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What's Happening

The San Francisco Chronicle
August 29, 2000


By Chip Johnson

Move over, Steve Forbes. Slide aside Ross Perot. Nat Goldhaber has just entered the building.

Goldhaber, an Oakland dot-com millionaire, has joined the elite group of businessmen who believe their skills can be put to better use leading the nation.

He was vacationing with his family in Lake Tahoe a couple weeks ago when a phone call changed the direction of his life like a new technology. At least for the next three months.

Reform Party presidential hopeful John Hagelin wanted his trusted friend and adviser to come down to Long Beach for the party convention. A day or two later, Goldhaber found himself at the epicenter of one of the most raucous political conventions in recent American history.

When the dust cleared, Goldhaber, 52, had emerged as the vice- presidential candidate for a faction of the party that split from the forces led by Pat Buchanan, a Republican outcast who won the Reform Party nomination. "It was certainly a fateful trip," Goldhaber said last week, reacting to the bizarre turn of events.

"I went down for a day or two and ended up being a part of it all," he added.

His last foray into political action came more than 30 years ago, when he was a student activist at the University of California at Berkeley, he said....

From Goldhaber's front-row seat, the Reform Party convention had all the bluster of a World Wrestling Federation grudge match. In fact, the only wrestler missing was Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura, who pulled out of the Reform Party in February to form the Independence Party.

Goldhaber railed about Buchanan's tactics and the use of his "brigade" of bodyguards, whom Goldhaber claimed used intimidation and sometimes physical force to prevent some delegates from leaving a meeting and others from participating.

"I was there and witnessed the whole thing and wondered what I got myself into," he said.

"I was ready to go home after the first day. There were real physical activities. My first day in politics, thank you very much," Goldhaber said, recounting the experience.

"I was active in the '60s and it was like the '60s without soul, only brutality, and I didn't want to have anything to do with it."

But it wasn't Buchanan's tactics or his cadre of muscle-bound helpers that persuaded Goldhaber to jump into the fray as much as the right-headedness of Hagelin's platform, he said.

"It is a campaign characterized by compassion," he said.

"The people with Perot when the party was created have enormous respect for the American people and truly want reform," he added.

The convention fight and Buchanan's push for the nomination was really more about money than political ideologies, although the two groups' political philosophies couldn't be farther apart....

Money certainly isn't the motivation for Goldhaber, who made a fortune in the high-tech world as the chief executive officer of CyberGold, an online direct-marketing company headquartered in Oakland. He stepped down from that position recently, but still holds stock in the company.

It's always questionable when a wealthy man tosses his hat into the ring, and it's even more unusual when the rich guy's background is the fiery radicalism of the 1960s....

Nonetheless, Goldhaber will embark on a political career that will last at least through the second Tuesday in November.

"This will last for the next three months and hopefully the next eight years . . 16 years for a Goldhaber Administration," he added.

Next on the non-Buchanan reformers' agenda is a unification convention in Washington, D.C., later this week, where Ventura's party and Ralph Nader's Green Party have been invited to participate.

And when he considers his past, where he started and where he is now, the idea of a dark-horse victory isn't all that unbelievable.

"I'm an entrepreneur," Goldhaber said. "It's no farther a shot than starting a dot-com company and I've done that a couple of times now."