Jimmy Breslin has done it again-said the thing that wasn’t supposed to be said. The thing everybody in City Hall didn’t feel right about reporting, or couldn’t nail down. It’s the biggest, sloppiest, scariest rumor down in Room 9, but it’s been simmering for so long nobody’s been thinking much about it. And Jimmy, well he just up and blurted it out: “The Mayor gives every appearance of having a girlfriend. She has a job in City Hall for about $125,000. Beautiful. Actually, she is referred to as more than a girlfriend. The woman, Cristyne Lategano, is known as the co-mayor. How marvelous!”
Mr. Breslin’s Jan. 31 column in Newsday went on to make the point, “If Clinton is in trouble for trying to get a girl a job in a private company, then where does Giuliani stand with public taxes involved?” From his mouth to Rudy’s ears. But was there any reaction from the Mayor, who is notoriously prickly on the subject of his private life? “No, no, no, no. Absolutely no,” said Mr. Breslin. “Two people told me something good, you know, and they’re friends. I don’t like criticism or compliments. So I don’t pay attention.”
Unfortunately, not too many readers seem to be paying attention, either. Mr. Breslin, 69, is known for his inflammatory wit. But ever since New York Newsday folded in 1995, Mr. Breslin, who stayed on, has been delivering his always sardonic, occasionally brilliant and frequently ball-breaking sermons on civic ineptitude and political idiocy mainly to readers in Queens and Long Island. Breslin junkies in Manhattan can pick up Newsday at most good newsstands, but inevitably those junkies are either in the media or politics, not your average Joe on the street.
The unfortunate upshot is that the voice of Jimmy Breslin – Pulitzer Prize-winning author, former candidate for City Council president (on Norman Mailer’s mayoral ticket in ’68), aneurysm survivor, Crown Heights riot victim and former Tonight Show regular who nearly reported Mayor Edward Koch out of office – isn’t heard much in Gotham these days. It seems inconceivable, but, somehow, writing in his apartment at 2000 Broadway on the Upper West Side, this veteran City Room denizen has become a voice from the ‘burbs. (According to the most recent audit, only 1.16 percent of Manhattan households take Newsday.) “I don’t care,” Mr. Breslin said. “I just write the one thing and go home. I’m working on a very lucrative contract there, so I don’t stop.”
Lately, Mr. Breslin has been chewing over the President’s impeachment in his twice-weekly column. He’s on a roll, describing the House managers as “a line of dour white men, from slave states,” pointing out how Kenneth Starr “looks like he could send 1,000 people to the electric chair with his sweet smile,” and allowing that “if Clinton has anything in him, he had to double up while watching this from the White House.”
“I’ve done things that nobody else does for a living,” said Mr. Breslin, who has a Muhammad Ali-like sense of self-worth. “What I do, it’s the best. What, are you kidding me?”
But why bring this up now, especially after both Newsday and the Daily News ran themselves ragged for about two years trying to find out what was going on with the Mayor’s marriage and came up with precious little? Back in September 1997, Vanity Fair contributing editor Jennet Conant wrote a lengthy piece taking the whole of New York newspaperdom to task for supposedly being cowed out of reporting the dirt about the Mayor’s personal life. It caused a firestorm and Ms. Conant was slammed by everyone from the Mayor to the New York Post to The Observer. She told Off the Record she was recently faxed Mr. Breslin’s column by a friend and “smiled ruefully” when she read it.
Mr. Breslin’s City Room brethren don’t seem to know how to deal with what he wrote. “I’m a little confounded on why he’d bring it up now,” said David Seifman, the New York Post ‘s City Hall bureau chief. “First of all, the press has gone after the story. And I didn’t see any evidence.” (Mr. Breslin mentions seeing a photo posted in a Chinese restaurant on West 72nd Street showing the Mayor and the “co-mayor” sitting together.) Besides, Mr. Seifman said, “unless there’s some evidence that there is something illegal or immoral going on that is affecting their jobs,” there’s no reason to go after it. Mr. Seifman added he hadn’t read Mr. Breslin’s column.
