Instead of rattling through the Mississippi Delta in a battered bus, the volunteers from up North caught a Delta flight to West Palm Beach. It was their chance to defend democracy, these freedom riders in wing tips. “In addition to their day jobs,” says Tim Fry, a Manhattan intellectual-property attorney, “these lawyers are interested in the fate of the republic.” Even if Katherine Harris is no Bull Connor.
Gore and Bush mostly ignored New York until the fight moved to quintessentially New York turf: litigation. Last Saturday night, four days into the Sunshine Stalemate, Gore operatives called Fry and Doug Dunham, counsel to Skadden, Arps; they’d done campaign fund-raising but now had to raise bodies. “We were on the phone until 1 a.m.,” Fry says. “Ed Brill, from Proskauer Rose, was in a car going to a wedding. He made calls from his cell phone. Richard Zuckerman, from Rubin, Baum, found flights online. In 24 hours we had 27 lawyers in place. Pretty cool.”
Armonk’s David Boies parachuted in. Two city lawyers discovered dubious Seminole County mail-in ballots. Others took affidavits from seniors who’d sooner punch Pat Buchanan than intentionally punch his chad. Three days in Palm Beach had Arthur Schwartz, a labor lawyer, recalling how he’d demonstrated against the KKK in Mississippi. “This isn’t quite the Klan,” he says, “but I’ve seen a very uncaring attitude about people’s rights being violated. It feels like the same old South.”
The city has contributed at least one significant Republican mind: John Manning, a Columbia Law School professor who clerked for Robert Bork and Antonin Scalia, is strategizing for Bush. Manning left for Florida so abruptly that colleagues didn’t realize he was gone until they spotted him on TV. White & Case has more than twenty lawyers assisting the GOP in Florida: “We are one of the few firms who have actually been hired to work on election issues,” says a spokeswoman, “as opposed to other firms you see grandstanding about their involvement.”
Late Wednesday, a young New York lawyer raced to Broward County to monitor the recount. “We’re in the hurricane center, surrounded by huge TVs, watching every network at once. Everyone is very tense,” he says. “The great unknown in American elections — the thing that is known to anyone who has ever worked on one — is that elections are really messy. And this has been the biggest mess of all.”