What do you get when you combine a reporter for the country’s most powerful newspaper with a city known more for glitz and glamour than substance and civility? In the case of Todd Purdum, the Los Angeles bureau chief for The New York Times, you get a man whose professional courtesies have clearly taken a back seat to self-inflated arrogance.
Mr. Purdum’s taste for wielding power-as opposed to reporting on it-was in full swing at this year’s Democratic National Convention. He had decided to throw a party in his home-just a modest little get-together for Times staffers, he claimed, although, as the date of the party approached, the guest list had somehow expanded beyond the hard-working, ink-stained Times folk. Barbra Streisand, Warren Beatty, Annette Bening, Rob Reiner, the cast of HBO’s Sex and the City , the cast of NBC’s The West Wing -all were expected to attend Mr. Purdum’s cozy evening. Not to mention former Clinton administration officials Warren Christopher, Paul Begala and Gene Sperling. Bill Clinton himself was said to be pondering an appearance. The party had gone from private soirée to public display, and become newsworthy.
Which is where The Observer came in. Gabriel Snyder, this newspaper’s media reporter, placed a call to Mr. Purdum and asked if The Observer could cover the party. The Times man said no. Mr. Snyder called again a few days later, pointing out to Mr. Purdum that, with the expected attendance of Mr. Clinton and half of Hollywood, he could hardly claim that the event fell beneath the radar of The Observer and the rest of the journalistic community then camped in L.A. As a media reporter, Mr. Snyder was simply doing his job-a fact which, one would assume, Mr. Purdum would understand. But apparently not. “THIS IS MY FUCKING HOUSE AND YOU ARE NOT COMING AND YOU CAN SHOVE YOUR HEAD UP YOUR FUCKING ASS!” Mr. Purdum shouted into the phone. He added that there were two armed guards stationed at the door if Mr. Snyder had the temerity to show up.
One would think Mr. Purdum might be more judicious when speaking to the press: He is married, after all, to former Clinton spokeswoman Dee Dee Myers. And one wonders if Mr. Purdum would have treated another journalist so disrespectfully back when he was covering former Mayor David Dinkins. But maybe that’s why The Times packed Mr. Purdum off to L.A. in the first place.
Schools Chancellor Harold Levy continues to impress. His willingness to consider new ideas, his impatience with cant and discredited conventions, have led him to embrace innovations that a more traditional Chancellor might have dismissed as impossible or impractical.
In the latest example, the Chancellor has launched a campaign to encourage private companies to “adopt” public schools throughout the city. Mr. Levy is more than happy to accept corporate money to help individual schools. But he wants a greater commitment than just writing checks to be spent by education bureaucrats. He wants corporate leaders in the classroom, in the buildings, serving as mentors, role models and tutors for the city’s one million–plus school children. It’s a terrific idea.
There are 1,100 public schools in the city, and Mr. Levy says “there’s no reason why we can’t find 1,100 corporations to match up with the 1,100 schools.” He’s absolutely right, and he certainly knows that altruism isn’t the only motivating factor at work here. The city’s corporations require highly trained, well-educated workers, and they will be helping themselves in the long run by making a serious commitment to our public schools.
Mr. Levy himself is a prime example of the good that can come about when private-sector people become involved in the schools. Other business leaders no doubt will help stir up some of our sleepier schools with their ideas and energy. They might learn something along the way, too. New York’s school system has taken a battering in recent decades, but it is now educating a generation of children from around the globe, sons and daughters of immigrants whose dreams are the same as the immigrants of 100 years ago. Putting these ambitious kids together with some of the city’s most ambitious executives will yield great lessons for each.
Autumn in New York
You don’t have to look very far to find a New Yorker who says autumn is his or her favorite season in the city. Even more than spring, this is a time of waking up, of starting new projects or love affairs, of taking stock of one’s sluggish summer self and saying, “Nevermore.” New York is at its best between Labor Day and Thanksgiving: The weather is glorious, people reach into their wallets for charity events, August’s torpor is replaced by a snappy optimism. The city’s universities are filled with fresh faces, and the restaurants are filled with tourists from the capital cities of Europe. New plays open, old grudges are forgotten.
Of course, New York’s autumnal glory does not happen by itself. The city must be tended so that its natural virtues may emerge. Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has made huge leaps in New York’s two prime concerns, safety and sanitation. Clean, safe streets create the conditions for the city’s social, economic and cultural institutions to flourish. A rising crime rate and unclean streets would bring an immediate flight to the suburbs and a dimming of New York’s light. As the contenders to succeed Mr. Giuliani start to jostle for position, those who hold the line on these two issues will show that they understand the environment in which a great city grows.