TriBeCa Muses Over a Memorial for J.F.K. Jr. and the Bessette Sisters

A J.F.K. Jr. Memorial?

The crowds that lined the streets of TriBeCa this past summer to drop off flowers, candles and notes outside the North Moore Street loft of John F. Kennedy Jr. and Carolyn Bessette Kennedy have subsided, but cars still creep by and tourists still pester the local merchants for directions to the building. A big change from July. As John Kristovich, who works across the street at Kevin Hart & Company Antiques & Interiors, put it, “I knew it got crazy when I saw the Big Apple tour bus coming here. It was like a weird Fellini dream.” Even though the buses have departed, the feelings of exposure linger. Asked about the gawkers, the bartender at Walker’s said, “I’m far too irritated and tired to talk about that today.” Seth Price, an owner of Bubby’s, which thanks to John Kennedy several years ago became TriBeCa’s destination brunch spot, said he used to protect Ms. Bessette Kennedy’s privacy by letting her out the back door. Remembering July, he said, “Everything that went on would have horrified them. They would have crawled into a cave and hidden until it was over.”

But maybe it’s not over, even now. Community Board 1 is considering the possibility of renaming TriBeCa Park, which is a scruffy, 0.04-acre traffic island with 17 trees and 16 benches, after Kennedy and the Bessette sisters. Known for over a century as Beach Park, real estate developers coined it TriBeCa Park in the 1970′s. Sitting between Sixth Avenue and West Broadway and Beach Street, TriBeCa Park is just around the corner from North Moore Street and Lauren Bessette’s White Street loft. It is not particularly bucolic, there are plenty of exhaust fumes (the Holland Tunnel is nearby), and as far as it being an homage to John Kennedy, well, one could not even toss a football without risk of hitting a taxi. It would seem a far cry from Jackie Kennedy’s resplendent reservoir in Central Park.

City Council member Kathryn Freed first proposed TriBeCa park during a CNN interview in July and is in the process of writing to the Kennedy family in the hope of finding out their wishes before she takes any more action. “With a little money, it could become more accessible and people-friendly. We could redo the benches, add flowering plants, maybe a plaque,” she told The Observer .

“If it’s going to be done nice, that park would be quite suitable,” said Anne Compoccia, chair of Community Board 1.

Board member Victor Papa thinks it may be inappropriate. “It’s basically a traffic island,” he said. “That doesn’t mean it can’t be redesigned. Something will happen, we just don’t know what it is yet.” Ms. Compoccia said the TriBeCa Committee, one of the board’s four zoning committees, would consider any future proposals.

Wickham Boyle, a friend and neighbor of Kennedy, said TriBeCa Park wouldn’t work as a memorial because it’s not dog or athlete friendly–but she’d like to see something done in TriBeCa. “John made a commitment to TriBeCa before it was so damn chic, when it had no dry cleaners or place to shop,” she said. “He picked it for its anonymity. He could put on his hats and get on his bike without people hollering at him all the time.”

One week after the plane vanished over Martha’s Vineyard, the Daily News reported that city officials were considering renaming Sheep Meadow in Central Park for Kennedy. The meadow–where he and Carolyn had biked, Rollerbladed and tossed Frisbees with their dog Friday–lies just north of the reservoir named for John’s mother after her death in 1994.

Senator Ted Kennedy’s press office in Washington, D.C., told The Observer that Caroline Kennedy would most likely make any kind of decision regarding any memorial for her brother. Contacted by The Observer , her husband, Edwin Schlossberg, said that the Kennedy family has not taken any steps toward establishing a memorial.

RoseMarie Terenzio, Mr. Kennedy’s assistant at George , said, “I think any memorial to John would be a treasure, but I don’t have a particular feeling about anything in TriBeCa. Central Park and TriBeCa would both be suitable. Whatever would benefit the community would be something he would be proud of.”

Henry Stern, commissioner of the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation, said the process of renaming a park usually takes five years. “We want to see that the name stands up after the emotion of the moment,” he said. To pass legislation for a park to be renamed, the Parks Department would need approval from Mr. Stern and the City Council.

“There are rumors floating around about different places, but I’m not aware of any legislation trying to be passed,” said Edward Skyler, a spokesman for Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.

Mr. Stern said there was a proposal to rename the TriBeCa boathouse on Pier 26, where Kennedy kept his kayak, after the late resident. But Noreen Doyle, vice president for communication and environmental planning at the Hudson River Park Trust, said most of Pier 26 is currently condemned. “The pier needs to be rebuilt. The boathouse on the pier is nice, but it looks like a big garage,” she said.

Another obvious choice might be the $350 million Hudson River Park, slated for completion by 2005, which will stretch along the Hudson from Battery Park City to 59th Street. A bike trail, sporting facilities and an esplanade will replace the rotting piers. But is six years too long a wait to name a park for people who never set foot there? Washington Market Park, about 10 blocks south of North Moore Street, has also been considered. It has fountains, sandboxes, a gazebo and grass. But its name refers to the original neighborhood’s history as a marketplace, and many residents like it that way. And it also was not known as a place where John and Carolyn spent any time.

Tracy Nieporent, director of marketing at TriBeCa Grill, said of any possible TriBeCa memorial, “Hopefully we can do this with grace and style and not turn it into a circus.”

