Reader Archive--Article: 2004/040924/BUSINESS
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Bitten by the Fuckdog

Author: Deanna Isaacs |Date: September 24, 2004 |Appeared in Section 2 |Word count: 1239

The last time we heard from former Chicagoan Gary Cole, in 2001, he was launching StageDirect, a business that films fringe theater shows and markets videos internationally; Chicago's Neo-Futurists are among the troupes he's taped. That venture hasn't taken off financially yet, he says, but it hasn't been foremost in his mind. With the presidential election coming up, Cole--a die-hard Republican--wanted to talk about his adventure in Bushland.
It started a year and a half ago, when he thought he'd make a run for Congress in Oregon, where he'd been living since 1991. A longtime Bush supporter and party fund-raiser (he was the state's Republican finance chair in 2000), he figured that as a moderate he might be able to win back a seat the Democrats had held for 30 years. He hired a team of east-coast political consultants to look into his chances and says it took them all of ten minutes to reach a conclusion. They went on the StageDirect Web site, noted that his company's inventory included Straight, a play about the movement to turn gays and lesbians into heterosexuals, and another play with the catchy title Poona the Fuckdog, and told him to forget it. You don't have a prayer of winning a Republican primary, they said.
Cole, a playwright, lawyer, former CIA employee, and cofounder of CoHo Productions, a not-for-profit Portland theater company, had an itch to go back east and wondered if there might be a job for him out there that wouldn't require election. "My friends in Oregon and I started talking about the NEA," he says. "After the disillusioning experience with the congressional race, I didn't want to embark on a fool's errand, but they didn't think it would be an issue." After all, Cole says, both art and the Republican Party are supposed to be about personal liberty.
It looked like he was in luck: there was an opening for a deputy chairman for grants and awards--the number-three job in the agency, responsible for the day-to-day operation of the roughly $60 million grant program. Cole thought this would be dandy and believed his experience in art, business, and law made him eminently qualified. In the spring of 2003 he applied for the job and says Oregon senator Gordon Smith pushed for him. That May he went to Washington for interviews with NEA head Dana Gioia and the White House personnel office. Soon afterward he got an e-mail from Ann Guthrie Hingston, director of the NEA's office of congressional and White House liaison, telling him he was Gioia's choice for the $131,000-a-year job, subject to White House approval, and on June 9 he got a congratulatory call from her announcing that the position was his. "I was ecstatic," Cole says. "This was my dream job, the culmination of 20 years of hard work in the arts and Republican politics." In Chicago at the time for his brother's wedding, he dived right in, celebrating the appointment with his parents and making an offer on a house in the D.C. area.
But two days later, just hours after he'd had a nice phone chat with a woman from the NEA communications department about his background, Hingston left a message on his answering machine saying that something had come up. The next day she called to say they were pulling the offer. Cole says she wouldn't say why, but it wasn't hard to catch a whiff of the reason. "I'm virtually certain about what happened," he says. "The woman in the communications office said she had been on our Web site," and he says two friends in positions to know told him later that the Fuckdog and Straight had struck again. "Wednesday I was their guy; Thursday I was toast." An NEA spokesperson said the agency doesn't comment on personnel matters.
Cole's living in North Carolina now and trying to take StageDirect in new directions. As for Straight and Poona the Fuckdog, he says, "These two productions were favorably reviewed by publications like the New Yorker and the New York Times. We're the furthest thing from some purveyor of obscenity. To be branded as beyond the pale was inconceivable to me. I subscribed to how Bush presented himself--as a sophisticated, compassionate conservative. It's painful." He says he's still a Republican, but he won't be voting for Bush this November.

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