In the morning light of this revitalized city, the New York Post ‘s May 15 cover headline felt oddly antique. “Cruella DeHanover” read the 96-point type plastered beneath agiant deer-in-the-headlights photo of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s estranged wife, Donna Hanover. The Post ‘s front page usually delivers a caffeinated kick that rivals the breakfast coffee, but there was something heartbreaking about that image of Ms. Hanover pinned against a blank, static background by that gigantic headline.
That cover–and the story inside it carrying the crudely curdled quotes of Mr. Giuliani’s attorney, Raoul Felder–belonged to the old New York: the one from the 80′s, where the boom of wealth and power gave way to a lifeboat mentality laced with cynicism and mean-spiritedness. We reveled in our wickedness then, because we were survivors in a city that had come back from the brink. The rest of the country had shunned us as too coarse, too sybaritic, too sharp. And when we bounced back, we delighted in flashing our incisors, our money and worse.
But Mr. Giuliani changed that. He growled louder and more tenaciously than anyone in this town. He left no question that he was the lead dog, and though we often howled in resistance to his picayune quality-of-life decrees, we listened. And changed. When we rose again, this time we did it with a measure of dignity. It started small, with bans on jaywalking and ferrets, and trickled up into a pervasive atmosphere of humanistic respect. You can see it in the subway stations, as straphangers wait for disembarking passengers to get off the train before boarding. And you could hear it in the way that the power elite discussed the marathon Ron Perelman-Patricia Duff divorce proceedings, not with Schadenfreude , but with genuine dismay for the welfare of the couple’s child.
So it was especially unsettling to wake up to that front page of the May 15 Post , because we knew when we saw that photo and that headline, “Cruella DeHanover,” that the Mayor responsible for restoring the city’s dignity was allowing his lawyer, Raoul Lionel Felder, to humiliate his wife. “She’s howling like a stuck pig,” Mr. Felder had told the press. “She reminds me of a little kid who murders his parents and complains he’s an orphan.”
It’s a strange paradox–one that threatens the sanctity of the Mayor’s family. Certainly, Ms. Hanover has not refrained from occasionally sticking her thumb into her husband’s eye. But no matter who’s hurting whom, and whether they divorce tomorrow or five years from now, they will be forever linked by their two children. So they should be thinking about the future, not channeling the acrid fumes of their failed past.
And for the citizens of this town, each assaultive hyperbole handed down by Mr. Felder– “I suppose we’re going to have to pry her off the chandelier to get her out of there” –whether disavowed by Mr. Giuliani or not, desecrates the atmosphere of civility and straightforwardness that the Mayor reinstilled here. Moreover, Mr. Felder’s dissemination of the ravages of Mr. Giuliani’s prostate-cancer treatment as a weapon against Ms. Hanover is a sad counterpoint to the newfound humanity and humility that Mr. Giuliani exhibited last summer shortly after his diagnosis, when he even expressed contrition for having tyrannically and corrosively shot his mouth off in the wake of the murder of Patrick Dorismond.
Mr. Felder’s function as the main carburetor of this noxious mess does not come without its risks, either. “At 9 o’clock in the morning, he’s telling the judge he wants a gag order. At 10 o’clock in the morning, he can’t stop talking. He has given a new meaning to the word ‘insincerity,’” opined divorce attorney Norman Sheresky, a longtime rival of Mr. Felder’s.
The tension between Mr. Sheresky and Mr. Felder dates back to 1988, when the former was quoted in the Miami Review saying, “Felder pretends to be a trial lawyer when he is not. He has no familiarity with how to try a case.” Mr. Felder sued Mr. Sheresky for libel, but in July 1989, a New York State Supreme Court justice dismissed the $7 million suit, saying that Mr. Sheresky’s comments about Mr. Felder were Constitutionally protected opinion.
Asked if he had an opinion about Mr. Felder’s jabs at Ms. Hanover, Mr. Sheresky replied: “Somebody ought to put a muzzle on him.”
