Alan Chartock: James Taylor or bust for Democrats



James Taylor is a hero. He is a thoughtful, decent guy. He’s faced some tough devils in his life and conquered them. He understands a great deal about politics and has been known to sit in his driveway listening to public radio.

He has done some very impressive things. His appearance in "A Christmas Carol" at the Colonial a year ago was an extraordinary gift to our community, considering the fact that the guy can fill the largest stadiums.

When I decided to use this column to advance JT’s candidacy for John Kerry’s U.S. Senate seat in Massachusetts, I knew that the chances of his running were pretty slim, but I had my reasons.

I am convinced that unless the Democrats think outside the box, they may well lose this election. After all, Republican Scott Brown became a senator only because he ran in a special election where relatively few voters showed up, giving the Republicans a huge advantage. Republicans exercise the franchise in far greater numbers than Democrats do.

It stands to reason that the more money you have, the more likely it is that you will do what you must to protect what you have. Brown also won because, well, Republicans win in Massachusetts. People get sick of the political class and they vote for moderates like Bill Weld. We know that the Democrats often lose these elections because the party puts up career politicians.

From what I know of Ed Markey, he is a decent man who entered politics as a reformer, having been treated badly by the good old boys in the state Legislature. That got me thinking about non-career politicians who could catch the public imagination.

I thought of JT because while so many musicians have had one gold record after another and then disappear from the scene, James has had incredible staying power.

I thought of him because of the crowds that show up every year to see him at Tanglewood, causing traffic backups all the way to Springfield. I thought of him because so many of us have had tough times and he is a shining example of personal redemption.

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Not for a second was I naïve enough to believe that Taylor would do it. After all, his organization is an industry and if he were to run for the Senate seat, a lot of people would be out of luck. He would have had to spend all his time sitting in an office or visiting fire houses and eating a lot of food he shouldn’t be putting in his body.

He would have had to humor some people who are really nuts. But I do know Taylor to be the kind of man who truly believes in democracy.

I really didn’t care that some people would pooh-pooh the idea.

On the off-chance that he actually decided to run, I knew that he could win. But in the end, kindness is a long suit to JT and so it was with my mouth open that I read Clarence Fanto’s piece on JT playing at the Obama inauguration.

When Clarence got around to asking him about running for Senate, James could have just acted as if it was never a serious idea.

Instead, he said that he spent a week "very seriously considering" whether to seek the Democratic nomination for the soon-to-be-vacated Kerry seat. Then, said Taylor, who didn’t have to, "It was a hugely generous, very gratifying thing that Alan suggested that I might be considered as a candidate." He added, "I did take it seriously for a while and then talked to friends about it, but ultimately I decided that I’m doing what I was meant to do."

Finally he said, "There is something to be said for the breath of fresh air to have a citizen serving in Congress."

What a genuinely nice, smart, giving human being. He is so special.

Alan Chartock, a Great Barrington resident, is president and CEO of WAMC Northeast Public Radio and a professor emeritus of communications at SUNY-Albany.


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