–Deborah Schoeneman

Muckin’ Fergie

Right before her 40th birthday, Weight Watchers spokesman Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, sat down and gave London’s tabloid The Mirror an exclusive interview. But when the publicity-minded Ms. Ferguson opened her mouth, she may have inserted her apparently alluring foot.

Back in the Sept. 16 edition of The Washington Post , Ms. Ferguson lashed out at author Sally Bedell Smith for writing in Diana in Search of Herself , her biography of the Princess of Wales, that Diana had stopped talking to Ms. Ferguson a year before her death because Ms. Ferguson had claimed in her memoirs that she’d contracted warts after borrowing a pair of Diana’s shoes. Although Ms. Ferguson never directly denied Ms. Smith’s account of her communications blackout with Di, she did release a toxic cloud of outrage in Ms. Smith’s direction, telling the Post ‘s Reliable Source column: “I don’t know how this woman can think that she knows what my relationship with Diana was like. It’s very interesting that she feels she has the right to write the book without talking to me or Diana.”

The thing is, Ms. Smith apparently had made several attempts to contact Ms. Ferguson. She provided to The Transom copies of letters she had sent to Ms. Ferguson and a friend of the Duchess’ seeking an interview, as well as a copy of her call log. According to that document, on March 24, 1998, Ms. Ferguson’s office forwarded a message to Ms. Smith that an interview “was not something she wishes to do.”

The Reliable Source noted this the following day, along with Ms. Smith’s comment: “I hope she reads the book so she can offer thoughtful comments instead of shooting from the hip–and we hope it is a slim hip.”

Yet, on Sept. 29, Ms. Ferguson blew again, this time in Cindy Adams’ column in the New York Post , the tabloid that happens to share a publicist with Ms. Ferguson, namely Howard Rubenstein.

Again, Ms. Ferguson never directly denied the assertions that Ms. Smith made in her biography. Rather, she told Ms. Adams: “The book speaks dreadfully about my relationship with Diana, says we were not friends.” Again, Ms. Ferguson trotted out the claim that Ms. Smith had never called her for comment, adding, “I resent this woman who did not bother to ring me and personally speak with me before publishing her rubbish.”

Subsequently, Ms. Adams did not call Ms. Smith before publishing her story, so Ms. Smith and her publisher both sent letters to the columnist asking her to correct the record. Ms. Smith also sent a brief note to the Post ‘s editor in chief at the time, Ken Chandler. “I assume you will see that Miss Adams corrects the record in her column.”

Actually, Ms. Adams told The Observer , Ms. Smith’s letter to Mr. Chandler played a large role in her decision not to run Ms. Smith’s side of the story. “Had she not sent it to him, had she been a lady and said, ‘I think you got it wrong,’ if you could give me a chance, I would have responded,” Ms. Adams said. “Instead, she sent a complaining letter to my editor in chief saying, ‘I assume you will have her correct this.’ Once I see that, once she goes over my pointy head, I assume I’m not going to do anything.” She concluded: “She [Ms. Smith] is the one who made the mistake, not I.” By the way, Ms. Smith said she never heard back from Mr. Chandler, either.

It seems like this entire contretemps could have been avoided, however. In The Mirror ‘s Oct. 14 exclusive interview with Ms. Ferguson, it becomes clearer why Ms. Ferguson never directly refuted Ms. Smith’s reporting. Because apparently it was true. “We hadn’t been speaking for about a year before she died,” Ms. Ferguson told The Mirror , which ran a headline that read: “Diana and I Didn’t See Each Other for a Year Before She Was Killed … I Wish It Had Been Different.”

“Maybe she read my book,” said Ms. Smith. In this particular interview, Ms. Ferguson didn’t address the whole warts issue, but frankly The Transom is glad she didn’t.

The only thing left now is for Ms. Ferguson’s publicist Mr. Rubenstein to try to patch this baby up and put it to bed. Here goes: “I didn’t talk to her directly but she told my people that she had heard through the grapevine through friends of Princess Di that Di wanted to speak to her shortly before her death,” said Mr. Rubenstein. “She was going to call her and then this tragedy intervened.”

The Transom Also Hears …

One scene you probably won’t see on Comedy Central’s broadcast of the Friars Roast of Jerry Stiller on Oct. 28: Following the taping, as members of the audience swarmed the dais looking for autographs, a woman began yelling at actor Michael ( Spinal Tap ) McKean: “Squiggy! Squiggy!”–an erroneous reference to Mr. McKean’s days playing one half of the goofball greaser duo Lenny and Squiggy on Laverne & Shirley . “I’m sorry,” Mr. McKean replied, “I’m Lenny. Squiggy’s the other guy” (David L. Lander). There was a look of mild annoyance on Mr. McKean’s face and, for a moment, he appeared as if he was going to punish the sweaty woman by denying her an autograph. Mr. McKean eventually did the standup thing and gave the woman a signature, but he also got the last word. As he signed her program, the woman told Mr. McKean, “I’m dating myself,” an apparent reference to the fact that she recognized Mr. McKean from his TV days rather than his more recent film work. But Mr. McKean came back with a beaut. “You date yourself?” he said as he scribbled. “That must be cheap.”