As Joe Biden takes office as president of the United States, I can’t help but reflect on the Biden whom I met back in the 1980s and the man who will now lead our country. In 1984, we were brought together by a politician’s need to raise money and Joe came to New York frequently for fund-raisers. Even though a U.S. senator serves a six-year term, time flies and those years go by quickly.
We met for the first time at the city’s Regency Hotel, which was and is Joe’s favorite Manhattan hotel. I had heard many stories about his good times and dark times, and I was anxious to meet this up-and-coming political figure. On almost all of those occasions, Ted Kaufman accompanied Joe. If you want a lesson in Joe’s loyalty to the people who worked for him, there is no better story than that of Edward E. (Ted) Kaufman.
Ted joined Joe’s staff in in 1973 and became chief of staff in 1976. They commuted daily on Amtrak, which increased the bond between the two. During his many years of service to Senator Biden, Ted became immersed in almost every facet of Biden’s professional life from selecting judges to war and peace. In 1994, Kaufman retired from the Senate staff, but in 2008 when Joe became vice president, the governor of Delaware picked Ted to be his successor in the Senate.
Watching Joe Biden deliver short and crisp daily messages to the country prior to taking the oath of office as president was a sharp contrast to the Joe I knew in the 1980s. Joe loved to talk and you could watch his staff squirm when he would speak for an hour or even longer to people who were going to give him money anyway.
As the years went by our paths would cross occasionally, mostly at fund-raisers. I was most impressed with Joe’s memory for names and faces, when he spotted me at a well-attended group event and called me out by name. During his successful campaign this past year, I noticed that just after he finished his remarks, he would give a shout-out to some local fire chief or schoolteacher, making them feel like a million dollars. Those moments were emblematic of a man with a good heart and good political instincts.
I think the highlight of my relationship with Joe Biden was on the day of Bill Clinton’s second inauguration on Jan. 20, 1997. I had advised his office that my wife Suzan and I were coming to that event and I would stop by for a brief hello. When we arrived, he ushered us into his impressive office and after quite a long time, he excused himself as he had to conduct a hearing of the Judiciary Committee.
Before we could leave the office, he insisted on escorting us into the hearing room and gave my wife and me a front row seat. We sat through the proceedings and when they adjourned, he walked over to us and apologized that “the meeting took so long.” That is typical of Joe Biden. He has and will always be a humble man with the ability to make you feel welcome in his presence.
After Joe Biden won the Democratic nomination, I met quite a few non-believers, who expressed doubts about his ability to beat Donald Trump. I told each and every one of them about my experiences with Joe Biden and flat out predicted that he would be the next president. Throughout a brutal campaign, Joe showed all of the flashes of the man I had met many years ago. He was down to earth, honest and a friend to all who made contact with him.
When the election was over and the advance planning began, it was no surprise that Ted Kaufman, his friend of 47 years, was chosen to head the transition operation. Not everyone may agree, but to me America is one lucky country to have Joe Biden in charge.