Harvey Weinstein, unsmiling in his brown suit and black shirt, got on his phone in Elaine’s. “How many electoral votes?” he asked.
The voice at the other end told him. Mr. Weinstein made a small noise. “Well, do what you can,” he said.
On this Election Night 2000, if Elaine’s was its own city–America’s most powerful compressed precinct of celebrity, calamari and Clintonism–then Mr. Weinstein was its Mayor Daley, a ward boss of unchallenged glamour and unparalleled power in the United States of America. He had just helped elect his first United States Senator, one in whose creation he had participated as deeply as he had in his movies Pulp Fiction and Shakespeare in Love .
And she was heading up to Elaine’s, with her husband, the President, to thank him.
Just 20 hours before, he had stood on a stage in Florida, where he had joined a full Weinsteinian showing of raw star power for Vice President Al Gore: Glenn Close, Robert De Niro, Ben Affleck, Jon Bon Jovi and Stevie Wonder stood side by side in solidarity along with Mr. Weinstein, who had flown south, then hairpinned around to come home and prepare a party for his candidate for the United States Senate, Hillary Rodham Clinton.
The last time Harvey Weinstein was this happy, Shakespeare was in love. But tonight, at Elaine’s, he crammed in, elbow to elbow, an election party with the Miramax- trademark appearances. Next door, at the newspaper stand next door to Elaine’s, The New York Times , New York Post and New York Daily News had been swept away as copies of Mr. Weinstein’s Talk sat next to his party co-host Michael Bloomberg’s Bloomberg Personal Finance .
His celebrities, his stars, his editor–Tina Brown–were there, and soon his Senator would be as well: there, at the bar, waiting for Mrs. Clinton and her husband, the President of the United States, were Gwyneth Paltrow, Stanley Crouch, publicist Nadine Johnson, Ms. Brown. Sigourney Weaver sat and watched a television monitor with director Sydney Pollack. Pataki advisor and lawyer Edward Hayes, looking at the TV and wondering how Mrs. Clinton’s choice of federal judges would affect his life. Off in a side room, Harry Evans was sitting with reporters when the TV flashed a visual that made it look like Gore was winning, and Harry gave the thumbs up. “I feel liberated,” he said.
Mr. Weinstein turned to former Police Commissioner Bill Bratton and made him a practical offer. “Don’t go into private life,” he said, “there are those who support you.”
Mr. Weinstein was asked if he had had a conversation with the current President of the United States and husband of Senator-elect Clinton. He laughed. “No!” he said modestly, recalling the other day at Mrs. Clinton’s birthday party when Saturday Night Live comedian Darryl Hammond– doing his imitation of the President–said that he had had “a second interview with Dreamworks.” Mr. Clinton, Mr. Weinstein remembered, laughed really hard at this.
Then Mr. Weinstein offered a confidence. “Tonight I reveal to you,” he said, “I, along with many others, urged her not to run. She had a lot of opportunities in TV and publishing, [and] she never had any money in her life. They barely scraped by the standards of a Bush. She could have been ambassador to the world, but she walked away from that. And that engaged me even more. They offered her a talk show. She was offered millions.”
Why had Mrs. Clinton won, Mr. Weinstein was asked. And he offered his opinion. It was Illinois that had made her a hit in New York, he said. Chicago, in fact. Chicago?
“She grew up in Chicago,” he said. “She played great in Buffalo and Syracuse, she had a true affinity for their problems.”
Do you have any plans, Mr. Weinstein was asked, to welcome the Clintons to New York? “I have plans for them to come tonight,” he said decisively. “So we should all welcome them tonight.”
Georgette Mosbacher stood in a leather blazer, her arms crossed, saying to nobody in particular, “this is a nightmare.” AOL executive Jesse Kornbluth stood watching the party itself, covered on another TV, feeling self-confirmed as Mr. Pollack was being interviewed on the screen, and muttering to himself, “It’s here…it’s happening.” At a far table, Uma Thurman, Ethan Hawke, Mr. Affleck and producer Lawrence Bender sat in a huddle. Charlie Rose and Amanda Burden wandered by, so did president of Sony USA Howard Stringer and Barry Diller sat, a little meekly, waiting for Ms. Paltrow to acknowledge him.
