SCHENECTADY COUNTY -- Leaders in the Republican Party in Schenectady County say they will never forget the day that President George H.W. Bush visited the city in April of 1988.
Vito Caruso, who is now the state's 4th District administrative judge, but was then chairman of the Schenectady County Republican Party, said theCounty Republican Party was the first in New York state to publicly vote to endorse Bush, who was then vice president, to run for president in 1988.
"I was impressed by him, and I thought he would be the best candidate for president. There were probably 10 or 11 other contenders and after a lot of thought with the executive committee of Schenectady Republicans we decided we wanted to support George Bush in the effort during the initial stages of the campaign," he said. "We settled in on Bush, and we took the chance to endorse him over all the others."
He said being the first helped earn a visit from Bush, who stayed at the then Ramada Inn, had a breakfast fundraiser, reviewed the local Air National Guard base in Glenville and rode in a motorcade through Schenectady. Caruso said he'll never forget how George Bush and his wife Barbara gladly mingled with the other leaders who attended the fundraiser, including the many county chairmen from throughout New York state.
"They went around to every table. There were all kinds of photographs with the locals, getting to meet and greet him, then candidate Bush and he was the vice president. It was one of the highlights of my political career," Caruso said.
Also in attendance at that breakfast were Al Jurczynski, who was then serving on the Schenectady City Council but would later serve as mayor. State Sen. Jim Tedisco, who was then an assemblyman, also attended.
Jurczynski said he was always impressed with George H.W. Bush's long history of accomplishments, from his time as a Naval aviator, his educational and sports background at Yale, to his having served as the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, vice president and ultimately president.
"He had contacts and when the first Gulf War broke out and he was president, they talk about how with diplomacy he could bark out the orders of who to call, and he knew them by their first name basis, and he knew who to call to put together the coalition," he said.
Tedisco said he had great respect for Bush's style of politics, a style he said has unfortunately gone out of favor recently.
"Politics has now changed to a contact sport, but he made it a gentleman's sport. He brought a lot of civility to politics, he was the one who asked for a kinder and gentler nation, and I think he made us proud that we had a president who believed in compromise and communicating and being civil. We've got to get back to that era now, because this 'win at all costs' type of trend now [is bad]," Tedisco said.
Tedisco referenced Bush's famous decision to go against his "no new taxes" pledge.
"He made some tough decisions that really didn't benefit him, that's why he lost that next election to Bill Clinton. He was a war hero, and he left a great legacy" Tedisco said.
Jurczynski said he learned an important lesson about politics watching George H.W. Bush.
"He was at a 90 percent approval rating after the Gulf War, can you believe that? That's unheard of, and I was absolutely stunned when he lost to Clinton, but the public can be fickle sometimes, and that's how it can go in politics," he said.
Peter Guidarelli, former chairman of the Schenectady County Legislature, said George H. W. Bush was president while he was in college, so he was the first president he really studied closely as a young adult.
"His passing is more celebrated than mourned because he lived such an incredible life. His marriage to Barbara Bush, who passed before him, they are now reunited with their daughter who passed at four years old," Guidarelli said. "He will always be respected. Remembering the way that national political leaders conducted themselves back then and the way they do now is a sad commentary of what politics has degenerated to over the years."
Caruso said months after Bush's visit to Schenectady he was given another chance to meet with before the 1988 election. He said he and some other Republican strategists were invited to the vice president's residence at the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington D.C. The meeting took place after the Republican National Convention, during which he was a delegate. He said Bush's campaign team initially only wanted officials at the strategy meeting, not spouses, but when Caruso asked if his wife Judy could attend, he said Bush said Judy was welcome.
"We went for the luncheon and my wife Judy started having some severe back pains and he found out about it and he and Barbara took her into their bedroom, put a warm heating pad on her back and made her comfortable. They saw to it that Milly the dog was at her feet," he said. "He was so hospitable, you really felt that you'd made the right decision in supporting him, that yeah he had all of the political experience, but he also was a person, somebody with compassion. It was first-hand evidence to me."