Copyright 1995 The Spokesman-Review
Concerns that Mike Lowry was drinking on the campaign trail led two key staff members to quit his 1992 gubernatorial race, according to a longtime aide.
The campaign held a “showdown” meeting in May 1992 where Lowry and staff members discussed the concerns raised by some campaign workers, said Don Wolgamott, a policy adviser who has worked for Lowry for more than 15 years.
Earlier in the campaign, a Democratic activist said she turned down a key job with Lowry after smelling alcohol on his breath at a campaign appearance and deciding he was “hammered.”
Lowry and his wife, Mary, said Tuesday he does not have a drinking problem and did not drink inappropriately during the campaign.
“It’s sort of a ridiculous question for openers,” Lowry said during an interview at his home in Renton. “I mean what is this, a joke?”
Lowry said the 1992 meeting was held to address unfounded concerns he feared could bring the campaign down.
“Here is something that could have been very damaging. A huge campaign problem. So I was trying to address that. It was like, this is ridiculous, what do I do to get this off my back. It’s a total red herring.”
Wolgamott also said that Lowry doesn’t have a drinking problem, and that he felt the complaints by campaign workers were overreactions.
Questions about Lowry’s drinking have come as the governor is facing other accusations about his conduct. Two women in the past year say Lowry sexually harassed them.
The most recent claim, by former Lowry press aide Susanne Albright, 37, became public this month.
Attorneys investigating her claim say they’ve been approached by other women.
A State Patrol technician accused Lowry of touching her inappropriately during a fingerprint session last March. An investigation by the Attorney General’s Office did not substantiate the claim.
One campaign worker said that during Lowry’s campaign kickoff tour in early spring 1992, the candidate rode between two stops with a consultant, who told campaign leaders when he got out of the car, “I do believe we have a problem with our candidate. I believe our candidate enjoyed himself some libations … and if I had to guess, it was vodka he was enjoying.”
The worker spoke on condition of anonymity, but signed an affidavit attesting his statements are true.
The consultant couldn’t be reached for comment.
At another campaign stop, Lowry showed up late and appeared to have been drinking, the worker said. Campaign staff members checked a thermos in his car and decided it contained a mix of vodka and orange juice, he said.
From then on, Lowry was discouraged from driving alone to and from campaign events, as was his preference, the campaign worker said.
The drinking flap worried campaign director Sue Tupper, Wolgamott said.
“She was really stressed out about it,” he said. “Several people were. There was this showdown about it,” Wolgamott said, describing a meeting at the offices of Gogerty and Stark, a Seattle public relations firm, in May 1992.
He said Gary Davis, a campaign press secretary, and Robert Harkins, a field coordinator, quit because they were concerned over Lowry’s use of alcohol.
Harkins confirmed Tuesday he left the campaign early, but declined to elaborate. Davis wouldn’t discuss the matter.
When asked last December whether drinking was an issue during the 1992 campaign, Tupper flatly denied it. “Of all the craziness,” she said. “Sounds like someone is just trying to drum something up here.”
Efforts to reach her this week were not successful.
Democratic activist Cindy Laws said it took only one day on the campaign trail in the spring of 1992 for her to decide she didn’t want to work with Lowry because of drinking.
Offered the job of deputy campaign director, Laws said she had misgivings about it because she heard he drank and could be abusive to his staff.
“I had just come off the whole situation with Brock,” said Laws, who lost her job when Democratic Sen. Brock Adams abandoned his 1992 Senate re-election campaign. Adams was accused by more than half a dozen women of sexually harassing and molesting them.
“I didn’t want to get involved again with someone who could be hazardous to my health,” Laws said. “I decided to work for one day, on a trial basis.”
That day Lowry was to hold campaign events in the Puget Sound area. Lowry showed up late at an event in Snohomish County. When he arrived, he gave Laws a big hug. “There was a heavy smell of alcohol on his breath,” Laws said.
She turned to another campaign worker and said, “Do you have a breath mint? He’s hammered.
“I decided not to work for him because of his drinking.”
Lowry said he hadn’t been drinking that day and Laws is simply wrong.
Far from being concerned about his behavior, Lowry said he sought out reporters at the event for news coverage. Would he do that if he smelled of alcohol? he asked.
“I worked the reporters on purpose,” he said. “I want to say to people, `apply a little common sense.”’
The governor would not speculate why some people would say he has a drinking problem when he says he doesn’t.
“I’m not here to psychoanalyze other people. I don’t do that.”
Drinking and politics have long been a potentially dangerous mix for Lowry, Wolgamott said.
He has worked closely with Lowry for years, as his top aide in Congress for 10 years and during the first two years of Lowry’s term as governor.
During all that time, Wolgamott said, drinking did not affect Lowry’s work.
“He may have had a problem in the early ‘80s, when he was in Congress,” said Wolgamott. “We would go out drinking together. Everybody did. It was normal.”
Nate Ford, another longtime Lowry aide and top staff member, described Lowry’s drinking habits as “average.”
But Lowry was warned about drinking during his failed 1988 Senate campaign against Slade Gorton and the 1992 campaign for governor, Wolgamott and Ford said.
“He really cleaned up his act during the Senate campaign in ‘88,” Wolgamott said. “We talked to him about it.”
Campaign workers were afraid Gorton would accuse him of drunk driving, Wolgamott said.
“There was this bar he (Lowry) liked to go to and we just knew Gorton was smart enough to talk one of his cop buddies into putting a car out there and following him after he left.
“It doesn’t take much for a DWI. Three drinks,” Wolgamott said.
“We knew it could become an issue and didn’t want it to give somebody the opportunity for a cheap shot,” said Ford, who doesn’t think Lowry has a drinking problem.
Ford, a recovering alcoholic, has known Lowry more than 20 years and drove the candidate to and from many campaign events from August 1992 on.
“I’m convinced he wasn’t and isn’t drinking on an ongoing basis,” Ford said.
Friends from Lowry’s days in Congress said they, too, were aware of his drinking. Some felt it was a problem, others didn’t.
“Mike is Mike. He can rant and rave without drinking anything stronger than Starbucks,” said former Congressman Don Bonker, who served in Congress with Lowry from 1975 through 1988.
“I know Lowry’s not an angel. But I’ve watched him from every angle back here. If he had a problem it didn’t surface in his work.”
Another former congressman, who asked not to be identified, said Lowry’s drinking concerned him.
“I even talked to him about it once … I said `Hey, you know people are starting to talk about this, you’ve got to deal with it.’ He said it wasn’t a problem.”
Jeff Smith, executive director of the state Democratic Party from 1981 to 1983, said Lowry doesn’t have a drinking problem.
“Mike likes to get into his cups on occasion, (but I) wouldn’t call it a drinking problem, that he’s a chronic drinker or anything like that,” Smith said.
Mary Lowry said she now feels guilty she didn’t speak out publicly against what she insists were false concerns about her husband drinking during the 1992 campaign.
“I knew they were complaining about his drinking,” she said. “I wish I had gone to each of them and said, `What are you complaining about? What did you see? How can you make judgments when you don’t know someone intimately?”
The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Lynda V. Mapes Staff writer Staff writer Jim Lynch contributed to this report.