“How’s it feel to be home?” somebody asked Mr. Diller. “Not well,” said Mr. Diller, “This isn’t what I call home. If this is home, I’m in more trouble than I thought.”
Robert Hughes moved through, investment banker Steve Rattner, Marisa Berenson, producer Larry Gordon, Russell Simmons, publicist Peggy Siegel, and off in a corner, Jennifer Lopez picked on fried chicken on a plate.
Mr. Weinstein looked up at the television, watching Mrs. Clinton’s acceptance speech, and said, “if Florida goes to Bush, it’s over.”
The Secret Service had been there, said the maitre d’ Michael Racanelli, with the dogs. “The dogs,” he said, “went straight for the hors d’oeurvres. But then the word came through that the glitzocrats would be invited to troop over to President and Mrs. Clinton’s hotel to congratulate the Senator-elect in her suite. A lottery began to choose fifty greeters.
Mr. Murdoch’s Wild, Wild Ride
In a darkened suite inside his News Corporation headquarters in midtown, Rupert Murdoch, Master of the Universe, awaited the next President of the United States. It was nearing 10 on election night, and Mr. Murdoch, the media multibillionaire, was sitting in a plush black leather chair, carefully surveying a glowing stable of television monitors. He wore a set of headphones upon his gray-haired head. To Mr. Murdoch’s left was his wife, Wendi. To his right was Roger Ailes, the chairman and C.E.O. of the Fox News Channel.
Suddenly, Mr. Murdoch heard something and hopped up from his chair. “Fifty-fifty,” he exclaimed, striding across the room. “It’s 50-50!”
Mr. Murdoch was reacting happily to the news that the polls had swung back George W. Bush’s way in Florida, that Al Gore’s presumed victory in that critical state was suddenly, surprisingly in doubt. “It’s 50-50,” he said again, to a trio of fellow Australians hanging out by the bar.
It was the biggest surprise so far on what was easily the biggest night in the young history of the Fox News Channel. Mr. Murdoch’s brash, combative entry into the American cable news universe, founded in the fall of 1996, had made great gains over the course of the 2000 Presidential Campaign, to the point where it was constantly nipping at the heels of the comparably staid CNN. But tonight, the Fox News Channel was going live to the masses on the Fox network, an outlet which had opted to air the movie Beethoven on Election Night 1996.
Times had changed. Tonight, Fox’s election coverage would not go to a big, slobbering dog. “It’s very exciting,” Mr. Murdoch told The Observer . “We’re getting a huge audience, from all accounts.”
It had already been a wild night inside the Fox News studios. Anchor and managing editor Brit Hume empathized with the panic-stricken candidates, watching the returns in their homes states. “I don’t think I could stand it!” he said. Fox News pollster John Ellis–a cousin of George W. Bush, as it turns out–sat in front of his computer, gently shaking his head. A monitor in the control room revealed Carl Cameron sneaking a cigarette from his perch at Bush headquarters in Texas.
It was that kind of evening. Mr. Murdoch, who was also joined inside the News Corporation suite by his son, Lachlan, appeared to be having a blast. “I think they’re the best team, the youngest,” Mr. Murdoch said of his Fox News Channel troops. “If you look at CNN, they’re all old people. Even the conservatives over there have got their teeth falling out.”
The Australian titan unleashed a surprisingly lengthy, monotoned laugh. “Haaaaaaaaaaaaaaa.”
“I think it [Fox News] really gathered momentum last year,” Mr. Murdoch said. “Roger’s done a fantastic job. I think this election has helped–and the sort of angles that CNN’s spun on everything. And NBC. I mean, they’re both running way out to the left, and just by going right down the center, we’ve really been noticed.”
Of course, not everyone feels that Fox News has played it straight down the middle. The news network received its fair share of criticism, too–getting called everything from conservative-sympathetic to a cranking house organ of the Republican Party. Its analysts are fond of fiery talk about “culture wars” and the “media elite.” Even old Newt Gingrich pulls down a check from the Fox News Channel.
