Aide: Edwards thought Camelot might be winner

March 3, 2010 3:45:42 PM PST
After John Kerry lost his bid for the presidency in 2004, a former aide says running mate John Edwards retreated to his million dollar beach house on North Carolina's Figure Eight Island to plot his next move.

"He and I went down to the beach, and he had a whole bunch of books, and he started reading - mainly about Bobby Kennedy. He decided he was going to adopt - he became enamored with - Bobby Kennedy. He adopted poverty - kinda out of the blue - but that was how the poverty center came to be," recalled former Edwards' aide Andrew Young in an interview with ABC11's Steve Daniels.

In his book 'The Politician' which details his days working for Edwards and his role in hiding Edwards' affair with Rielle Hunter from the media, Young writes that the former U.S. Senator decided he wanted to run for president in 2008, but he needed a campaign platform.

"He didn't have a platform. So he talked to Duke, UNC ... I'm not positive, but there was an Ivy League school that he talked to," Young told ABC11 Eyewitness News.

Young said Edwards pitched what ultimately became the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity launched by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2005.

"He and I would go to Carolina basketball games and Chancellor [James] Moeser and [UNC School of Law] Dean [Gene] Nichol would come over and they would openly talk about it - that this was an embarrassment if he went to Duke, that this was his home, and so on and so forth, and they heavily recruited him," Young recalled.

UNC leaders wanted the center at their school which was where Edwards earned his law degree. But Young says the former vice presidential candidate saw a chance for more, and told him to draw up list of VIP benefits Edwards would get if UNC created the Center on Poverty for him.

"He said to me: 'Andrew, will you draw up a dream list?' Young recalled. "It was basically for everything: football tickets, basketball tickets, parking pass back behind the Koury Natatorium - which is just adjacent to the Dean Smith Center - and guarantee that whenever they went to the Final Four, they would have travel and accommodations."

Young says that in the end, UNC rejected the "dream list." But, about eight weeks after the election 2004, the school named Edwards the director of the Center on Poverty.

Young says he began working the phones and helped raise $3 million for the project.

"These people - before them wanting to make a commitment - would want to come out and see the Senator at work. The problem was he was never there," said Young. "And while he was in there, he would do work related to a book he was working on or he would do campaign work."

Young says Edwards essentially used a taxpayer funded university to benefit his political ambitions.

"The few times he was there, he was doing work - campaign work. I think that it should be concerning that he used a public university for building some ideas for building a platform for running for president," said Young.

Young also says Edwards did political fundraising from his office at the UNC School of Law.

Edwards spent nearly two years as director of the Center on Poverty. It ultimately led to his announcement on December 28, 2006 - in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans - that fighting poverty would be the cornerstone of his 2008 presidential campaign.

"I've learned since the last campaign that it's great to identify a problem ... but the way you change things is by taking action," Edwards told reporters.

Frank Perry - who helped found the North Carolina State Ethics Commission and now works with The Foundation for Ethics in Public Service - says some of Edwards activities at UNC may have been unethical - perhaps even illegal.

"If indeed the allegation is true of promoting a campaign, for framing a campaign, from launching a campaign, or otherwise raising money for a campaign - all that is inappropriate, some of it is illegal," said Perry.

"If there was a ruse of some sort to create a poverty center for the purposes of having a tagline for future campaigns, it's unethical," Perry continued.

UNC's deal with Edwards to open the Center on Poverty occurred before current UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp was hired. He told ABC11 that it was wrong to get involved with Edwards.

"I think we've learned a lot from this experience," he said. "I think that it's a good lesson that university should stay out of partisan politics. I'm sorry we affiliated ourselves with Senator Edwards and I think we've learned a lot about how to keep from having this happen again in the future."

Thorp says he and university attorneys investigated the Center on Poverty and did not turn up any illegal activity, but he would undo the past if he could.

"I wish we hadn't done this. I wouldn't do it again, and I think it's a mistake for universities to get into helping to create partisan political campaigns. I'm sorry that we did it. To my knowledge, there wasn't any illegal activity, and I think we've learned a really important lesson," he said.

Edwards' salary at the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity was paid through private donations. He left the director's post in 2006 when he began his presidential campaign. There have been two directors since, and the center continues its work of raising public awareness of the plight of those at the bottom of the economic ladder.

Attempts to contact John Edwards for comment on this story were unsuccessful. Edwards put out a statement through his lawyer about Young's book 'The Politician,' shortly after it was published - saying: "From media reports, it is obvious that there are many allegations [in Young’s book] which are simply false. It appears that Andrew Young is primarily motivated by financial gain and media attention."

Young stands by his account.

Edwards mistress Rielle Hunter is also suing Andrew Young and his wife in civil court for return of a video purportedly of her and Edwards having sex. That case has not been decided.

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