Doug Feiden, City Hall bureau chief for the Daily News, said, “I’m not going to touch that.” Another senior-level editor at the News would only say, “If there are difficulties in the Mayor’s marriage, it’s a private matter until they slop over into something that becomes a public issue. Neither of which has happened as of yet.” That editor hadn’t read Mr. Breslin’s piece, either.
The New York Times’ City Hall bureau chief, Dan Barry, read it. “I don’t subscribe to the general impression that she’s his girlfriend,” he said. “I’m mostly a fan of Jimmy, I just don’t know why he did it.”
So why is it important, Mr. Breslin? “I’m not talking about a guy who goes home to Queens, who goes home to Riverdale, and it’s none of my freakin’ business,” he said. “If you get your girlfriend acting like she’s the co-mayor, if you got somebody who’s reputed to be a friend of yours, and you give her a job and then she’s walking around like she’s co-mayor, you’re supposed to ask that question, aren’t you?” To do nothing is to invite “anarchy, for Chrissake,” Mr. Breslin added. “That ain’t government. You let your girlfriend run wild?”
Calls to Ms. Lategano, the Mayor’s communications director, went unreturned. Assistant managing editor Les Payne, who handles Mr. Breslin at Newsday , said that City Hall didn’t register any complaints. As far as the paper was concerned, Mr. Payne said, “This is not a piece of new reporting. It had been in the air and he was simply putting it through his own filter.”
As for Mr. Breslin, it’s not the supposed behind-the-scenes sexcapades that interest him. What interests him is why nobody’s talking about the Mayor and Ms. Lategano. “All of the newspapers are taking money from the City of New York,” he explained, mentioning Daily News publisher Mortimer Zuckerman’s real estate dealings and The Times ‘ brand new printing plant in College Point, Queens. “I think that’s why the stories about City Hall are muted or absent.”
In the column, he wrote, “When Giuliani is asked about this, he screams that it is a disgraceful question to ask him. How dare you say that? And the reporters, as weak as they come, bow their heads.”
On the phone, Mr. Breslin connects this to the 41 bullets the New York police officers fired at the late Amadou Diallo, who was unarmed. “It all comes from this,” he said. “The police do this freaking thing to this guy. They let Safir walk around like a moron. The cops have been running wild, and the newspaper people sit there afraid that [the Mayor] will yell.”
Mr. Breslin was just getting started. Or maybe finishing up. It’s hard to say. “There are a lot of things going on that nobody seems to want to talk about,” he said. “It’s a bad era. A very bad era.”
* * *
Rust Hills, the Key West, Fla.-based fiction editor for Esquire who has worked for the men’s magazine almost continually since 1956, was fired while he was at home on Jan. 8. For current and former Esquire editors, the news didn’t come as much of a surprise since Mr. Hills hadn’t really been around the office much in years, blowing in every few months or so just to check in and keep tabs on a certain more mature segment of the literary scene. But it just so happens that editor in chief David Granger’s 6:30 P.M. call that fated evening came as authors E.L. Doctorow, Joseph Heller, Christopher Buckley, Ann Beattie, Joyce Carol Oates and Robert Stone were gathered in Florida for one of Mr. Hills’ “annual literary seminars,” as he wrote in a Jan. 15 letter to Mr. Granger, protesting his dismissal.
“I feel I’ve done a lot for Esquire magazine over the decades-I know I’ve done a lot, and so do others-and I feel-I know -I deserve better than this,” he wrote, bemoaning being cut off “with essentially no notice and no severance pay” from his $2,000 monthly “stipend”-”an income I’d come to depend on almost entirely.” After he wrote the letter, he got another call from Esquire, which agreed to pay him through June.
Still, Mr. Hills feels he’s been done wrong. Though, as he readily admitted, “I was born in 1924, so there’s a lot of justification for what they’ve done.” Mr. Hills’ tenure at Esquire dates from the days when the magazine’s founder, Arnold Gingrich, was still in charge, and ran through the heady days of Harold Hayes’ editorship in the 60′s, Clay Felker’s aborted attempt to turn it into a fortnightly in the 70′s, Chris Whittle’s and Phillip Moffitt’s successful transmogrification of it into a yuppie dream manual in the 80′s and perhaps the dullest period of all, the 90′s, otherwise known as the Hearst Years.