Mr. Murdoch dismissed the bias charges, straight up. “Pure bullshit,” he said. “All I see out there is liberals!”
Mr. Ailes, the former Republican strategist, walked up from behind Mr. Murdoch and put his hand on the mogul’s shoulder. “VNS looks like it’s going to flip Florida back to Bush,” he said, referring to the Voter News Service, which monitors poll sites for news organization.
Mr. Murdoch nodded. “Then Bush wins,” he said.
And at that moment–even though it was almost certainly going to be a long, long night, and things were still very much in doubt–everything seemed all right with Mr. Murdoch’s world.
Not that he was especially confident that morning. “I was very, very, very, doubtful. I didn’t know at all,” Mr. Murdoch said, stepping over to the bar. “Maybe I listen to polls too much.”
Headlines and Bylines
Sidney Blumenthal traded in his press card for an office in the West Wing of the White House several years ago. Not only he has been a key advisor to his friend, Bill Clinton, but he was an important behind-the-scenes player in Hillary Clinton’s Senate campaign.
With Mrs. Clinton on her way to Capitol Hill, and the President on his way to private life, Mr. Blumenthal’s work as a high-powered political insider, it would seem, is over.
As he strolled through the Grand Hyatt just before the networks projected Mrs. Clinton’s victory, Mr. Blumenthal seemed like a satisfied man indeed. And he did not rule out the possibility that he will return to the ranks of the ink-stained wretches, perhaps even another hitch at The New Yorker .
“I’ll always be a writer,” he said, when asked if his byline might resurface in David Remnick’s magazine. “I’ll do a lot of things, and I’ll think about them after tonight.”
Amid the buzz of rumors and gossip, Mr. Blumenthal was asked what he has been hearing. “I’m hearing a din,” he said. “I’m hearing very enthusiastic support for Hillary, and I couldn’t be happier.”
Unless, of course, he was writing about that din.
A Hometown Tale
The locals may have tried to pretend that this is just another Election Day, but when the circus came to Chappaqua, there were few who could keep up the feigned indifference.
At Frank & Carl’s Cleaners on King Street, owners John and Carl Magnotta kept an informal exit poll among their customers. Later in the morning, at Lange’s Little Store and Delicatessen, where the Clintons have become something of breakfast regulars, the dumpy back room was filled with media people tapping on laptops and adjusting cameras. In the center of the room sat Ralph Heilman, Roland Dupont and Henry Davidson, drinking coffee and playing lucky sevens, just as they have been doing every morning for the past 30 years. Sitting precariously on the edge of their table were red, white and blue helium-filled balloons with a sign that read “Vote Lazio.”
At Grafflin Elementary School the polling spot where the Clintons would be voting, the denizens began to gather as the time for the Clintons’ arrival approached. Naturally, the conversation turned to Clinton sightings.
“I’ve seen her at the deli at the top of the hill, and she was there at the library once when I was there,” said Karin Antin, a full-time mom. “She is really much more approachable in person.”
“I met her once at a fund-raising event,” said another gushing resident. “She’s just so intelligent and admirable.”
At 7:15 a.m., a 10-car motorcade pulled into the school parking lot. A few minutes later, five young women–four of them in Hillary masks and one in a platinum wig–came marching down from the playground on the hill, screaming and bearing signs: “Blondes Fully Pumped for Hillary.” It was a publicity stunt for a maker of hair-care products.
Meanwhile, back at the motorcade, Mrs. Clinton got out of the car and waved, but the First Family was quickly ushered into the voting booths. Moments later, a balding man in round black sunglasses and shorts came out of the school. “That was fun,” he said. “I just shook hands with the President.”
The Yale Way
“So which one would you rather date, Bush or Gore?” asked Kyle Smith, 33, a 1988 Yale graduate and an editor at People magazine
“I would rather go on a date with Bush,” said Caitlin Macy, 30, a writer and Democrat,” but I would rather marry Gore.”
Then she paused a minute. “If Gore were the last man on earth, and I had a gun to my head, I would marry Gore.”
To which Andrew Shore, 30, a lawyer and a Republican, responded, “If Gore were the last man on earth, there would be no guns.”
