Sunday, October 24, 2004
Cocaine, Wrestling & George Bush Part 3
"He was the first real white boy that all of the kids really loved," - Ernie Ladd
Today, there is a Shoe Warehouse located on 1710 McGowen Street in Houston, Texas. But around thirty-six years ago, two ex-football players from the Houston Oilers, John L. White and Ernie Ladd, used that same warehouse (sharing it with a probation office) to house their non-profit organization Project P.U.L.L. (Professionals United For Leadership League), an inner-city poverty program. And about thirty-two years ago, a young Geoge W. Bush operated out of that same warehouse. According to this official State Department website, "George taught basketball and wrestling and organized field trips to juvenile prisons, so his young charges could see that side of life and resolve not to end up there themselves."
In his 1999 autobiography, A Charge to Keep, Texas Governor George W. Bush claimed that "My friend John White, whom I had met during my dad's 1970 Senate campaign, asked me to come help him run the program."
But was it really John White who asked him? And was he really asked?
There has been much speculation (thanks to James Hatfield's infamous book, Fortunate Son) that George Bush volunteered to work with Project P.U.L.L. in order to wipe away a drug or drunken driving arrest from his record. A deal that his dad arranged. His dad, who - at that time - served as the United Nations Ambassador during the Nixon administration.
John White has been dead for over fifteen years, so he won't be talking. But Ernie Ladd might be the man who does know what really happened.
Bill Minutaglio's book First Son: George W. Bush and the Bush Family Dynasty recounts the genesis of Project P.U.L.L.: "Ladd, a student at Grambling, had met White when their schools would play their traditional annual football game. White, a streetwise visionary, had asked Ladd what he thought about a program that could bring stars such as baseball players Joe Morgan and Jimmy Wynn, or basketball legend Elvin Hayes, into contact with kids in the beleaugered Third, Fourth, and Fifth Wards of Houston. Ladd liked the idea - he thought it was important for athletes to return something to the community - and they sought to establish a politically neutral program that could lure all manner of supporters from in and aoround Houston. They contacted school administrators, busidness leaders and the most prominent black physician-and-blues-nightclub entrepreneur in Texas, Dr. John B. Coleman, asking for advice, time, money."
According to Peter Schweitzer's book The Bushes : Portrait of a Dynasty, "The two [John L. White and Ernie Ladd] had come to Congressman George Bush in the late 1960s to discuss their plans to start a mentoring program for underprivileged kids in the poorest neighborhoods of Houston. George embraced the idea; he knew what a difference mentors had made in his own life and agreed to become honorary chairman and help raise money for the organization."
I have no idea when or how John L. White first hooked up with the Bush clan.
But Ernie Ladd's relationship with George Herbert Walker Bush began sometime in 1966 during his failed campaign to unseat Lloyd Bentsen from the Senate. Jonathan Tilove interviewed Mr. Ladd for the San Francisco Chronicle in January of 2001 just before George W. Bush's inauguration ceremony: "He wanted to meet someone in the black community. I just had moved to Houston (to join the Oilers) from the San Diego Chargers and they wanted to know who the most popular black person was in the city of Houston and someone told them Ernie Ladd was getting a lot of newspaper coverage." At first he refused to meet with Bush. "I wasn't going to no hotel to see no Republican," Ladd said. But then he challenged Bush to come to his home and meet with him and a houseful of "brothers." "He took the challenge," Ladd said. "He came to my house. My brothers all got after him politically. He weathered the storm, shot us down, and that's how I became a Republican."
In an obscure July, 2000 interview with Greg Oliver of SLAM! Wrestling (The Cat In Bush's Corner) Ernie admitted his allegiance to the Bushies: "I'm stuck pretty close to George Bush's campaign, I've known the family for more than 34 years."
It hasn't been a stealth relationship. In the SLAM! interview, Ernie boasted, "I'm recognized athletically and politically." He also mentioned "that he expects to be sitting in the Bush's private box at the Convention, not out on the floor."
As Jonathan Tilove of Newhouse News Service put it in 2000 (Ernie Ladd's Comeback): "When the Bush team wanted a bigger black presence at inaugural events, they asked one of the biggest black men in America for help." Ernie Ladd was named a special deputy to the Presidential Inaugural Committee (along with Eli Rodriguez, a public relations specialist and GOP activist from Fort Worth, Texas who had been friends with George Herbert Walker Bush since 1964) and placed in charge of the Office of Diversity to ensure that "inaugural activities include a diverse culture and population." He was also a member of the steering committee for George Herbert Walker Bush. Mr. Ladd was responsible for recruiting black faces; while Mr. Rodriguez attracted Latinos.
Ernie Ladd also defended George W. Bush's controversial "election" in 2000. "I don't agree with people now that the election is over continuing to attempt to divide the country," Ladd told Mr. Tilove. "These are people who put their political views before the truth. Once our black communities start talking the truth and stop being misled by black leaders who don't bring the whole truth into our communities, we will see a difference."
Three unidentified sources were cited in James Hatfield's Fortunate Son who claim that George W. Bush did community service at Project P.U.L.L. because a Texan judge ordered him to. A Yale classmate said, "George W. was arrested for possession of cocaine in 1972, but due to his father's connections, the entire record was expunged by a state judge whom the older Bush helped get elected. It was one of those 'behind closed doors in the judges' chambers' kind of thing between the old man and one of his Texas cronies who owed him a favor ... There's only a handful of us that know the truth." One of the other sources told Hatfield, "I can't and won't give you any new names, but I can confirm that W's Dallas attorney remains the repository of any evidence of the expunged record. From what I've been told, the attorney is the one who advised him to get a new drivers license in 1995 when a survey of his public records uncovered a stale, but nevertheless incriminating trail for an overly eager reporter to follow."
An article in the Washington Post written by George Lardner Jr. and Lois Romano, published on July 28, 1999, seemed to corroborate some of Mr. Hatfield's controversial findings: "By the end of 1972, Bush's father was mulling over a new job offer from Nixon – to be chairman of the Republican National Committee. With his parents back in Washington, Bush went to stay with them for the holidays and was involved in one of the most notorious incidents of his "nomadic" years. He took his 16-year-old brother Marvin out drinking, ran over a neighbor's garbage cans on the way home, and when his father confronted him, challenged him to go "mano a mano" outside. There was no fight, and Bush was apparently able to mollify his father with the news that he had been accepted for the following fall at Harvard Business School. But with nothing to do until then, his father decided it was time to give this restless young man some broader exposure to real life. Shortly after Christmas, Bush began working as a counselor with black youngsters in Houston's Third Ward in a program called PULL (Professionals United for Leadership) for Youth."
Schweitzer's book also contains this quote by P.U.L.L volunteer Muriel Simmons Anderson: "John White was a good friend of their father's. He told us that the father wanted George W. to see the other side of life. He asked John if he would put him in there."