“Hearst doesn’t know fuck-all what to do with it,” Mr. Hills said. “They’re skimpy and mean.” Of course, he might just be saying this because Mr. Granger explained to him he had to go because, “Hearst was clamping down on his [Mr. Granger's] budget and had been a long time picking at my name on the budget,” asking, “Just what does this Rust Hills do, anyway?”
“I think I can say without arrogance that many authors, agents, publishers, will feel that by firing me you are severing the last thread that ties the magazine to its literary past,” he wrote in his letter. Though, as one former editor noted, Mr. Hills wasn’t going to know “what Rick Moody was up to,” referring to his lack of connections to younger writers.
In his letter, Mr. Hills claimed that “good current writers of fiction like Richard Ford, Tobias Wolff and Cormac McCarthy won’t publish in Esquire.” Furthermore, he informed Off the Record, their literary agent, Amanda (Binky) Urban, told him that she prefers they publish their fiction in The New Yorker. (Ms. Urban didn’t return a call for comment.)
Through a Hearst Magazines publicist, Mr. Granger delivered the following communiqué regarding the state of fiction at the magazine: ” Esquire is more committed than ever to fiction. In fact, the magazine just won for the first time in 10 years the O. Henry Award for fiction,” for a story in the December issue called “Miracle Boy,” by Pinckney Benedict. As for why he decided to pull the plug on Mr. Hills now, Mr. Granger had “no comment.” But the spokesman emphasized that Mr. Hills’ title was “honorary” and that literary editor Adrienne Miller, whom Mr. Granger brought over from GQ, would continue to oversee the magazine’s fiction.
* * *
James Collard, who was brought over from London a year ago to make the gay and lesbian glossy Out a more fabulous, sweaty read, disappeared mysteriously from the magazine’s offices on Feb. 1. Officially, he was not AWOL, but rather, according to statement released by Out , “taking a three-month leave of absence … for personal reasons, not professional ones, and so he doesn’t feel obligated to discuss them publicly.” Henry Scott, a former editor at The Hartford Courant who is the president of the magazine, insisted that Mr. Collard’s absence was “not particularly fascinating.” He said Mr. Collard “remains editor in chief. We’re not reorganizing his job. I’m stretching to fill some of it.”
Mr. Scott hired Mr. Collard from Attitude, a British gay monthly, in January 1998. At the time, Out was beating The Advocate, a national gay newsweekly, in circulation, selling 134,700 copies, and was breaking even. Mr. Collard got rid of columnist Michelangelo Signorile (who then threw a glass of water in his face). He hired designer Dan Lori to make Out slicker, and the new look has attracted more advertising. (Media Industry Newsletter doesn’t track it, but Mr. Scott claims that advertising revenue has doubled, to $9.3 million in 1998 from $4.2 million in 1995.) But cancellations are way up, and new subscriptions haven’t responded so far. A number of the arty new covers haven’t sold well, said one Out source, including November’s magenta-tinged image of Sandra Bernhard.
According to one current editor, Mr. Scott’s habit of warning off ideas which were “too hip” was getting more insistent as signs pointed to the fact that the magazine was outpacing its readership. As one former staff member put it, “You can do a hip heterosexual magazine, there are enough hip people,” but apparently, there weren’t enough hip gay people.
It all came to a head after a Jan. 25 focus group of former subscribers that Mr. Scott set up, and Mr. Collard attended. Sources at the magazine said that Mr. Scott was insisting on changes that Mr. Collard wasn’t entirely comfortable with.
Mr. Scott insisted that Mr. Collard, who still has a year to go on his contract, has not been fired. But he did say that there would be changes in future issues: The trend-catching Radar section was being revamped and “we’ll be doing more of what we call ‘Holy shit!’ stories,” he said, meaning reported exposés. Meanwhile, Mr. Scott confirmed, Out continues to search for an investor to pump more money into the company. Mr. Collard had no comment.