It was around 7:30 in the main lounge at the Yale Club at 44th Street and Vanderbilt Avenue, where a hundred or so Republicans and Democrats had gathered for the Club’s Election Day Party to drink the famously strong drinks and watch the results come in on a big screen broadcasting CNN. On the opposite wall was a noticeably blank spot where George W. Bush hopefuls speculated about the portrait that would go up there, along with the other Yale presidents, if their man won. Opposite that was a rather unflattering photo of a puffy-looking Bill Clinton. “He looks disgusting,” someone said.
Upstairs in the grill room, the club was serving a special “Americana” fare of steak and potatoes and roasted chicken.
Perhaps with Mr. Clinton in mind, Ms. Macy perused the CBS broadcast of the electoral map. As Florida flashed in blue as a state up for grabs (this was before the controversy about the electoral count began), she declared, “Florida looks like a pulsating member.” After which a conversation ensued about how many times the would-be presidents had gotten laid over the last year. Consensus: four to five times.
Someone wondered, “Do you think W. is going to start drinking tonight?”
Meanwhile, Jeremy Barnum, 28, a Harvard graduate and Democrat who works on Wall Street, was explaining why he had voted for Hillary Clinton and not Rick Lazio. “For me, mediocrity is the worst offense. It’s much worse than immorality.”
To which, Mr. Shore, a Yale graduate, responded, “Spoken like a true Harvard man.”
Their conversation then turned to what Mr. Gore might do if he lost.
“I think he might commit suicide,” Ms. Macy said.
Someone threw out the notion, as Slate magazine did, of Mr. Gore becoming president of Harvard University.
“It’s all about fund raising – it’s the same job,” Mr. Barnum said.
Mr. Shore shot back, “And it would be the perfect venue for a guy who talks down to people,” Mr. Shore said.
And so he went on. As Mr. Barnum cheered when Jon Corzine won the New Jersey Senate race, Mr. Shore said “So you support the Harvard approach that money can triumph over anything.”
As they talked, a drunk man named in his 40′s hovered over the balcony above the grill room.
“I accept your nomination!” he declared, waving, teetering precariously over the balcony. “Vote for me!”
Downstairs in the main lounge, CNN had just announced that Florida, previously handed to Gore, was too close to call. The room erupted into cheers. Among the happy spectators was Cornelia Bush, 42, a University of Virginia graduate and a distant cousin of W. As the electoral vote count of 217 (Bush) to 172 came on screen, she puffed on a cigar (“I don’t smoke them very often, but when I do they’re always Macanudos”): “I can’t wait. I’m thrilled.” Ms. Bush, who holds a masters in International Relations, said that she was voting Bush-Cheney because the ticket “has a better grasp on foreign policy.” But she has voted Democratic in the past, primarily because of the choice issue.
Meanwhile Mr. Smith, a Bush supporter, was talking to himself. “Please God,” he said, “I don’t ask for very much.”
In the elevator on the way out, you could hear the crowd cheer as Gov. Bush took another state.
“It’s the election, so exciting!” a bellhop said to a blond woman.
“Either that,” she said, “or a dog show.”
Meanwhile, at the Harvard Club, four lonely diners sat in the mammoth dining room, watching on a giant projection screen TV as the tide took a turn against their famous alumnus. Three other Club members were leaving.
“Do we even know where this party is?” one asked.
“The Roosevelt,” a companion shot back–Republican Party headquarters.
The Last Clubhouse
At midday, the half-dozen faithful sitting around a long table in the main room of the McManus Democratic Club on West 44th Street took an informal poll.
“I think Bush is going to win,” said club member Aida Descartes, a distant descendant of the French philosopher. Jim Condeelis, a tweed-blazered fellow who was reared in Hell’s Kitchen and now manages a nearby Off Track Betting parlor, concurred. Denise Spillane, niece of club patriarch Jim McManus, cast a look at a reporter sitting across the room. “Gore wins by six points,” she said.
