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For week ended May 30, 1999 Posted 4 Jun 1999

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Cook's Image-Repair Work Turns Weird With Roast

Summarized by Eric Bunker

Cook's Image-Repair Work Turns Weird With Roast
Salt Lake Tribune 24May99 L1
By John Heilprin: Salt Lake Tribune

Church member and Utah Congressman, Merrill Cook, has attempted to rehabilitate his battered image and to get an early start on his 2000 re-election campaign by orchestrating a "roast" of himself at a fund-raising dinner held a week ago last Saturday night.

Less than 150 people attended the $150-per-plate "COOK-out," but the poor attendance at this strangely conceived event was further hampered by the absence of the four other members of the Utah congressional delegation who were supposed to attend.

The mood at the three-hour 'kind-of-weird' party started out with everyone feeling a bit more uncomfortable than one usually would at a normal roast, but it turned out to be good fun with the offering of inside jokes about Cook's temperament. Jokes ranged from his emotional volatility to his verbal abusiveness and staff firings, to his attack-and-repent tendency of making unsupported or groundless accusations.

The unlikely moderator for the roast was Salt Lake area radio talk-show host and Salt Lake Tribune columnist Tom Barberi, a self-described former California Republican-turned-Utah independent. His no-holds-barred frequent one-liners, poking fun at the political and Mormon establishment, kept the audience laughing.

Along with humorous notes from other US Congressmen, one of Sen. Orrin Hatch's aides read a letter from him making light of Cook's cursing tirades against fellow Republicans and staffers in Washington D. C.

In the upcoming election, Rep. Cook already faces Democrat Jim Matheson, a Salt Lake City energy consultant with the name recognition of his late father, Scott Matheson, a popular Democratic governor. Rep. Cook likely will also be challenged for the GOP primary nomination by fellow Republicans who worry about Cook's electability because of his controversial public persona and who want to ensure the GOP retains Utah's 2nd District seat.

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