Friday, December 31, 2010

Enter Cuomo

In about thirteen hours, when the clock strikes midnight and 2011 begins, New Yorkers will have a Governor Cuomo for the first time in sixteen years and for the second time in history. He has a tough job ahead of him: a dysfunctional and corrupt state government, huge budget shortfalls, a dreadful economy, and a cynical general public.

It will be interesting to see how he operates and if, ultimately, he is successful. 

Obviously he will be compared to his father but, in many ways, they are very different. Unlike his loquacious father Mario -- renowned for his great speeches and who always came across strongly on television -- Andrew Cuomo gives very few speeches and interviews. In this Twitter/Facebook/blog/24-hour news cycle era, he keeps a generally low profile and limits his media exposure. This has created a sense of mystique and mystery about him and, in many ways, made him more powerful: it allows him to think in private so that, when he acts in public, he cannot be effectively countermanded by his opponents. He likes to use the telephone to probe and cajole his associates -- a very old-school, LBJ-like modus operandi -- that is much more effective in getting people to do what he wants done (emails just don't have the same power).

And unlike Mario -- who lovely wife Matilda was an amazing First Lady of this state -- Andrew is single with a girlfriend, Sandra Lee, who has her own career as a TV cooking celebrity. Apparently she won't be a traditional First Lady -- she'll do  her own thing and Andrew will do his. T

heirs is a very New York relationship.

So in many ways our new Governor is more old-school than his dad but also much more modern. Let's cross our fingers for him, hope he succeeds, and that he will lead our state to better days ahead.

Times Square Readies for New Year's Eve

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

One for the History Books

Having lived in NYC all my life, I've lived through many a snowstorm. The blizzard of 1996 was a tough one and even earlier this year we had a couple of significant snowfalls. But there's something about this snowstorm that seems different. Even though only two feet of snow have fallen, it has paralyzed this town in a way I can't remember before. 

Walk down the street and cars are buried underneath piles of snow. Several people I know and work with haven't been able to get to their jobs and we haven't received our mail since Friday. What de' hell is goin' on, mang?

Some are calling it incompetence by Mayor Bloomberg and the departments of Sanitation and Emergency Management. The mayor's flunkies/defenders are saying that it's a union slowdown, protesting pending budget cuts. What seems clear, however, is that no one really knows why this snowstorm has become such a drag on the city. Usually the streets are plowed ASAP and trains and buses run just fine. Not this time. For some reason, due to either poor coordination or intentional sabotage, city services are being turned into molasses by a snowstorm that is, by everything I can tell, not that bad.

You know Mayor Mike is having problems and doesn't have a full grasp of the situation when he starts pleading for patience. Whenever politicians plead for patience from the public (did ya' like that alliteration) then you know their efforts are doomed (think Bush and Iraq). 

But at least our Mayor is in town and trying to handle the situation. Over in New Jersey, Governor Christie and his Lieutenant Governor decided to jet off to Florida and Mexico, respectively. Apparently when given news that a snowstorm was headed his way, he didn't see any need to change his plans. What a pathetic guy.   

Monday, December 27, 2010

Snow Day NYC

Well its looks like the three-day holiday weekend is shaping up to be a four-day holiday/snow day weekend. Today NYC and the entire East Coast of the USA is buried underneath 20 inches of snow. Shovels, snow plows, and de-icing machines are being used full blast and New Yorkers, such as yours truly, are both enjoying the extra day off while trying to wrestle with cabin fever.

Many thanks to our city workers -- cops, firefighters, EMTs, and most of all the MTA and sanitation workers -- who are out there today in this brutal weather keeping us safe. It's easy for politicians and various blowhards to demonize public sector workers but, on days like today, we should be very grateful for the work they do. After all, on days like this, where would our city be without them?

Snow Storm in New York City December 26 2010-December 27 Update

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Power Brokeress

Much as we like to bemoan the state of politics in the State of New York, when it comes to the people we have sent to the US Senate over the last few decades, the Empire State can take a bow.

Like most New Yorkers, our senators have been some of the smartest and most hardworking people to take the floor of the world greatest delibrative body. Whether they be Republicans or Democrats, we can be proud of senators like Jacob Javits, Ernest Lehman, Bobby Kennedy, and Kenneth Keating who were giants in their day. In the last thirty years we had have Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the intellectual heavy of the senate from 1976-2001, as well as Al D'Amato (1981-1999), "senator pothole", widely considered one of the best constituent services senators ever.