It says a great deal about the historic, knuckle-biting tightness of this election that doubt had seeped even into this vestigial outpost of Tammany Hall politics, its walls decorated with etchings of men in Edwardian collars and the requisite number of yellowing Kennedy photos. The McManus club traces its existence to the end of the 19th century, when Thomas J. McManus, known universally as “The McManus,” used the organization to wrest control of Hell’s Kitchen from its legendary district leader, George Washington Plunkitt. (He’s the man who coined the phrase “honest graft.”) Mr. McManus’ grandson and heir, 66-year-old James McManus, still runs the place. If you’re down on your luck, having a problem with your landlord, want your U.S. citizenship or just need a bit of red tape snipped, Mr. McManus is a good man to know.
Mr. McManus finally lumbered in around noon, explaining that he’d been a bit under the weather. He’d been up to check on polling places at 6 a.m. Then he’d gone home to nap. Mr. McManus took off his coat and sat down, adjusting his tie, and began fiddling perplexedly with a little blue pager. “Wait, I can’t figure out how to get rid of this thing. Carlos!” Carlos Manzano, a state Democratic committeeman and Mr. McManus’ second-in-command, came over and adjusted the pager’s display.
A tall young Israeli, wearing little square glasses and a brown suede jacket, was waiting. He was living in Riverdale and looking for work as a set designer. The two disappeared into a back office. Mr. McManus told him he’d try to set him up with a union. “He’s here three weeks and they sent him to see me,” Mr. McManus said.
But Jim McManus is not The McManus. The days when a district leader’s power entitled him to a definite article are long past–killed by consultants and fund-raisers and voters who won’t do as they’re told.
Even Mr. McManus. In 1997, he endorsed Republican Rudolph Giuliani for re-election. “It was like leaving the church,” he said at the time. In this year’s primary, he supported Manhattan surgeon Mark McMahon’s quixotic challenge to Hillary Rodham Clinton for the Democratic Senate nomination. Yesterday, he said he was going to vote for the First Lady, even though he figured her victory would all but hand his Democratic Party over to Harold Ickes and the rest of Mrs. Clinton’s coterie. “I’m a team player,” he said. “I fight in the primaries.”
Just before 11 p.m., John Flynn, a Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association trustee, was standing at the bar at Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse in Grand Central Terminal, finishing off a glass of red wine and a martini. He’d just recently left the Lazio party at the Roosevelt Hotel. “It’s quiet,” Mr. Flynn said of the party.
On the TV behind the bar, WNBC’s Chuck Scarborough was narrating as Mr. Lazio approached the podium in the Roosevelt ballroom: “This may be the moment when Rick Lazio, with his wife at his side, admits that he’s failed at his quest.”
Mr. Flynn, whose P.B.A. endorsed Mr. Lazio against Hillary Clinton, was philosophical about the defeat. “In a state race, he went up against a national committee,” he said.
“I feel like the Mets,” Mr. Lazio was saying on screen to roars of applause. “They came in second.” Then Mr. Lazio noted, “I just called Hillary Clinton to congratulate her,” which was immediately met with a round of boos at the Roosevelt. “No, no, no,” Mr. Lazio insisted while smiling, taking on the Golden retriever persona he had at the beginning of the campaign.
Another man at the bar, dressed in a similar dark suit and red power tie, shook his head. “He’s very gracious,” Mr. Flynn said, observing the TV scene. Then the screen cut in half, showing Mrs. Clinton approaching her own podium to give her victory speech.
Mr. Flynn thought the timing was in bad taste. “They should have given him a chance to speak first,” he said. Asked if he thought it was one last intentional jab by the Clinton campaign, Mr. Flynn concluded, “I don’t know,” then paused. “It’s the first time I ever saw it.”
On the other side of the bar, Mike Sigovich who looked to be in his late 20′s, was finishing a Stoli and soda with five of his high school buddies. It didn’t seem to be their first drink of the evening.
Mostly Republicans, the group had planned the little reunion without taking Election Night into consideration. “We’re pretty happy right now,” Mr. Sigovich said. “Florida was a big moment for us.”
The network’s reversal on Florida–from Gore to too-close-to-call–was seen as good news by Mr. Flynn. “I think it’s going to mean Bush will win it,” he said.
“And if I’m right,” Mr. Flynn boasted, “they’ll hire me and I’ll be on with Tom Brokaw.”