O’rourke, once adrift in New York, is search­ing again

Las Vegas Review-Journal - - CLASSIFIEDS - By Matt Fle­gen­heimer New York Times News Ser­vice

All at once, New York City seemed to be con­spir­ing against Beto O’rourke.

His girl­friend was mov­ing to France. His punk band­mates had scat­tered. Twenty-three and search­ing — with an Ivy League de­gree that could not pay rent — O’rourke sub­sisted as a live-in nanny on the Up­per West Side, with a fu­ton in the maid’s quar­ters, watch­ing over a wealthy fam­ily’s two preschool­ers.

“I just re­mem­ber his dad com­ing,” said the for­mer girl­friend, Sasha Wat­son, re­call­ing a pep talk from Pat O’rourke, a prom­i­nent Texas county com­mis­sioner and judge, who in­sisted his son was des­tined for “big­ger things.”

“He re­ally saw great things for Beto.”

Great things were not hap­pen­ing. By late 1995, O’rourke had fallen into the deep­est de­pres­sion he can re­mem­ber. He worked for an un­cle’s tech busi­ness be­cause it was a job. He spent nights alone lis­ten­ing to his cas­settes be­cause it passed the time.

“Lit­tle bit of a sad case,” O’rourke said.

More than two decades later, long af­ter what friends de­scribe as a quar­ter-life cri­sis, O’rourke has ar­rived at a midlife cross­roads of enor­mous con­se­quence, with re­veal­ing par­al­lels to his time in New York. Forty-six and search­ing — af­ter a nar­row Sen­ate loss in Texas last year that pro­pelled the for­mer El Paso con­gress­man to Demo­cratic star­dom — he has been driv­ing around the coun­try, alone, in­tro­duc­ing him­self to strangers, de­cid­ing if he wants to run for pres­i­dent.

He has de­scribed him­self as “stuck,” in and out of a “funk.” He has com­pared the present reck­on­ing to mo­ments of root­less­ness in the city, when he last found him­self out of work.

“I just didn’t ever want to feel like that or be in that place or that po­si­tion again,” O’rourke said in an hour­long phone in­ter­view. “So that lately has felt kind of strange, maybe with some echoes.”

Early polls and prospec­tive op­po­nents agree that O’rourke, with his mes­sage of gen­er­a­tional change and lib­eral-for-texas pol­i­tics, would en­ter the race as a top-tier con­tender, buoyed by a na­tional net­work of small-dol­lar donors and an in­stinct for up­lift and so­cial me­dia ubiq­uity.

Well be­fore his re­turn last week to his for­mer city — for an in­ter­view Tues­day with Oprah Win­frey in Times Square, height­en­ing 2020 ex­pec­ta­tions —

TODD HEISLER / NEW YORK TIMES FILE (2018)

Rep. Beto O’rourke, D-texas, con­cedes the Sen­ate race to Sen. Ted Cruz, on elec­tion night in El Paso. O’rourke’s seven New York years — four at Columbia Univer­sity and three af­ter grad­u­a­tion — were, in his own telling, an ex­er­cise in rec­og­niz­ing his own av­er­a­ge­ness. But the city also sup­plied a prov­ing ground for the kind of per­sonal ap­peal that would power his po­lit­i­cal as­cent.

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