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Bella Abzug might dismiss that last part as sexist condescension, but then again she might not. For all her rhinoceros qualities, she is deeply feminine (pace, Women's Lib) and, as former Campaign Manager Doug Ireland says, "vulnerable as a lady." She recently withstood withering political satire at a correspondents' dinner but burst into tears when someone mocked her robust figure. Arthur Goldberg is said to have won her over once by remarking that her pictures did not do her justice.
Interoffice Tyrant. Not the least contradiction of Bella Abzug is the way in which the female populist, labor lawyer and champion of the oppressed mercilessly oppresses her own staff. Some other politicians, most famously Lyndon Johnson, have been known to bully their workers, but Bella, with that perfect name, the Latin for wars and beauty, is an interoffice tyrant undreamt of since Caligula.
Three days before her election in 1970, says a former aide, "she calls me on Sunday morning at 7:30. I hear a roar: 'How dare you sleep? This is the candidate!'" When she first came to Washington, she phoned another staffer at 2 a.m. and bellowed: "My toilet is overflowing. There's s on the floor. What are you going to do about it?" The turnover in her office is high. At times, however, Bella displays a maternal sensitivity; once she saw that her tirades were raining acids on an aide's ulcer and immediately sent out for milk and chicken soup. Says an old friend, Ronnie Eldridge, special assistant to Mayor John Lindsay: "She's just a big baby who wants to be loved insatiably."
Loud Genius. Abzug comes by all of her contradictions honestly. The daughter of a Russian immigrant named Emmanuel Savitsky, she rang the cash register in his Live and Let Live meat market on Manhattan's Ninth Avenue as a girl, attended Hunter College and Columbia law school, where she was an editor of the Law Review. Before it was fashionable, she was a strong civil rights advocate who once defended a black man in Mississippi accused of raping a white woman. She was seven months' pregnant then and slept in a Jackson bus station one night sitting upright on a bench, being wisely gingerly about night riders. Her two daughters are now in college, and she lives in a somewhat grand $650-a-month Greenwich Village duplex with her husband, Martin Abzug, a soft-spoken stockbroker and sometime novelist (Seventh Avenue Story and Spearhead).
At 51, Bella Abzug has the loud, infuriated and infuriating genius of New York Citynot Rockefeller Center New York, but the Lower East Side, the garment district and the West Side, which make up the constituency that she represents. Like the city, she is an acquired tastealways lively, usually difficult, often a delight.