1 Last Cup Of Joe For The Road

Joe Lieberman ordered the “Regular People” special one last time at the Athenian Diner Wednesday.

He made his last five stops Wednesday (in all five U.S. Congressional districts) as a sitting U.S. senator to diners across Connecticut to say “thank you” to voters. He also said “good-bye” to what has become a new tradition for politicians seeking to present a picture of listening to everyday constituents about how to govern.

Lieberman has done that since his second year representing Connecticut in the U.S. Senate. First elected in 1988, he retires next week after 24 years in office. All that time he has made a point of stopping at diners to check in informally with voters.

His staff alerted the press to Wednesday’s stops as it has throughout the years. The stops in part project a populist picture to the broader public. One that counteracts the image of spending most of the time in the elite D.C. confines of the “World’s Greatest Deliberative Body,” aka The U.S. Senate, aka a millionaire’s club fawned over by lobbyists and special-interest groups at $100 or $1,000 breakfasts and PAC banquets.

The technique has spread to other states, across party lines. Essex County, N.J., diners found Republican U.S. Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen showing up along with their blue-pate specials earlier this year, for instance. He followed in the footsteps of the late New Jersey Democratic U.S. Rep. John Adler’s 2010 diner tour, current New Jersey Republican U.S. Rep. Scott Garrett’s 2012 summer diner tour,  Pennsylvania Republican U.S. Rep.-Elect Scott Perry’s 2012 diner tour, to name a few.

Lieberman’s successor in Connecticut. Democratic Sen.-Elect Chris Murphy, wasted no time launching diner and deli stops of his own. (Read about that here.)

Lieberman said the diner stops have sometimes proved as valuable as expensive public-opinion polls. They’ve offered him unfiltered access to what people are truly thinking, he said.

Lieberman New Haven visit to Wednesday to at the Athenian on Whalley Avenue was, by his staff’s estimate, somewhere around diner stop number 180 during his tenure.

Paul Bass PhotoIt reunited Lieberman with Athenian owner George Daouts (pictured) ...

... and daughter Evie Douats, who have owned the popular hangout for 30 years, since before Lieberman went to Washington. Lieberman and his family used to be regulars at the diner, not just for official visits. “Joe’s my buddy,” George said.

Lieberman stopped by John Healy’s table as Healey finished up his daily plate of scrambled eggs. Healey, owner of City Point Construction and a Republican who said he has always voted for Lieberman, told the senator his business is still hurting amid the economy’s fledgling economy.

Lieberman shared yuks and memories with retirees Doug Fortune, Robert Luciani, Lefty DeFrancesco, and Al Correro. The group gathers every morning at Athenian to “solve the world’s problems,” said Fortune, a former New Haven fire battalion chief. The group includes Democrats, Republicans and Independents, Fortune told Lieberman.

Lieberman, a Democrat-turned-Independent who has made bipartisanship his foremost message in recent years, didn’t miss a beat. “You could probably do better than the U.S. Congress,” he said.

Rabbi Rick Eisenberg (at left in photo with Joe and Hadassah Lieberman) invited the senator to a current events group he runs for recovering addicts at the APT Foundation.

“Thank you for everything you’ve done,” the rabbi concluded.

“You know,” Lieberman remarked, “on the diner tour you don’t expect to receive a brucha [blessing].”

After hitting a dozen of so tables, Lieberman discussed his experience over the years with diner politics.

“I was looking for a way to meet regular people,” he recalled. “A lot of times groups come to my office, organized groups, which is good. That’s my responsibility, to talk to them.

“I actually did some town hall meetings my first year. They were OK. But I was finding that the same organized interest groups that were coming to my office were coming out in disproportionate numbers to the town hall meetings. I wanted to find some more informal place to meet people, just regular people, and hear their views.

” ... Somebody gave me the idea, ‘Go to diners; have a cup of coffee.’”

Why not hit McDonald’s instead? “The diner is a place where people come and sit and hang out for a while,” he replied. The diners function as “communal centers,” he said. “They are comfortable places. Even when I’ve been at my most controversial, the dialogue at the diners has been really civil. People haven’t always agreed. There’s a tone, maybe because they’re around a table. They have food and cup of coffee.”

He’s learned a lot over those coffees in the 180 or so diner visits, Lieberman maintained.

For instance, in the 1990s Clinton-Lewinsky sex scandal, diner patrons offered a clear message: They were “upset” with the president. But “very few of them wanted him to be impeached. Because they felt he had made a mistake but that he was a good president.” Lieberman ended up making an influential Senate floor speech excoriating his fellow Democrat for immoral behavior but stopping short of calling for his resignation or impeachment.