More recently we have had Hillary Clinton (2001-2009), who has probably done more for upstate New York than any senator in recent memory. And we have had and still have Chuck Schumer, another great constituent services senator as well as a great legislator, who is shaping up to be perhaps the single greatest senator New York has ever produced.

Less than two years ago, Kirsten Gillibrand was appointed to fill Clinton's vacated senate seat. Expectations for her was low since she had only been in the House since 2007 and had no great record of legislative achievement. Also, the messiness of her appointment by the unpopular Governor David Paterson cast a pall over her appointment. Many thought she was a lightweight, vulnerable to challenge in either a Democratic primary or by a decent enough Republican candidate in the general election. She managed to shut down her primary opposition in 2010 and her Republican opponent was weak that she won easily in 2010. But she has to run again in 2012 and many people were believing until recently that she'd be politically DOA. 

People aren't saying that now. In this last week, she has assured that in 2012 she will win reelection in a landslide. Her work in repealing the awful "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law, as well as her leadership in getting the 9/11 Health Responders Bill passed over virulent Republican opposition, has won her plaudits and kudos in this state and the country.

These were great, historic victories. Few veteran legislators can boast such achievements.

Senator Gillibrand is no longer an accidental senator but a real player and, if her recent work is any sign of things to come, she may very well be a senator (or more?) for years to come. 

On WNYC today, someone made a very good point that Senator Gillibrand is shaping up to be the Un-Palin. Like Sarah Palin, Gillibrand is a female professional politician who is, to put it mildly, very easy on the eyes. And like Ms. Palin, she is a mother of young children.  But unlike Ms. Palin, our Kirsten is no quitter -- she works like a demon. And unlike Ms. Gillibrand, she is not an us vs. them polarizer -- she knows how to win people over and influence them. And unlike Ms. Palin, Senator Gillibrand has actually accomplished more in her less than two years in the senate than Sarah did in her 2 1/2 years as Governor.

So New York now has another great Senator and hopefully she'll keep up the great work. Bravo! 

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

What Would Edith Wharton Think?

Occasionally referred to as the "single woman's sports page", the Sunday Weddings section of The New York Times rarely makes headline news -- even when the betrothed are famous or socially prominent. Each week about two dozen marriages are listed and one is usually given prominence if the back story of how the couple met and fell in love is particularly interesting. 

Last week the featured marriage was very interesting indeed, and it has generated a lot of headline news -- and controversy. This marriage concerns one Carol Anne Riddell and John Partilla who met in 2006 when they were both married to other people. For a while they denied their attraction and the two (then) couples even became friends with each other. But after a while Carol and John couldn't live a lie any longer and dumped their spouses and ran off together. Now they are husband and wife. 

It gets better. These two met when they were both taking their kids to the same school. That's right -- this adulterous couple had kids in the same school, socialized as couples with the soon-to-be-spurned husband and wife, then ran off together and finally got married. Then they had the chutzpah to have their new marriage announced in the Times. Ouch. 

It's not exactly Fatal Attraction but it's pretty nasty. Call it Unfortunate Attraction.

This story is causing a firestorm of controversy, with people outraged that "the paper of record" would make public a situation that caused so much heartbreak and two wrecked families. The  spurned ex-husband is royally pissed and is making his agita known. 

Personally I find it reprehensible that this story would be made public -- but, then again, when people blog/Facebook/Twitter about everything in their lives, it's probably not surprising something like this would eventually bleed into the MSM. Still, what's truly shocking is how un-New York this whole thing is. NYC is still an old-school kinda town -- this is the town of the Social Register, after all, the town of Edith Wharton and Old Money and the Rockefellers. People use to do this kinda thing classy here. When people had affairs, they had the decency to do it with someone outside their social circle and, if they were going to dump their spouses and get re-married so quickly, they would have the decency to go to Europe. Socializing with your mistress (or master) and his/her husband when your kids go to the same school, then running off together and getting married and then making it public for all the world to see is a very un-New York thing to do. 

It's much, much more California.  

So what do you think? Are you outraged? Inquiring minds wanna know. 

