|By Rob Christensen, The News &
Observer, Raleigh, N.C.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Mar. 16, 2008 - Room 871 of The Mayflower hotel in Washington was where New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer had his career-ending tryst with a high-priced call girl.
One floor below, in Room 770, is where North Carolina politics was controlled in the 1930s and 1940s.
That was the luxury apartment of former Gov. O. Max Gardner, the state's political boss who headed the so-called Shelby Dynasty. After serving as governor (1929-1933), Gardner moved to Washington. He was one of the first of the super-lobbyists in New Deal Washington, did political chores for his friend, President Franklin Roosevelt, and continued to run North Carolina by long-distance telephone.
During the 1930s and '40s, Gardner helped his friends win election as governor and other state and federal offices. Gardner also helped kill the political careers of his enemies.
Gardner, a lawyer and textile mill owner from Shelby, did not achieve all this by pretending to be a poor boy. Gardner lived the high life, partying at the estates of the super rich, at the Kentucky Derby and at heavyweight boxing matches. Parties he hosted in Room 770 of The Mayflower attracted the likes of comedian Jack Benny and an ambitious young congressional aide named Lyndon Johnson.
Gardner, who became undersecretary of the Treasury, died in 1947 a day before he was to sail to England. President Truman had named him U.S. ambassador to Great Britain.
The Mayflower was the place to stay for well-heeled Democratic politicians. The Democratic National Committee was on the second floor. Roosevelt and Truman stayed there before moving into the White House.
The so-called grande dame of Washington hotels, The Mayflower opened in 1925 on Connecticut Avenue, just a few blocks from the White House. The hotel has seen its share of Democratic sex scandals.
Judith Campbell Exner, President Kennedy's mistress, supposedly stayed there to be near the White House. Monica Lewinsky reportedly stayed in the presidential suite -- also on the eighth floor -- when she testified before Congress about her affair with President Clinton.
But it was The Mayflower's caviar -- not sexual shenanigans -- that proved the undoing of North Carolina Sen. Cameron Morrison.
Morrison's opponent in the 1932 U.S. Senate race was Robert Reynolds, a populist lawyer from Asheville.
Reynolds campaigned across North Carolina with a menu from The Mayflower as a campaign prop, noting that the hotel served caviar. He accused Morrison, who stayed at The Mayflower, of eating fish eggs from Red Russia rather than good ol' North Carolina hen eggs.
He also accused Morrison of eating eggs Benedict, which Reynolds said were cooked by Benedictine monks who were kept in the hotel for that purpose.
Reynolds was elected in a huge upset. When he arrived in the Senate, he indirectly had his own problem with hookers.
Reynolds tried to get one of his Asheville cronies appointed U.S. attorney for the western district. When Roosevelt balked, Reynolds met with the president to find out why.
Roosevelt said it was well known that the prospective U.S. attorney kept "a fat whore" in Charlotte.
"Well, Mr. President," Reynolds drawled. "She's not so fat."
Roosevelt roared with laughter and appointed the man as a federal prosecutor -- similar to a post once held by Spitzer.
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