Sid Davidoff was standing at the reception area of the midtown Manhattan restaurant he owned when he saw his face splashed across the television.
“Hey Sid, you’re on TV!” restaurant patrons yelled as the phone lines began ringing off the hook with journalists calling to score an interview with Davidoff, who was the chief administrative assistant to New York Mayor John V. Lindsay at the time.
Although Davidoff was well known as Lindsay’s political aide, he wasn’t used to being in the spotlight and he was confused as to why his likeness was suddenly splashed across the news and why a host of journalists now had an interest in him.
The details, coming as White House Counsel John Dean provided the Senate Watergate Committee evidence of the president’s enemies list, quickly came together.
Dean’s June 1973 submission of a host of documents related to the Watergate scandal revealed Davidoff’s name — along with 19 others — was on President Richard Nixon’s “Opponents and Political Enemies List.”
The enemies list was a group of people Nixon thought were trying to derail his quest for a second term and whom he wanted to “screw” by using tactics such as tax audits to try to bring them down. Davidoff was No. 12 on the list. The memo described him as “a first class S.O.B., wheeler-dealer and suspected bagman. Positive results would really shake the Lindsay camp and Lindsay’s plans to capture youth vote. Davidoff in charge.”
Now, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the revelation of the list, Davidoff will join other Nixon enemies, as well as their surviving family members, as part of the “Lessons of Watergate” conference being held Wednesday and Thursday at the National Press Club.
“For me, the fact that this was exposed was so crazy, and I’m looking forward to talk about it with some of the people who had similar experiences,” Davidoff said of the upcoming gathering of the surviving members of the list.
Enemy of the People
Being an enemy of the state was never in Davidoff’s plans.
A lawyer by trade, he was interested in public service and government affairs and signed on as an aide to Lindsay, an ambitious politician who had served in the House and was on the shortlist as a potential Nixon vice presidential candidate in the 1968 election.
But in 1971, Lindsay ditched the Republican Party and launched a bid for president in the Democratic primary.
Although he never got the chance to ask anyone with knowledge of the situation, Davidoff is almost certain this ticked Nixon off and was the reason Davidoff got caught in the web.
“You had a mayor who at the time was very visible; he was a superstar in a lot of ways, doing the ‘Tonight Show.’ He really understood media, and it was difficult to bring him down,” Davidoff said of his boss. “I was probably the easier target, and sometimes when you bring down the person standing next to you, you get caught in that web, and I think that’s what they hoped for.”
When he first realized he was on Nixon’s enemies list, Davidoff said he poked fun at the situation.
He relished the attention from reporters who called to hear his side of the story and even held an “Enemies Ball” for other list members and their supporters at his New York City restaurant, Jimmy’s, named for newspaper reporter Jimmy Breslin.
But soon after the hubbub surrounding his addition to the list subsided, Davidoff realized the implications of being a target of the most powerful man in the United States — scandal-plagued or not.
“We had audits, we had a number of things going on with leaks to the newspapers about tax problems and questionable practices — leaks that came out of nowhere from unnamed sources within the government that I was constantly responding to,” Davidoff said.
Even years after Nixon resigned from office, the implications of being on the list followed him, he said.
“It’s like a bloodhound on the trail; the owner doesn’t have to be there, the bloodhound keeps sniffing,” Davidoff said. “The head of the country and his staff who were no longer there already pointed their bloodhound in [my] direction, and it kept going.”
Life After the List
Davidoff said the notoriety he received from his inclusion on the list ultimately helped him gain success later in life.
“It’s a sort of Medal of Honor that’s gone with me,” Davidoff said.
Shortly after his place on the list was revealed, Davidoff got out of the restaurant business and launched a law and lobbying firm — Davidoff, Hutcher & Citron LLP — which focuses on commercial law and government relations. He also has used his political and legal experiences to good effect in show business, with roles on ABC’s “Spin City” and HBO’s iconic mafia drama “The Sopranos.”
Davidoff said the experience made him want to help other people who are in similar situations, with the government trying to make average citizens’ lives harder by making them jump through unnecessary hoops or denying them the right to smoothly run a business.
“You see cases where ... you see [people] just being pushed by the government wrongfully, oppressed by the government wrongfully. And by no means am I a civil liberties lawyer ... but there are many times where we’ll step into a situation which is small, there’s nothing that we can make a profit from, just because it’s wrong,” Davidoff said.
And now 40 years after being added to the list, Davidoff said he holds no animosity toward Nixon or his staff.
“He really could’ve been one of our great presidents,” Davidoff said. “But the fact that he was brought down by his own paranoia makes me sad.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.