NY Times profile of Masada Disenhouse

Louis Proyect lnp3 at SPAMpanix.com
Thu Aug 31 12:21:39 MDT 2000


The New York Times, July 28, 2000, Friday, Late Edition - Final

Masada Disenhouse

PUBLIC LIVES;  Firmly, Optimistically, in Nader Country

By JOYCE WADLER

THERE are no doubt many who are stunned to learn that Ralph Nader, our
famously austere presidential candidate, who has been on the stump using
his senior discount for air travel and has been wearing the same dark suit
day after day, has quite a portfolio: personal assets of more than $3.9
million, including (if you're looking for tips on more than cleaning up the
environment) $1.2 million in stock in Cisco Systems.

Masada Disenhouse, the New York State coordinator for Mr. Nader, who is
running on the Green Party ticket, has no problem with that -- although the
money she's been flinging around lately is $400 for the monthly rent on
campaign headquarters on St. Mark's Place, in the Village.

"For the amount of work he's done, if he was in corporate America, he'd
have made a whole lot more," says Ms. Disenhouse, 32, a onetime graduate
student in mathematics, who, with her black-framed glasses, face clean of
makeup and simply-furnished apartment, still has that graduate student air.
"He gives a huge amount to charity. Even if he spent all his money on the
campaign it wouldn't go very far. Look at how much Ross Perot spends."

But what do you think, Ms. Disenhouse?

The suggestion of a smile.

"My personal reaction? It was, 'Oh, is that the best the media can come up
with against Nader?' Because they're always trying. I wasn't disturbed by
it."

A few months ago Ralph Nader was dismissed as a fringe candidate who would
disappear. Polls now show him as being more popular than Patrick J.
Buchanan, who is seeking the Reform Party's nomination. Mr. Nader is a
candidate who, in a tight race, could siphon off votes and threaten the
Democrats. While no one sees a win for Mr. Nader, he is using his campaign
as an opportunity to move the Democratic Party to the left on labor and to
raise other issues. He also wants to build up support for a third party. If
Mr. Nader gets at least 5 percent of the national vote, the Green Party
will be eligible for federal funds in 2004.

Enter Ms. Disenhouse, a longtime Green Party organizer who was hired three
weeks ago as a $2,800-a-month consultant.

Have you many politically incorrect stereotypical generalizations about the
people who work for Mr. Nader? Feel free to express them. Ms. Disenhouse,
who has a sense of humor, although it is largely subsumed by a desire to
talk politics, will indulge you for a few minutes.

Vegetarian? "Yup," says Ms. Disenhouse, cheerfully, sitting in the kitchen
of her Brooklyn apartment with Max the cat on her lap.

Anti-fur? "Except for on cats." Opposed to makeup? "That's laziness more
than anything else."

In the case of Ms. Disenhouse, there is also a charming thoughtfulness that
goes beyond specist boundaries: Max the cat likes to drink water from a
glass, so there is a human's glass on the floor next to the cat food dish.

ANOTHER way you know you are in Nader country: when you hear the name Jesse
Ventura three times in a conversation and you are nowhere near Minnesota.

Example, regarding Mr. Nader's chances:

"What Jesse Ventura shows us is anything is possible. I think there is an
outside possibility he could win. If you looked at what I studied in
school, quantum mechanics, there's always a probability of something. In
that it's different from mechanical physics, more like Newtonian physics,
where a lot of things either happen or they don't."

She worries about her analogy.

"I could explain that, but do you think anyone will get it?"

Better we explain Ms. Disenhouse.

She was raised on Staten Island and in Israel. Her father was a linguist
and contractor; her mother a housewife. Their politics, Ms. Disenhouse
says, are not hers. Her father did not vote in several elections because he
thought it was not a way to "effect change." Her mother was a "classic
Democrat." If there was something that made Ms. Disenhouse sensitive to
activism, she thinks it may have been living in Israel for six years, where
she felt a genuine sense of community. It was not like New York, she says,
where you do not know your neighbors.

"I have an amusing anecdote for you," Ms. Disenhouse says. "Although it's
opposed to the point I was just making. A woman just moved in to the
building a few days ago and she saw my 'Ralph Nader for President' sticker
and she told me she wanted to get involved and wanted to know where she
could go. I thought, 'Boy, did you move into the right building.' So you do
get to know your neighbors."

It is not clear what part of this anecdote is intended to be amusing, and
asking would be more awkward than any question regarding Mr. Nader's
portfolio, so let us move on:

Ms. Disenhouse graduated from the Yeshiva of Flatbush and Hunter College,
and received a master's degree in chemistry from the University of
Washington. She became involved with the Green Party in 1995. Her work in
the 1996 presidential campaign, in which Mr. Nader let the Green Party use
his name but did little else, was, she acknowledges, "frustrating." But her
efforts in the 1998 gubernatorial campaign helped to win the Green Party a
place on the New York ballot.

Why, now, work seven days a week for a candidate she must know will not win?

"I don't see it as work thrown away if we're clearing the way for a third
party. Jesse Ventura wouldn't have happened if people hadn't worked hard
all the time."


Louis Proyect

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