The fight is in Ickes' genes. The son of Harold LeClair Ickes, a scrappy liberal in Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Cabinet, Ickes became a similar guard dog to the Clintons.
As the White House scandal-handler, Ickes worked 18-hour days (while battling narcolepsy), dealing with everything from Whitewater to alleged campaign fund-raising abuses. He continues to receive subpoenas (including one he accepted one morning while still clad in his underwear).
No hard feelings
As for the president, Ickes said he holds no grudges.
"I was unhappy about the way the decision for me to leave the White House was made and the way I was told about it, but look, the president is president of the nation. He can't please everybody," he said.
But Ickes admits he and the first lady share an easier relationship. During the Lewinsky scandal, Ickes called regularly to check on her when other friends felt too awkward to do so. For her part, Clinton was said to be furious when she learned of Ickes' dismissal.
"There were times when I felt closer to her than to the president," Ickes said of the first lady, whom he calls Hillary. He praises -- along with her intellect -- her "wonderful laugh" and "radiant smile."
Ickes has lived out his political ambitions through the Clintons, and his faith is not lost on them.
"In New Hampshire, it was just me and Susan" -- Susan Thomases, an old chum -- "and Harold who believed in us," the first lady once told former White House aide George Stephanopoulos in a tearful rant recounted in his book, "All Too Human." "If we wouldn't have fought, we would never have won."
The first lady's office did not respond to requests for comment for this article.
Ickes, in working for the first lady, is not without self-interest. By guiding her with his famed Rolodex, he stands to enhance his own stature in politics and lobbying. He represents New York's City Council and other high-octane interests through his Washington consulting business and still works for a politically connected Long Island law firm.
A Stanford University graduate who received his law degree from Columbia University in 1971, Ickes now lives in the upscale Georgetown neighborhood of Washington with his wife, Laura Handman, a lawyer, and their 13-year-old daughter, Charlotte. Having worked on nearly every level of New York campaign short of dog catcher, his state connections remain solid.
Those relationships have helped Ickes in the past. He led long-shot presidential drives in the state for Democrats Eugene McCarthy, Edward M. Kennedy and Jesse L. Jackson -- and the successful state campaigns of Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.
Some local New York races left scars: In one campaign incident in a lieutenant governor's race that he says he can't quite remember, Ickes lost the hearing in his right ear after a run-in involving a screwdriver.
The Ickes campaigns are marked by raging emotion and full-body commitment. "A bite is a bite. It was broken skin," said James Vlasto, a fellow campaigner whose left shin Ickes bit in a confrontation during the 1973 New York mayoral race. "Harold was aggressive."
In a Senate 2000 race, Ickes would be no stranger to Giuliani, after facing him in the 1989 and 1993 New York mayoral races when he worked for David N. Dinkins. In candidate debate negotiations in 1989, Ickes was fierce, pointedly refusing to shake hands with Roger Ailes, Giuliani's media adviser, a campaign worker recalls. He repeatedly threatened to walk out, another worker said, and by the end had secured key concessions from Giuliani's people.
"He's damn good," says Dinkins, whom Ickes helped elect mayor in 1989. "He's so well-wired, he knows the law, he's an excellent debater and he's not intimidated by anybody."
Now he is poised to do the same for Clinton. In the first lady's possible Senate run, Ickes is expressing the tigerish loyalty to his friends that has come to define him.
"I don't make friends easily," said Ickes, his hands ink-stained at the end of a long afternoon. "It's fair to say once I consider you a friend, I'm loyal to you."
That loyalty has led Ickes back to the White House -- albeit the first lady's East Wing instead of Bill Clinton's West Wing -- and started another new chapter in his story.
"The wheel does go round," he said. "Time and time again, you've seen in politics, as in life -- and certainly in this city -- people who are down and out one day who are back on top the next.
"So I don't know what it means to be a survivor. I think that we're here while we're here. Where we'll be five years from now remains to be seen."
Pub Date: 5/19/99