Monday, December 20, 2010

'Tis the Season to be Tipping

"Silver bells ... Silver bells ... It's Christmas time in the city ..."

Ah, yes, it's that most wonderful time of the year, a time for friends, family, and good cheer. A time for caring and sharing and all that good rot. A time when we relax with those we love (or at least pretend to) and sing timeless carols, those songs we loved as children, songs like ... Silver Bells.

But when it comes to Christmas in this town, New Yorkers aren't thinking about silver bells or dreaming of a white Christmas -- the color on most New Yorkers' is green.  

Yes, it's not only the high cost of real estate or daily living that strains the wallets of New Yorkers. When the holidays roll around, we're expected to tip. Tip everyone. Our supers, our landlords, our personal trainers, our mailmen, everyone

Everyone in NYC expects to be tipped something. Who to tip and how much is an ongoing source of debate in this town. Basically you have to tip the people who work in your building (you better tip them) as well as anyone else who works for you. But how much ... a weeks wages is typical but these days people expect more.
Last week on WNYC there was a whole segment devoted to tipping in NYC. And this article from The New York Times shows just how crazy this whole tipping business has become.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Power Broads

One was the First Lady of the United States in the early 1960s and has been dead for almost twenty years. The other is currently the Speaker of the New York City Council and is openly gay. But, different as they were and are, Jackie Kennedy Onassis and Christine Quinn have to be two of the most fascinating professional women NYC has ever produced.

After JFK's assassination in 1963 and her disastrous marriage to Aristotle Onassis ended in 1975, Jackie spent the last 19 years of her life as a book editor. At the time, the idea that a former First Lady would actually go to work for a living was amazing. But Jackie did it and proved that, just because she was once married to the most powerful man in the world, didn't mean she couldn't have her own career and professional accomplishments. This recent article from Vanity Fair tells you how she did it and is a must read.

Christine Quinn was born a generation later and there was never any doubt that she could have a career. But being an openly gay woman makes it hard to succeed in the rough and tumble world of politics. However, Christine Quinn persevered and is now the second most powerful person in the city (after Mayor Bloomberg) and is the most powerful woman NYC history (thus far). What's most amazing about Christine is that, besides her powerful job and trailblazing role, is how ordinary she is. As this short New York Times pieces shows, she's just a regular New Yorker -- meaning she's tough as nails, smart as a whip, and has excellent taste.  

Jackie and Christine -- only in New York. 

Animal Crackers

The Marx Brothers were the first great screen comedians of the Talkie movies, and they defined cinematic comedy in the 1930s. Born and bred in NYC, they influenced generations of comedians and were the first ones to bring New York shtick to the heartland -- decades before Woody Allen or Nora Ephron or Jerry Seinfeld or the Sex and the City gals did it.

Animal Crackers was one of the Marx Brothers' first movies and one of the only ones they shot in NYC (over in the Kaufman Astoria studios in Queens). This movie was released in 1930 -- eighty years ago! -- and, as this clip shows, their comedy has more than held up. Their one liners and attitude are pure New York and has a timeless feel. What's even more amazing is that, in 1930, the Talkies were only three years old but Grouch, Harpo and Zeppo are so good that they seem like old pros who have been doing this act forever. Just goes to show what a debt Hollywood owes to NYC.    

Animal Crackers

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Au Revoir Oh Queen of the Night

A couple of weeks ago Elaine Kaufman, the grand proprietress of the showbiz hangout Elaine's, died at age 81. She was really the last of her kind, the tough New York saloon keeper. She followed in the footsteps of people like Toots Shor and Jack Dempsey, people who owned restaurants that catered to the rich and famous, as well as the ordinary, alike. A place where people came to eat, drink, talk, and enjoy themselves. With the passing of Elaine, a part of the city's history and soul went with her.

Elaine's meant a lot to many people. In 2002, writer AE Hotchner wrote a very long profile of Elaine and her saloon in Vanity Fair called Queen of the Night. It's all about the history of Elaine, Elaine's, her patrons, and her legend. It's about a time and place that doesn't really exist anymore, a New York we loved and wish still existed -- but that will always be in our hearts.

