What is George Pataki thinking? At a time when many New Yorkers are feeling an acute economic pinch, and with his own approval rating at its lowest level-37 percent-since he took office, the Governor is engaging in some unsavory cronyism which is both bad politics and terrible public relations. It’s one thing for the Governor to weather the blame, deserved or not, for the state’s dire financial condition-that comes with the job. But it’s quite another thing for him to arrange lucrative, dubious deals for his buddies when a large portion of New Yorkers are struggling.
Perhaps the Governor thought that no one would notice when Lt. Col. Daniel Wiese was appointed inspector general and director of corporate security at the New York Power Authority, just 24 hours after he retired as Mr. Pataki’s top bodyguard. The appointment itself is absurd: In his role as inspector general, Mr. Wiese is supposed to act as an independent watchdog of the Power Authority, able to investigate the staff without bias. But given his own close friendship with Mr. Pataki, and the fact that the Power Authority is teeming with Pataki pals, it seems likely that Mr. Wiese will be all bark and no bite.
But he will be handsomely rewarded. The job comes with a $160,000 salary, and it just so happens that the State Department of Civil Service has given Mr. Wiese a waiver that will allow him to continue collecting his annual State Police pension of $60,000, bringing his total compensation to $220,000. As State Assemblyman Richard L. Brodsky aptly put it, “He’s double-dipping.”
The Governor, who controls the Power Authority, has made the preposterous claim that he had nothing to do with Mr. Wiese’s appointment or the waiver. Does Mr. Pataki really think New Yorkers don’t know a scam when they see one?
Leadership means setting an example. George Pataki needs to set the ethical standard-not lower it.
The French Collection
When former Vivendi Universal chief executive Jean-Marie Messier lived up to his last name and made a mess of his company’s acquisition of Seagram, a lot of New Yorkers shrugged their shoulders. Yet another corporate titan’s reach had exceeded his grasp, and this one happened to be from France-so unless you were a shareholder, there wasn’t much reason to get exercised. Or so we thought.
In its effort to reduce more than $12 billion in company debt, Vivendi had the brilliant idea to auction off the Seagram art and antiques collection that it acquired as part of the merger. The Seagram photo collection-including works by Walker Evans and Louis Faurer, Rothko’s Brown and Blacks in Reds , and a number of other works which once adorned the walls and now-shuttered fourth-floor art gallery in Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s wondrous black-and-amber Seagram Building-has already been put on the block, scattering to the wind a collection that had been painstakingly put together over several decades by Samuel Bronfman’s daughter, architect Phyllis Lambert.
In the pages of this paper, Ms. Lambert likened the sale to “an act of vandalism.” She’s right. And the ransacking is set to continue, with the private sale by Christie’s of the 22-foot-high stage curtain that Pablo Picasso painted in 1919 for the Sergei Diaghilev ballet, Le Tricorne . The stage curtain has hung in the landmark Four Seasons restaurant-in the hallway that links the Grill Room to the Pool Room-since it opened in 1959, and its striking presence provides an Old World respite from all of the New World schmoozing that goes on there. It may not be considered an important example of Picasso’s work, but for 44 years it has been a part of the cityscape that makes New York-well, New York. Le Tricorne is as much a part of this city’s cultural heritage as the Chagall murals, Le Triomphe de la Musique and Les Sources de la Musique , that decorate the Metropolitan Opera House. For Vivendi to treat it like just another non-essential asset that can be sold off to help clean up Mr. Messier’s mess is not only an outrage, it’s shortsighted as well. The $8 million that Christie’s is seeking for the curtain is a spit in the bucket when it comes to Vivendi’s debt. If the company comes to its senses and lets the curtain stay where it belongs-at the Four Seasons, instead of in some art collector’s loft-the public-relations benefit would be worth much more.
Mailer vs. Miller
Dennis Miller’s May 5 Wall Street Journal attack on Norman Mailer reminded us of that old joke about the mouse that marries the elephant. Suffice it to say that the mouse isn’t equipped for the task, no matter what verbal bravado he summons in the passion of the act. The Journal ‘s bright idea-to get Mr. Miller to respond to Mr. Mailer’s gimlet-eyed appraisal, in the April 29 edition of the London Times , of President Bush’s decision to invade Iraq-was no less a mismatch. Perhaps The Journal ‘s editors were trying to be “hip” by picking a comic instead of a writer to respond to Mr. Mailer-but in this instance, the results weren’t great. Even Mr. Miller seemed to sense that he was in over his head. The former Saturday Night Live “Weekend Update” anchor wrote that he almost “took a pass” when The Journal approached him, because he’d never written an opinion piece for a newspaper before, and because “I know as much about Norman Mailer as I do about Mary Quant. I think they were both kinda hot for a few minutes in the ’60s.”
Mr. Miller should have listened to his gut and taken the pass. Instead, he danced around Mr. Mailer and his argument like Jerry Lewis in boxing trunks, flinging a series of tortured, ageist and ultimately superficial one-liners that wouldn’t have drawn blood from a heckler, let alone one of the callused stalwarts of modern literature. “What the heck, if you’re going to take a stab at something new, why not take a stab at it with Norman Mailer,” Mr. Miller wrote, referring to the 1960 incident in which Mr. Mailer stabbed his then wife, Adele.
That was another bit of fatal reasoning on Mr. Miller’s part. As John Updike once wrote about Mr. Mailer’s pugilistic intelligence: “One of Mailer’s irrepressible strengths has been his ability to become interested, and then quickly expert, in almost anything. Ancient Egyptians, the CIA, Lee Harvey Oswald, Pablo Picasso, astronauts, prizefighters, sex, politics-all have stimulated his organs of verbalization.” And regardless of your opinion of Mr. Mailer’s writing, or his assertions in the Times piece that the U.S. went into Iraq because, with “their dominance in sport, at work and at home eroded, Bush thought white American men needed to know that they were still good at something,” you can’t take him on unless you’ve done your homework.
Mr. Miller’s Cliffs Notes –style attack on Mr. Mailer wasn’t a complete bust. For once, Monday Night Football fans and readers of The Executioner’s Song could be brought to agree on something: Dennis Miller should stick to stand-up comedy.