Pardon Puts New Spotlight on a Clinton Fund-Raiser

Melinda Henneberger - NY Times - February 17, 2001

Until recently, Beth Dozoretz seemed to be in a competition with her fellow Clinton friend and fund-raiser Terry McAuliffe over who deserved the greater share of credit for bringing in serial donations from Denise Rich, two senior party officials said.

Now, of course, as a third prominent Democrat said, "It's like the Rich money was left at the door of the orphanage in a brown paper bag. Nobody knows where it came from."

Certainly, Ms. Dozoretz is getting more credit than she could possibly want. She talked to Mr. Clinton about pardoning Ms. Rich's former husband, Marc Rich, and wound up a probable witness in investigations into whether Ms. Rich effectively bought the pardon.

When Ms. Dozoretz, 49, moved to Washington in 1993 with her husband, a psychiatrist who owns managed-care companies, she knew almost no one here. In only a few years, she became one of Mr. Clinton's closest friends he's godfather to her daughter and one of his most energetic fund-raisers. Today, a steady stream of her famous friends called The New York Times at her behest to offer testimonials. Her husband, Ron Dozoretz, phoned, too, "to talk about my sweetheart."

But the two senior party officials say Ms. Dozoretz, the former finance chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, may finally have succeeded all too well in promoting herself.

One of the officials said that Ms. Dozoretz "was furious that Terry had shut her out" of sessions on raising money from Ms. Rich and others for Mr. Clinton's presidential library. "But she was so eager to look like she was in the center of everything, she's the perfect fall guy. She never understood the danger in trying to take credit for things in the finance world."

In a 45-minute phone interview today, Ms. Dozoretz said she had never sought credit, but was not opposed to being characterized as nave, even willfully so. "I choose to be nave and idealistic," she said.

She declined to answer questions about her role in the pardon or her relationship with Ms. Rich, but did speak at length about her devotion to the Clintons and said she was also close to the former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who also lobbied for the Rich pardon.

Ms. Dozoretz said that before Mr. Barak was prime minister, a mutual friend sent Mr. Barak and his brother to her house. "We talked for two hours," she said, "and I was mesmerized. He was a lot like Clinton."

She began the interview with what was either an oblique offer to help get her interviewer's children into private school, presumably depending on the contours of this story or it was the instinctive impulse of a woman who cannot help trying to help.

After the introductions, Ms. Dozoretz was quicker than her questioner to begin asking questions: Do you have children? Where do they go to school? How long can they stay there? Where are you looking? At the mention of Sidwell Friends, Chelsea Clinton's alma mater, where Ms. Dozoretz's 6-year-old son is enrolled, she asked pleasantly, "Do you know people at Sidwell? Ah, well, I'm sure they're adorable and they'll get in."

Her friends do describe her as exceedingly kind.

Arianna Huffington, the author and columnist, who has written critically about the Rich pardon, sold her house to Ms. Dozoretz and her husband several years ago.

"She had bought my house and was in and out with her decorator," Ms. Huffington said. "One day I just broke down. I was going through one of the worst times in my life and this complete stranger ended up being the only person who knew I was getting a divorce and she never told anybody and was very supportive."

Senator Robert G. Torricelli, Democrat of New Jersey, was one of several who said Ms. Dozoretz had been a matchmaker for him, introducing him to a woman who is now his former girlfriend, Patricia Duff.

Mort Zuckerman, the publisher, phoned in from Aspen to praise her "gift for friendship."

But she has plenty of critics, too. Many who have worked with her and known her socially had the same reaction at the mention of her name: "Oh, my God!" Her perceived sins seemed to include everything from social climbing and hubris to indiscrete makeup. One former colleague said that at parties "she's like the mother in the train station looking for her lost child, her eyes darting every which way."

Mr. McAuliffe declined to speak for the record, but several of those close to him laughed at the idea that he would feel competitive with Ms. Dozoretz. She also said that was not the case.

But a high-ranking party official described a number of competitive scenes between the two.

"They would smile and kiss and then he'd walk out of the room and she'd pull out the donor lists and say, `Why is Terry's name next to this person?' Or she'd walk out and Terry would say, "I'm not doing this event unless I'm sole chair.' Neither of them wanted to share the president's attention."

"Terry wouldn't let her be the co- chair of the event at the MCI Center in May," the official said of a major Democratic fund-raising event, "but her reaction was to have an event at her home honoring Terry. That's how good she is."

Someone who was taken under her wing when they first arrived in Washington said she offered this advice: "She said if people think you're close" to an important person, "they'll invite you to the same dinner parties and then you will be close."

Ms. Dozoretz said that on the contrary, she had never been calculating about friendships.

Al and Tipper Gore, in any case, were never won over, according to several friends of the vice president, and she left the D.N.C. last year.

She was born Beth Goldman in Worcester, Mass., where her father, whom she described as a dentist, professor and inventor, knew Denise Rich's father, Dr. Dozoretz said.

Ms. Dozoretz cried when asked about her father, who died several years ago, and said that her husband was a lot like him, "a quiet gentleman." Later, she said that Mr. Clinton, too, reminded her of him.

She lived in New York and ran a clothing company until 1988, when she met her husband at a fund-raiser. She settled in Virginia, where he was, but moved here around the time their son was born partly because of Washington's superior schools, she said. "I don't want to say anything negative about Virginia Beach, but I was better suited to Washington," she said, adding, "The best women in the universe are in Washington, D.C."

Her husband had been active in politics, and soon after arriving, she was asked to organize an event at which Mrs. Clinton was the speaker.

"Then we were invited to dinner at the White House and I was seated across from him and we started talking about very normal things like working out and lifting weights and it went from there."

She took the job at the D.N.C. right after Mr. Clinton was impeached, at a time no one else wanted it. And even her critics give her credit for working hard and doing well there.

Several friends said she's taking her current predicament hard. This week, her friend Jack Quinn, Mr. Rich's lawyer, told the Senate Judiciary Committee that "I knew that she speaks with the former president with some frequency" and that "I believed she might provide me with a sense of our progress."

Her new lawyer, Tom Green, proclaimed her "really on the periphery of this entire pardon transaction."

"They're looking at other people harder," he said.

She has long since learned to deal with critics, she said. When she knows someone doesn't like her, she just tries to get to know them better.

"In one case I took a woman to lunch and said, `You seem to feel uncomfortable with me.' She said, `What do you want, anyway?' I said, `I have what I want. What do you want?' She told me and I said, `I'd love to help you get it.'

"And now we're good friends."

  • See Also: The Clemency Page