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A nice man rates the candidates

Lothar Patten makes an unlikely celebrity. A 53-year-old New Hampshire man, he has a history of psychiatric problems and was formerly homeless; today, he lives in public housing in Portsmouth. But Patten is currently the star of a documentary-in-progress — tentatively titled The Nice Man Cometh — which, when completed, will chronicle his face-to-face encounters with every Democratic presidential candidate.

Initially, The Nice Man Cometh — which is being filmed by James Tucker, a sociology professor at the University of New Hampshire — was going to focus on Patten’s unusual day-to-day existence. Then John Kerry showed up in Portsmouth this summer, and the emphasis shifted.

"[Lothar’s] a very engaging fellow," Tucker says. "A lot of people think when they first see him that he’s rather odd, but he’s a real sweetheart. He also has some unconventional beliefs — he talks to ghosts and so on — and the original project was to talk to him as he tries to meet ghosts and hangs out in the cemeteries where he used to live.... One day when we were filming, John Kerry came to town, and we thought it might be interesting to meet Kerry, so we did that. We got a handshake and a few words. So we decided to meet all the rest of the candidates."

Patten — who has yet to meet Carol Moseley Braun, Bob Graham, Dennis Kucinich, and Al Sharpton — says that when he queries the various candidates on the issue of homelessness, each gives more or less the same answer: homeless men and women should seek disability insurance through Social Security and apply for public housing. But despite this similarity, the candidates he’s met so far haven’t impressed him equally. Here’s a sampling of Patten’s takes on six of the 10 Democratic presidential aspirants, from most to least positive:

Joe Lieberman: "I love Lieberman. He’s not doing all that well in the polls, but he was at the top of my list before [Wesley] Clark entered the race. He’s a very modest, down-to-earth type of man, and I consider him to be a very nice guy. He shook my hand and gave me a thumbs up, and everything about him, as far as I’m concerned, is positive."

John Edwards: "I really like him a lot. He’s a young guy, and he loves the game of golf, [so] he’s all right in my book. I spoke to him — I asked him what his handicap was, and he said to me, ‘I think yours is better than mine.’"

Wesley Clark: "He’s the last one I’ve seen, and I was quite impressed by him. He appears to be a pretty good candidate."

John Kerry: "When the race first started, he was the first one I met, and I like him too. I consider him a pretty good candidate for the presidency — he’s not leading in the polls, he’s in second place, but I think he’ll make out all right."

Howard Dean: "He’s the doctor ... I favor him pretty well also."

Dick Gephardt: "I don’t care for Dick Gephardt. I’m not too much into him. He came on kind of hard and stiff with me, and when I tried to shake his hand, he sort of, like, went the other way. He appeared to me to be very disinterested in other people’s point of views."

Tucker says he plans to pitch The Nice Man Cometh to local PBS affiliates once Patten’s spoken with all 10 candidates. Patten, meanwhile, says he’s prepared for the minor renown he could experience if the film gets broadcast on TV. But he adds that, while he’d enjoy spending a little time in the public eye, he considers personal fame a secondary goal.

"We just hope that the whole thing at the end will turn out okay and will get Bush out of office," Patten says. "We need another president."

Issue Date: October 3 - 9, 2003
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