The SCOOP on Washington From Pikesville to presidential press aide, at the tender age of 23

March 21, 1993|By Alice Steinbach | Alice Steinbach,Staff Writer

Washington -- A few things you should know right off about Scoop Cohen:

First of all, he was Bill Clinton's first choice for running mate -- at least for a day. Second, he saved candidate Clinton's presidental campaign from ruin. Sort of. And, finally, he was 22 years old when all this happened.

Of course, he's older now, this red-headed, political stealth weapon who in October of 1991 came out of nowhere -- well, actually, out of Pikesville -- to become a part of Bill Clinton's fledgling campaing team. He was known back then, in his other life, as Steven Cohen.

But heck, he's way past 22 now. In fact, he's already reached the Big Two-Three. Still, that's pretty young to have done what he's done. See, Scoop decided early and against big odds to bet on Bill Clinton for president. And along with Mr. Clinton, he won: He's now a member of President Clinton's White House press team.

He could have been just one of the thousands and thousands of young people who in 1991 volunteered their services to this presidential campaign or that one; kids who ended up with a lot of memories -- working day and night, living on pizza and carryout, fetching coffee, answering phones, setting up folding chairs in one dreary school gym after another -- but no job to show for it. Instead, Scoop is now a part of the new, young Clintonite Kids on the Block.

Not bad for an easygoing, unassuming guy who took a flier and cast his lot with Bill Clinton back when George Bush looked invincible and everyone thought the man running against Bush would be heavyweight Mario Cuomo. The gamble paid off.

In the picture

For starters, you might check out the picture of a tuxedo-clad Scoop in this month's Vanity Fair. It's part of a portfolio of photographs by Annie Leibovitz of Mr. Clinton's so-called "New Guard." It includes the likes of Pamela Harriman, Thomas F. "Mack" McLarty, George Stephanopoulos and, of course, our very own Scoop. Is it any wonder that everyone who knows Scoop is bowled over by what's happened to him in the last year and a half?

"It's a fairy tale," says his mother, Betty Cohen, who works as a bridal consultant in Pikesville. "It really is a fairy tale. When he graduated from college in the spring of 1991, he really didn't know what he was going to do with his life. There were no jobs anywhere. He was going to go to California with a friend and just wing it."

"I was totally surprised by it all, particularly by the way he handled the press," says his father, Hillard Cohen, who runs a family flooring business. "Although I did see how well he handled kids when he was a camp counselor. And I guess if you can handle kids, you can handle the press."

"It takes a very special person to jump into his car and take off for Little Rock with no promise of a job or anything," says his friend Jason Glasser, who graduated with Scoop from Pikesville High School, class of '87. "He jumped on the Clinton bandwagon before there was even a bandwagon. Definitely a one-in-a-million story."

Scoop's mother can't resist summing it all up in a headline: "22-year-old boy from Pikesville goes to Arkansas and makes good," she says proudly.

Even Scoop is amazed at the way things turned out. Still.

"Sometimes it's just too much to take in," he says, sitting in his office in the Old Executive Office Building adjacent to the White House. "It was such a long shot. But that's the whole point. It was so out of the realm of predictability that anything could happen." He pauses and smiles what may be the most disarming smile in all of Washington. "You know, that's the best part about it."

Here is how Steve "Scoop" Cohen got that job.

"I had decided early in my senior year in college I was going to work on a presidential campaign," recalls Scoop, who graduated with a degree in political science from Washington University in St. Louis. "And I also made the commitment in my mind that when somebody I wanted to work for announced that he was in the race, I'd get there as soon as it happened."

So Steve -- remember, he wasn't yet Scoop -- watched the papers to see who was entering the presidential race. Democratically speaking. Even while he was on the mandatory, right-out-of-college, cross-country car trip with four of his Baltimore friends, he kept an eye on what was happening. "I was ready to leave the trip and fly back at a moment's notice if I picked up the paper and saw that people were announcing," he says now.

But nothing much was going on, so when he returned from the trip, he went to work in his father's warehouse, "doing what you do in a warehouse." Then former Massachusetts Sen. Paul Tsongas announced he was running. But Steve decided to wait. Other names started to appear: Senators Harkin and Kerrey, former California Gov. Jerry Brown. Still, Steve decided to wait.

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