Later in the day on May 15, there was the sense that Mr. Giuliani, who had publicly expressed regret over some of the comments about Ms. Hanover in the press, may have put the breaks on Mr. Felder. Ms. Hanover’s attorney, Victor Kovner, told The Transom: “We now have some hope that he is going to exercise some control over his lawyer. From reading the papers, the Mayor appears to be troubled about some of the wild, baseless and scurrilous statements that Mr. Felder has made.” Mr. Kovner added: “Today I haven’t heard that they’re out there making the same statements. And that’s a degree of progress.”
If the case progresses to the courtroom, it will be interesting to see what Mr. Felder does.
More than 10 years after he sued Mr. Sheresky, Mr. Felder got a shot at payback last October, in the courtroom of New York State Supreme Justice Joan Lobis. Mr. Felder defended the husband of a client of Mr. Sheresky’s (because they are not public figures, they will remain anonymous), who was seeking divorce on the grounds of abandonment. Mr. Sheresky recalled that when the judge asked Mr. Felder why he was going to try the case, Mr. Felder replied: “I want to see how good Mr. Sheresky is.” Mr. Felder denied saying this, adding: “I hadn’t seen him in years. I didn’t recognize him. He looked like he’d had a facelift.”
In this case, Mr. Sheresky’s client was the breadwinner of the couple. Mr. Felder’s client, on the other hand, had fathered a child out of wedlock while he was still married to the plaintiff.
In his cross examination of the defendant, Mr. Sheresky caught his client’s husband in a number of lies, among them that he had failed to report income that he had gotten from his wife’s company on his tax returns.
During his summation, Mr. Felder addressed his client’s admissions by telling the jury (according to the court transcript, which was obtained by The Transom): “I’d like to say a word about lies. You know lots of people lie.
“Mr. Gore, running for office, told lies–he invented the Internet, he invented the Love Canal. That doesn’t mean he’s going to be a bad President. President Reagan lied about Iran-contra,” said the lawyer, in a baroque aria celebrating the vagaries of verisimilitude. “Bush lied about taxes, and yet all of these people were successful Presidents–particularly Clinton, he was a very successful President. So life is not all about lies. But it’s all about lies, what you are to consider here. That’s what it’s all about: who’s telling the truth here. You can’t have both people telling the truth.” (Later in the proceedings, Mr. Felder also told the jurors that “as far as finances are concerned,” his client was “not the sharpest knife in the drawer.”)
When the summation was read back to him, Mr. Felder replied: “I didn’t think I was that articulate.”
But then he explained: “I was trying to say there are lies and lies . This was an ambiguous situation where the wife gave the husband money but the husband didn’t report the money on the tax returns. This was a transaction between a husband and a wife. I don’t think it should reflect anything more than that.”
Mr. Sheresky was up next.
“Well, maybe a liar could make a good President–I don’t even want to touch that one,” he said in response to Mr. Felder’s summation. “But a liar can’t make a good witness.
“Imagine, imagine that anyone, a lawyer, would say that,” Mr. Sheresky continued, according to the transcript. “What we sell in this courtroom, what her Honor is here to protect, what we do for a living, is search for the truth.” Then he added: “This case is about money. That’s all it’s about.”
The jury found unanimously that Mr. Felder’s client had abandoned his wife.
Mr. Felder did not see the verdict as a loss, though. “It’s a question of whether my client gets a lot of money or more than a lot,” he said.
Asked about the outcome of the case, Mr. Sheresky said of his old rival: “He used to look good on the diving board, but he wasn’t so hot in the pool. Now he doesn’t even look good on the diving board. He’s a disgrace.”
Mr. Felder’s only response to Mr. Sheresky’s comment: “He’s a sad person.”
Asked if he regretted any of the comments he’d made about Mr. Giuliani’s wife, Mr. Felder said, “Not at all.” He had the sound of a man telling the truth.