When Outsourcing Goes Wrong

In the never ending quest to commercialize government (the free market, we've been told countless times, is perfect in every way), over the last few decades many government functions have been outsourced to private companies. The most infamous case is that of Blackwater, the private army hired by the Pentagon that fought large parts of the war (badly) in Iraq. Blackwater caused all sorts of problems over there (as if there weren't enough already) including cowboy-like contractors with guns getting drunk and blowing way Iraqi civilians. 

There is very little oversight and transparency with these government contracts. Taxpayer dollars go into the coffers of these private companies while providing services of dubious quality. Needless to say, a lot of this outsourcing of government leads to outright corruption. 

And you don't have to look to Iraq or even Washington, DC for examples of this. Here in NYC, the city government has been rocked by revelations that CityTime, a program hired to automate the city's payroll, has been just one big cesspool of thievery. Apparently a consultant working on CityTime somehow snookered the city government into giving contracts with private shell companies controlled by his cronies and ripped off the city to the tune of some $600 million. This has been going on since 2005 and today several people involved in this scam were indicated. About time.

What fascinates me about this is the politics of it all. Mayor Bloomberg, naturally, is expressing outrage but under whose watch was this disaster hatched? Needless to say the press and political class in this town isn't in anyway linking Hizzoner to this scandal even though its his administration that spearheaded this program. Imagine if this had gone on during a Democratic mayor? Right now all the papers would be calling for his resignation. But the standards are always somehow different when it comes to Mike.

Thankfully the person who has taken the lead in trying to salvage and get to the bottom of this mess is City Comptroller John Liu. His office is going into this and spare no one with his investigation. Mayor Mike, on the other hand, appears to be doing nothing.

This scandal just goes to show that the outsourcing of government and the belief that the free private sector is always superior to government is false. The free market is just organized greed and, if the dire straits of our current economy proves anything, its that greed always gets out of hand and leads to ruinous consequences.

Just ask Mark Madoff. Oh wait, sorry, he's dead.


Sunday, December 12, 2010

Gotta Love New Yorkers

Sitting in a sushi bar with the wife, guy at the table next to us talking on his cell phone with no hint of embarrassment: "Yeah, the new girl is from Belloruss ... yeah, she's got the big titties, big titties ..."

Mr NYC did not inquire with this man as to his line of work. I'm sure the answer would have been interesting.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Meet Patti Harris

She's the most powerful woman in NYC  that you know nothing about. Read all about her here.

The Ed Bridge

You read that right. Believe it or not, the city has decided to name something after a mayor not named LaGuardia -- in this case, a bridge bearing the name of Mayor Edward I Koch (1978-1989). 

And which bridge will be forced to shed its identity for this new moniker? The victim is none other than the Queensboro bridge itself -- that gorgeous, amazing 101-year old structure spanning the East River, nailing together Long Island City and the Upper East Side, immortalized in The Great Gatsby, the movies Manhattan and Terms of Endearment, and by Simon and Garfunkel (in "The 59th Street Bridge" song). 

As Ed Koch himself might have said, I think naming this wonderful bridge after this repulsive man is "OUTRAGEOUS!" 

I hardly ever use foul language on here but, if this name change goes through, it should be dubbed "Monument to an Asshole" or perhaps "Monument to New York's Most Corrupt Mayor Since Jimmy Walker."
You heard that right. The Ed Koch administration was so corrupt that several people in his administration went to jail and a Queens borough president committed suicide. It even spawned a book by the great journalists Wayne Barrett and Jack Newfield, City for Sale: Ed Koch and the Betrayal of New York. When I was a kid in the 1980s, my parents used to listen to a news program on WQXR called "New York At 6." Ed Koch's administration was so corrupt that almost every night there was some sleazy revelation of corruption that old Ed always claimed to no nothing about. Eventually my parents started calling "New York At 6", "Who's Indicted Tonight?"

During Ed Koch's reign, the homeless population in the city surged, the squeeze on the middle class began, developers started building huge buildings with apartments no one could afford, and the AIDS crises began -- a crises that Ed Koch, himself a closeted homosexual, totally ignored. 
Not a really good legacy. The best thing Koch did as mayor was balance the budget in his first term. After that, his remaining two terms, it was all downhill -- or, when it came to crime, it was up and up. By the time Ed left office in 1989 (thrown out by the voters), the crime rate had spiked way the hell back up ... and for some reason, then and now, it was and is blamed on his successor David Dinkins. It was Dinkins who then dramatically expanded the size of the police force and was responsible for historic plunge in NYC's crime rate. Sadly, when it comes to history and the city's collective memory, its Dinkins who gets all the blame for the rising crime rate, not Koch, and its Rudy Giuliani who gets all the credit reducing crime when it was already falling under Dinkins.

