Saturday, November 18, 2017

Bobby Baker, String-Puller Snared in Senate Scandal, Dies at 89 (NY Times)

Controversial LBJ apparatchik Bobby Baker retired here and lived in Marsh Creek Country Club, between St. Augustine and St. Augustine Beach.

Only a paid obit appeared in the St. Augustine Record. Here's the New York Times obituary:


Mr. Baker on Capitol Hill after he appeared before the Senate Rules Committee in 1964.CreditUnited Press International

Bobby Baker, a onetime Senate page who, through his close ties to Lyndon B. Johnson and others, became one of the most influential nonelected men in the American government of the 1950s and early ’60s, only to be investigated for and eventually convicted of tax evasion and other crimes, died on Sunday, his 89th birthday, in St. Augustine, Fla.
His death was confirmed by the Craig Funeral Home of St. Augustine.
Mr. Baker arrived in Washington as a teenage Senate page and by 1955 had risen to secretary of the Senate Democrats, an important behind-the-scenes role in which he counted votes on pending legislation, served as a conduit for influence trading and saw to senators’ needs, including extracurricular ones.
He became so powerful that he would refer to himself as the 101st senator, and as he and Johnson, the Senate majority leader, formed a symbiotic relationship, others took to calling him Little Lyndon.
Mr. Baker was a man who knew many secrets, and he spilled some in a 1978 memoir and even more in an oral history recorded by the Senate Historical Office in 2009 and 2010.
Continue reading the main story
But his power and knowledge did not make him immune from scrutiny. In 1963 he became the focus of a corruption investigation, one that for a time threatened to envelop Johnson, by then the vice president, and even President John F. Kennedy.
Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963 took some steam out of the investigation — once Johnson became president, there was little inclination to pursue him — but Mr. Baker was convicted in 1967 of tax evasion, conspiracy to defraud the government and theft. After appeals, he went to prison in 1971 and served 15 months.
“Russia wouldn’t have treated me the way this country has,” Mr. Baker said as he was beginning his sentence. “But I have no great resentment. No, this is a great country. It’s done a lot for me. I like to think I have done a lot for it.”


Mr. Baker with President Lyndon B. Johnson in an undated photo. From the time he was the Senate majority leader, Johnson had been a mentor to him.

Robert Gene Baker was born on Nov. 12, 1928, in Easley, S.C., the oldest of eight children. He was named after two sports figures, the golfer Bobby Jones and the boxer Gene Tunney. His father, Ernest, was a postal worker; his mother was the former Mary Elizabeth Norman.
When he was 14 he received an appointment to the Senate Page School after another local boy turned the offer down. Mr. Baker would later receive a law degree from American University.
But it was the Senate page job that paved the way for his career. Senator Robert S. Kerr, an Oklahoma Democrat, became a particular mentor, and so did Johnson. Mr. Baker, in a 2015 interview with Coastal Style magazine, recalled his first meeting with Johnson, in 1948. Johnson, a congressman from Texas, had just been elected to the Senate.
“I went in,” Mr. Baker said, “and Senator-elect Johnson said, ‘Mr. Baker, they tell me you’re the smartest son of a bitch over there.’ That was my introduction to him.”
When Johnson became Senate majority leader in 1955, he made Mr. Baker secretary to the majority. Mr. Baker proved especially adept at the math of the Senate — he would usually know precisely how many votes a piece of legislation could garner at any given moment, a valuable skill in the horse-trading world of Washington politics.
He also helped establish the Quorum Club, a private retreat where members of Congress, their staff members and lobbyists would mingle and, it was said, arrange sexual liaisons.
During his time as a public servant, Mr. Baker was also pursing various business ventures: real estate, hotels, a vending machine company. In 1963, an associate in the vending business brought a civil suit against him, and the resulting publicity soon drew the scrutiny of the Justice Department and other investigative bodies. They wondered, among other things, how Mr. Baker could have become a millionaire when his government job paid less than $20,000 a year.
Mr. Baker resigned from his post in October 1963, hoping to quiet the inquiry, which had begun to seem as if it might embroil Johnson and, through the sexual goings-on at the Quorum Club, perhaps Kennedy. The investigation resumed once the turmoil of the assassination had receded, and though it was now largely confined to Mr. Baker, it fueled a view that Washington as a whole was cancerous.


Mr. Baker in 1978. After his release from prison he went into real estate and the hotel business.CreditDave Pickoff/Associated Press

“The Baker case is strongly symptomatic of a chronic amorality that has been eroding the public conscience, within government principally but in other spheres of national life as well, for a long time,” Cabell Phillips, Washington correspondent for The New York Times, wrote in January 1964. “It is the distortion of values as between greed and deed. It is the compulsive temptation to misappropriate a bestowed advantage for selfish ends.”
Mr. Baker validated that portrait with his memoir, “Wheeling and Dealing: Confessions of a Capitol Hill Operator,” written with Larry L. King, the author of “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.”
“Bobby Baker’s Senate is composed of crooks, drunks and lechers,” the historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. wrote in The New York Times Book Review in 1978, “marching from bar to boudoir to bank, concerned mainly with lining their pockets and satisfying their appetites.”
As Mr. Schlesinger noted, Mr. Baker suggested in the book that whatever his misdeeds, he was merely taking his cue from the formidable political figures he had been surrounded by since he was a teenager.
Mr. Baker wrote: “As they presumed their high stations to entitle them to accept gratuities or hospitalities from patrons who had special axes to grind, so did I. As they used their powerful positions to gain loans or credit that otherwise might not have been granted, so did I.”
He named names in the book, and he named more in his oral-history interviews with the Senate Historical Office. The office, contrary to its frequent practice, did not post transcripts of those interviews online, but in 2013 the journalist Todd S. Purdum summarized them in an article for Politico titled “Sex in the Senate: Bobby Baker’s Salacious Secret History of Capitol Hill.”
Mr. Baker married Dorothy Comstock in 1949. She died in 2014. His survivors include two sons, Robert and James; two daughters, Lynda Baker and Cissy Baker Allison; 14 grandchildren; 14 great-grandchildren; and several siblings. He lived in St. Augustine.
He worked in the real estate and hotel business after his release from prison.
In 1971, as he was starting his prison sentence, Mr. Baker, who had many stories involving large amounts of cash and politicians, spoke of a need to reform the campaign financing system, sounding very much like a critic of the system today.
“It will destroy this country unless something is done,” he told Time magazine. “People are selling their souls. They have to. They are human. There is not a human being who can take money from somebody and not be influenced.”

No comments: