Taylor's notion of a spy career ended during his freshman year, after he read Philip Agee's "Inside The Company," an account of dirty tricks and other intelligence abuses. "I thought it was there to help democracy, not suppress people," Taylor says of the CIA.
Disillusioned, he took classes in social studies and history, an abiding passion. He waited tables, alternating between Washington during the school year and two summers in Cape Cod. He still remembers late Philadelphia Mayor Frank Rizzo visiting one season and tipping $3 on a $78 check.
Taylor joined the restaurant workers union in 1979 and became a shop steward. Part of the reason was his austere upbringing. It bothered Taylor to see his mother work full time and still struggle financially. "No institution is perfect," he says, but organized labor was "the only institution I saw that allowed workers to have a better say."
In 1980, he graduated from Georgetown's School of Foreign Service. (Not bad training, he jokes, for a union with members from 87 countries.) In fall 1981, he was hired by the Culinary Union to organize workers in the Lake Tahoe-Reno area. He was dispatched in 1984 to Las Vegas, where he helped see the local through a disastrous two-month strike.
Taylor sits in his modest office at union headquarters as he relates this history. The space is dominated by family photographs (a wife, two daughters), Boston Red Sox memorabilia (another passion) and various portraits and keepsakes celebrating the labor movement.
The building itself, in an industrial area just off the Las Vegas Strip, is a worn, jury-rigged complex sprawling over 36,000 square feet. Long corridors are intersected by narrow, alley-like passageways. Reaching the second floor requires a trip outside. Blue-and-white placards direct traffic, like signs around a road hazard.
The feeling, even with cheery member photos lining the walls, is decidedly low-rent. But after a history of corruption tied to organized crime, the modest quarters make a statement: Our money goes into organizing, not opulence. (Law enforcement and corporate ownership of the big casinos eventually drove the mob from Las Vegas; there hasn't been a hint of scandal surrounding the Culinary Union in years.)
Taylor makes $140,000 a year as head of Local 226 and vice president of its labor parent, Unite Here, leading its national gaming division. He was part of the team that helped purge the organization and rebuild its strike-thinned ranks. A turning point came in 1989, when the union reached an agreement that led to spectacular growth. In return for work-rule concessions, including one making it easier to broaden job responsibilities, the major casino owners agreed not to fight organizing efforts. Because of this, membership grew by leaps -- it has roughly tripled since 1984 -- as the Mirage, Treasure Island, Bellagio and other mega-resorts opened. Over the next decade, the union is projected to add 20,000 to 30,000 members.
Taylor's assignment was supposed to last six months. He never left, but not because Las Vegas is his favorite place in the world. The desert summers are brutal -- "I'm a water person," he says. The 10-mile commute from his two-story tract home northwest of the city -- "Stucco-land," Taylor calls it -- has more than doubled to 45 minutes.
And the overt sexuality -- just stand along the Strip and witness the rolling billboards of semi-clad women -- makes for a challenge raising daughters. But there is, Taylor says, no better place in America to represent the interests of working men and women.
ONE after another, the Democratic presidential candidates have come to pledge their allegiance to Local 226.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York tells members the IRS should quit badgering people who work for tips and pursue corporate scofflaws. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson calls for unionizing Indian casinos. Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware pledges to be labor's best friend since Franklin D. Roosevelt.
The Culinary Union is months away from making its endorsement. Leaders are adamant the process remain open, even though former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina is friendly with John Wilhelm, head of Unite Here. "We're looking forward to having our members meet with all of them," Taylor says of the Democratic candidates.
The endorsement process hasn't even been set, though it promises to be exhaustive.
"We're not going to have a scorecard: He answered three questions correctly and two wrong. She answered four right and one wrong, therefore she gets the endorsement," said Weiss, the union's political director. "We're going to take a lot of time and make sure when we endorse, the members will follow through." (Republican candidates have been invited to address union members, but none has taken up the offer.)
Taylor, of course, will be deeply involved. Though members will ultimately decide whom to endorse, "it takes a little leadership on my part to come to that," Taylor said. "Figuring out the questions that need to be asked, the kind of real tests that need to be done.
"I'm going to be part of the process," he adds. "I'm not a sheep."
THERE is the "work D" and the "home D." The one at home, his wife says, smiles a lot more.
At work, Taylor has mastered the bland expression and measured response. When things grow testy, he may allow a shrug here, a lifted eyebrow there. He plays rough.