Meeting Across the River
As if Meadow Soprano and Jackie Aprile Jr.’s troubled romance wasn’t attracting enough attention …. On May 8, Jamie-Lynn Sigler and Jason Cerbone, who play the star-crossed characters on the HBO series The Sopranos , caused a real-life sensation at Blue Hill restaurant in the West Village when they dined at a table for two. Fellow diners reported that the pair, “looking chic”–he in a sport coat, she in a denim jacket and full makeup–arrived at the restaurant around 11 p.m. and came off “like kids on a date.” Ms. Sigler has just finished a run at Madison Square Garden in the musical production of Cinderella, while the world waits to see if Mr. Cerbone (first seen in Suzanne Vega’s “Luka” video!)–whose character has run afoul of both Meadow and her mob-boss father, Tony Soprano–survives his first season on the series.
Seven people who sat cater-corner from the young celebs concluded that both actors looked nervous around each other, or maybe just uncomfortable with the fact that so many of the restaurant’s diners seemed to have them under surveillance.
A spokesman for Ms. Sigler confirmed that the pair dined together but maintained that “it was not a date. They are just friends.” Mr. Cerbone’s spokesman had no comment.
Rock & Sole
If you made a reputation for yourself in the old days, you used to get a sandwich named after you. Now you get a shoe. On May 14, Christ-worshipping independent-rock eccentrics the Danielson Famile (or Tri-Danielson, as they are also known) appeared at the opening of the new John Fluevog shoe store at 250 Mulberry Street, both to christen it with a song and to celebrate the release of their namesake footwear, the Familevog, a clunky white leather loafer adorned with a red heart that clearly was designed to complement the doctor’s scrubs and nurse’s uniforms favored by the band members. According to a company employee, the shoe is made of “100-percent natural” and “biodegradable” materials.
The Danielsons reciprocated this honor by performing a new song dedicated to the Familevog that will be given away with the purchase of a pair. The tune was titled … well, what was it called, anyway? The shoe company’s founder, John Fluevog, identified the song as “‘Flim Flam Fluevog Flam,’ I think? Something like that.”
Actually it’s “Flip Flop Flim Flam,” and with lyrics such as “Fancy free juice flop flim flam / A Fluevog toe jam,” Danielson leader Daniel Smith characterized it as a song about “the spirituality of feet.”
Mr. Danielson told The Transom that he initiated the idea of a Danielson show with Mr. Fluevog. “I build houses. I first thought of this exchange while working on a roof,” he said. “I was having troubling thoughts. I was thinking, ‘Why am I doing this? Shouldn’t I be writing songs?’ I was daydreaming and thought of Fluevog,” Mr. Danielson continued. “I had a strong feeling John’s shoes were coming from a creative Christ.” Perhaps this was evidenced by the proverb “Sole blessings on all who enter” scrolled over the portal to the store’s back room.
But later, Mr. Danielson admitted that he may also have been motivated by less spiritual impulses. “Of course,” he said, “I was also hoping all along that he would make some shoes for me.”
Apparently there are still a few artists left in Soho. The folks at the Reggio Emilia-based MaxMara designer label found this out recently at their still-under-construction boutique at West Broadway and Broome Street. To gussy up the work site, the company pasted large posters from last season’s print ad campaign, featuring blond model Melanie McJanett, on the construction barriers surrounding the space, which is scheduled to open this summer. In no time, they were covered with graffiti–but not your run-of-the-mill illegible scribbling. According to Suzanne White, director of production at Dente & Cristina, the advertising firm behind MaxMara’s ad campaign, the artistes weren’t simply spray-painting their names. “They would use the correct color spray paint to put a beard and mustache on her,” she said. “You know those little devil triangle beards? They’d be the right shade of blond.”
The job fell to Ms. White to make weekly visits to the store with a few cans of Easy-Off oven cleaner (“an industry secret,” she said) to remove the offending marks. But the retouching of Ms. McJanett’s image continued until MaxMara’s president, Luigi Maramotti, and his advertising team decided to approach the problem from another angle. They stretched a blank 8-by-32-foot canvas across the barricade (beneath an unreachably high sign reading “MaxMara Soho”) and invited all comers to spray, splatter and tag it. After three weeks, there’s not an inch of white space left. Even the Dente & Cristina people have made their mark. “It was one of those anything-could-happen spaces,” said Ms. White. “But now it’s really beautiful. Maybe we can keep a section–one of the prettiest.”
Follow Frank DiGiacomo via RSS.