In the summer of 1972, Jonathan Sallet was a Brown University student covering the Democratic National Convention in Miami for the college radio station.

"I remember walking around and thinking, all these famous people like [former New York City mayor] John Lindsay are just standing there," he said. "We did not interview and broadcast back to Providence [R.I.] every night. It was wonderful."

Two decades later, Mr. Sallet recounted those heady days from hid perch at the Democratic convention in New York. This time, he attended as a party insider - chief counsel to the rules, credentials, and platform committees and a political intimate of the vice presidential nominee, Sen. Al Gore of Tennessee.

A Fearsome Player

Mr. Sallet, 44, is clearly on the rise within the party - a fact that gives banking lobbyists the jitters. He also the lawyer many big-bank lobbyists most to love to hate because he has been point man for the insurance industry's bare-knuckles fight to limit bank insurance powers.

He litigated the case last February in which an appeals court held that Congress had repealed authority for banks to sell insurance. More recently, he negotiated a deal with a group of regional banks to support legislation that would, in return for interstate branching power, further trim bank regulator's authority to grant insurance powers.

Mr. Sallet would be very close to a Democratic administration. During the New York convention two weeks ago, he handled legal matters both large and small. For example, he was called upon to defend the Democrats in court against a disgruntled delegate seeking a floor debate on the death penalty.

"Their lawyer called me at 3 one afternoon and said there was a court hearing at 4," Mr. Sallet said, "I called [Democratic National Committee Chairman] Ron Brown, and he said, |Take care of it the best way you can.'"

After obtaining a postponement, Mr. Sallet worked through most of the night, and at an 8 a. m. hearing the next day, the challenge was dismissed.

The Balloon Contract

Perhaps most important, he wrote the contract for the balloons that descended from the Madison Square Garden ceiling after presidential nominee Bill Clinton's acceptance speech.

"I told Harold Ickes [Gov. Clinton's convention manager] that I knew my head was on the chopping block if those balloons didn't fall," said Mr. Sallet.

He also worked nearly full time for Sen. Gore, whose selection for the ticket came as no surprise to Mr. Sallet.

The lawyer had worked on Sen. Gore's unsuccessful 1988 campaign for the presidential nomination, and he was ready to work again this year. But after Sen. Gore announced last summer that he would not run, Mr. Sallet said, he told the senator he understood the decision completely.

An Accurate Insight

"But I said, |I want to tell you something: By this decision you have made yourself the No. 1 pick for the vice presidency,'" Mr. Sallet recalled. "He told me I was nuts."

Mr. Sallet has long labored among the minority in the Democratic Party that preaches a pro-business gospel. He was drawn to the party largely out of concern for social justice, he said, and wants Democrats to understand how closely business issues are linked to that ideal.

"If you believe in tolerance as an important value, then you want a country that is growing economically," he said. "You don't want a country where people feel that the pie is shrinking and somebody else's success is their loss."

Former Hart Supporter

He had initially been drawn to former Sen. Gary Hart's ill-fated "new ideas" campaign for the 1988 nomination, but after Mr. Hart was forced to withdraw in May 1987, Mr. Sallet spent the summer talking with a fellow lawyer about various candidates. The two went to see Sen. Gore, and Mr. Sallet was convinced immediately that he had found the right horse.

Sen. Gore, he said, turned out to be someone who not only cared about issues but also was willing to spend whatever time was necessary to understand their details.

He sees Gov. Clinton as cut from the same cloth. "Bill Clinton, in a way that no Democrat has in long time, has been able to link the question of economic growth with Democratic values, "he said.

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