“I sometimes used to tease my longtime pollster Stan Greenberg [of New Haven] that actually I got very similar results from my diner tours than I got from my polls,” Lieberman said. “And the diner tours cost a lot less money.”

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posted by: Anderson Scooper on December 26, 2012  6:38pm


And to think the man was nearly Vice-President.

posted by: BellaQuest on December 27, 2012  1:22am

This is why he has become so out of touch.  180 diner meals in 24 years is about 6 times a year. While the infrequent diner runs might have been good for Joe’s cholesterol, the visits were mainly in election years and did little for his perspective.  Joe - thank you for serving our country, especially up to 2001 ... now please just go away.

posted by: Tommy Hobbes on December 27, 2012  9:27am

Good riddance. This man once marched with MLK Jr. for civil rights. I wonder what must have happened to him during his career to make him so disloyal and unprincipled.

posted by: ctkeith on December 27, 2012  10:07am

You’ve reported on these totally staged diner stops for over 20 years without telling your readers they’re staged events.Don’t you think it’s about time you told your readers that the people Lieberman interacts with in these events are actually invited to these events by Liebermans staff instead of continuing your active participation in the fraud?

[Bass: Hi Keith. I did check with the people there. None of them was aware that Lieberman was coming except for the owners. Yes, the events are designed for the press, too, which I noted in the story. Not sure what other “diner stops” of his I’ve ever covered, but if I’m forgetting any, then I cop to being part of the conspiracy! I once interviewed Lieberman at the Athenian more than a decade ago, but it wasn’t one of his “diner tour” stops. I ordered tea and a bagel.]

posted by: PH on December 27, 2012  4:47pm

And on the way out the door of the Senate, Ol’ Joe tried to make one last attempt at undermining the Affordable Care Act by trying to carve out a laughable religious exemption.  I, for one, cannot wait to get a real Democrat like Chris Murphy into the Senate in place of the “independent” George Bush-loving, war-mongering, and preachy Lieberman.

posted by: SaveOurCity on December 27, 2012  6:17pm

Wow - the comments are here shocked me a bit…..12 years ago, Joe was seen as too liberal to be a heartbeat away from being Commander in Chief.  In 2012, the liberals have careened so far left that Joe is now viewed as too conservative. 

If I hadn’t witnessed the 2012 election, I’d be shocked at what has become of our once proud nation.

posted by: beyonddiscussion on December 28, 2012  12:25am

Amazing politician. He went from liberal to moderate to being cozy with Bush and Cheney. It’s too bad that I won’t remember him so much for being the first Jewish person on a national ticket, as I will for his sell-out to Bush. I will always recall his scolding us for critiquing our President Bush during a time of war. That took Chutzpah. By 2008, he was speaking at the GOP convention.
What happened Joe??

posted by: ISR on December 28, 2012  10:25am

“Wow - the comments are here shocked me a bit…..12 years ago, Joe was seen as too liberal to be a heartbeat away from being Commander in Chief.  In 2012, the liberals have careened so far left that Joe is now viewed as too conservative.

“If I hadn’t witnessed the 2012 election, I’d be shocked at what has become of our once proud nation.”

I was around, and I would find it hard to find an assertion tha Joe was too liberal to be a heart beat away—except by his association to Gore.  Flaming liberals like me believed at the time he was already too conservative to be a heart beat away.

And, perhaps you forget that little thing of Joe endorsing McCain, preceded by his rejecting the will of his party to go away when he ran as an independent, and followed by his non-endorsement of Obama this year.

As for witnessing what did happen in this year’s election, I’m very proud of our still proud nation.

posted by: Walt on December 28, 2012  1:13pm

I admire Joe and have voted for him almost every time I got a chance,  from his State Senate efforts through Attorney General and then the US Senate

Not for VP,though, but again when he was denied the Senate nomination by the ultra - liberals even tho his voting record was almost   perfectly in line with the Dem Party,

I rarely vote for a Dem, except on a local level, where I have worked for a couple of Dem Mayoral candidates, but quickly switched my registration back to independent once the election was over.

I thought Joe, a man of principle, was   screwed by the   Dems after   his VP effort,  which the Dems tend to do,  They even ignored my un-favorite,  Gore,  even after he had previously won ,the popular vote in his Presidential effort.

Not that I would have voted for him but Gore certainly deserved another shot at the Presidency much more than the feckless Obama

That the libs still defame Joe here now, after all he has done for CT Dems is typical Dem action—  shameful as I see it.

Good Job , Joe.  Happy retirement if that is your intent!