brothers and sisters watched with my mom and dad in stunned silence. I remember that my mom was worried that we might be attacked by the Soviet Union, because the United States looked so weak and vulnerable at that moment. She was shaken by Watergate and the first-ever Presidential resignation. It was the nation’s darkest day since the Kennedy assassination. Sad to say, my mom would die just eight months later; but the imprint of her love of politics and news coverage is with me to this day. God bless Mary Beth Dougherty Curtis - and thanks, Mom!

How about you? Did you have a mom who was passionate about politics? Just click the comment button at

© 2015, Mark Curtis media, LLC.

Photo courtesy: Curtis family archives

“The Sunday Political Brunch” -- May 3, 2015


(Providence, Rhode Island) – Wow! What a week it has been in the world of politics, with Baltimore as the center of the universe. I always say, it is easy to plan political events and political posturing when everything in the world is going great; but a crisis can drastically change the landscape. Anyone can plan an anticipated event, but it’s the unplanned, spontaneous happening that will really test your political mettle. Let’s “brunch” on that this week:

“O’Malley Rally” – For months I have been writing about the looming Presidential campaign of former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley (D-MD), who was the state’s chief executive from 2007 to 2015. Prior to that, he was Mayor of Baltimore from 1999 to 2007; and before that, was a Baltimore City Council member for eight years. In short, he has had his hand on the throttle of Baltimore and Maryland politics for 24 years. Suddenly, people are asking, “Did he do enough to promote economic development in minority communities and racial equality in his city?”

“VP Heap?” – I have been suggesting that - at the least - former Governor O’Malley had a lock on the Vice Presidential nomination, assuming Hillary Clinton won the Presidential nomination. It’s not a safe bet anymore. Maryland is now radioactive in the political sense, and with police-community relations likely to be a hot, new national issue in 2016, Mrs. Clinton may want to distance herself from O’Malley and Maryland – whether it is fair or not. Politics is politics, folks.

“Oops, She Did It Again!” – Hillary Clinton has had a knack for self-inflicted wounds over the years. Did she do it again this past week by jumping to conclusions in Baltimore? At a campaign stop, former Secretary Clinton said: “There is something profoundly wrong when African-American men are still far more likely to be stopped and searched by police, charged with crimes, and sentenced to longer prison terms than are meted out to their white counterparts.” She added, “Without the mass incarceration that we currently practice, millions fewer people would be living in poverty.” Analysts have argued that her husband’s moderately tough-on-crime stances as Arkansas Governor and as President were a big political asset to him. Does she now disagree? Police unions, which widely supported Bill Clinton, may take a dim view of Hillary Clinton’s comments.

“How Important: The Politics of Race?” – There have been so many efforts to racially polarize the public in these cases. In Orlando, Trayvon Martin, who died, was black; George Zimmerman, the accused and acquitted, was half-Latino, half-white; in Ferguson, Missouri, Michael Brown – an African-American robbery suspect – was killed by white police Officer Darren Wilson; and in Staten Island, New York, suspect Eric Garner, who was black, died in the custody of Officers Daniel Pantaleo and Justin Damico, who are white. Conversely, in Baltimore, three of the six accused officers are “people of color,” including a black female police sergeant. In Baltimore, it’s perhaps more a case of medical neglect and general negligence, than a case of race-based police brutality. Baltimore also has a black mayor, police chief, and city attorney, and a police force which reflects the city’s African-American demographic. All of this may impact the outcome of the present crisis.

“Network!” – The oddest of many scenes this week involved the Reverend Al Sharpton, a talk-show host and paid political commentator on MSNBC, acting as a press liaison for Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. It got even weirder when he tried to prevent reporter Leland Vittert, of the rival Fox News Channel, from questioning her. Folks, from an ethical standpoint, you are either a member of the independent press, or you work for a partisan public official. You cannot do both! NBC has been hiding from this blatant conflict of interest involving Al Sharpton for years. You’d think - with the embarrassing Brian Williams scandal still on the front burner - that NBC would be more mindful of conflicts of interest and damage control. The “peacock’s” feathers are a mess!

“A Shared Duty” –A lot of Republicans are distancing themselves from all of this. To be sure, these are urban problems in big cities and in states run – by and large - by Democrats over the past several decades since the Civil Rights movement. Many in the GOP are saying, “It’s not our fault!” Truth be told, the GOP held the White House for 28 years since 1960, while Democrats have held it almost as long. Democrats dominated Congress from 1954 to 1994 – 40 years – before Republicans seized control, which then see-sawed between the two parties over the past two decades. As stated earlier, the public expects leaders to lead and to work for the betterment of all in society. Many in our nation feel that both parties share the blame for not fostering better race relations and more equal opportunity.

“Why All of This Matters!” -- As always, I hate to bring politics into the picture when someone has died and others are facing criminal charges. It just feels unseemly. But part of politics is the public assessment of whether leaders did a good job at what we hired them to do – to lead. Some leaders, such as the current Mayor of Baltimore, have come under harsh criticism for not acting quickly and decisively enough. As voters, we wonder whether potential future leaders, including the President, will do a better job. As I always say, every public policy decision has a political consequence.

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© 2015, Mark Curtis Media, LLC.

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