So why don't we name the bridge after Dinkins? 

Do you think the fact that Dinkins is black is the reason he gets no credit for reducing crime? "Oh no, of course not," most people will say. (Sort of like a current black president who gets no credit for fixing the economic mess left to him by his white predecessor).
It's amazing to see, when it comes to Ed Koch, how the historical slate has been wiped clean. You never hear about the historic corruption in his administration, about the rising crime rate, about how the middle class in this city began its long, sad decline. Instead, when you hear about Ed Koch today, it's all about what a great "personality" he is, how "lively" he is, and how he saved NYC from fiscal disaster. 

It's all a bunch of crap. It was Governor Hugh Carey who saved this city. And, to be fair, Hugh Carey is getting his due -- they're going to name the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel after him.

This just isn't right. A tunnel vs. a bridge. Which would you rather have named after you?

By the way, it's a total political payoff by Bloomberg to name the bridge after Koch, who supported the billionaire's three elections. Disgusting. Pathetic. And business as usual.

I hope to God the city council votes down this name change but you know they won't. After all, they all gave themselves an extra term -- there's no depth they won't sink to. 

So farewell beautiful bridge that connects two great boroughs. Your spirit will remain but sadly your identity will be gutted. Ed Koch deserves this city's contempt, not reverence.
When it comes to renaming the Queensboro bridge, Mr NYC is not feeling groovy.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

As the City Turns

As you may have seen from my latest Tweets, Woody Allen turned 75 years old this week and Elaine Kaufman, owner of the celebrity restaurant Elaine's that he made famous in his 1979 classic Manhattan, passed away at age 81. There's something poignant and sad about Elaine passing in the same week that one of her most famous customers turned three-quarters of a century in age. The sadness if obvious but the poignancy, for me, comes from the fact that both events mark the passing of time. 

Old-time New York and New Yorkers are getting even older ... and disappearing.

And it's not just people. Case in point: the Scobee Diner in Little Neck, Queens. This little diner is about as far away from Elaine's, geographically and culturally, as you can get while still remaining in the borders of NYC. Thanks to rising rents, the Scobee Diner went out of business this week and it's many longtime patrons are, understandably, very sad. Like Elaine's, it was a place where lots of people could congregate and have good food and enjoy one another's company. It had a perennial quality, the kind of place that makes people happy, and in its quiet way it was as much a part of the city's fabric as the Empire State Building. Now it's gone. 

Elaine's catered to the rich and famous of Manhattan while the Scobee Diner catered to the working classes of Queens. But both restaurants were places with heart, places people liked going to for the community as much as the food. And while Elaine's remains open, it just won't be the same without its legendary proprietress. Same goes for Little Neck without the Scobee.

Just part of the old city that's slipping away.

Oh, but fear not dear New Yorkers and New York lovers. A new city is rising! A city where the likes of Cathy Black, an uber-wealthy business executive with no educational experience can be appointed to run the NYC public school system. A city where the working classes are not only being squeezed out of their  homes and neighborhoods but even their favorite dining and watering holes are being rendered kaput. And this week, Times Square officially sheds it unique past and firmly embraced its transformation into a Disneyland/Las Vegas-type playground. The last glossy office  building, 11 Times Square, is finally complete and will open for business in 2011. This marks the end of a 30-year transformation to "rejuvenate" Times Square and make it what it is today: a soulless, corporate, neon plaza -- safe for tourists -- instead of the sleazy and wonderful thyroid gland where New Yorkers could roam free and entertain themselves. 

Yes, the Times Square of yore is gone, the hookers and pimps and drug dealers and porno palaces have been vanquished, replaced by a newer, more respectable class of criminals: real estate developers and Disneyland. 

Old New York is disappearing, in ways big and small, obvious and not, right before our eyes. Our eyes have been closed way too long and hopefully one day we'll wake up.

Who said this is the city that never sleeps?