A deathly silence reigned in most of the city’s high-end stores this week-except for the occasional retail Republican.
Brooks Brothers, that preppy bastion, was offering a weeklong 20 percent discount for Republicans who showed their delegate cards. On Sunday, however, the Fifth Avenue store was obscured behind scores of policemen, who stood out front scribbling on notepads as they received their “heightened-security” assignments. “They’re blocking the doors,” complained manager Beth Phelps. “I wish they would separate and move.” She made a parting-the–Red Sea gesture.
Down the street at a nearly deserted Bergdorf Goodman, tennis star Serena Williams was striding around in a white tank top and a tiered, tattered white skirt, which she’d accessorized with a large wad of pink bubble gum. “It has cleared out, but I wasn’t even paying attention. I was just paying attention to my shoes,” Ms. Williams said, motioning to a large lavender shopping bag. “I have too many pairs. Hello, my name is Serena Williams and I’m addicted to shoes!”
“Have you seen the new Pradas?” eagerly broke in a nearby saleswoman.
It was easy to find delegates at Saks Fifth Avenue: One merely had to play “follow the Scrunchie,” or the squeak of tennis shoes. In front of the store’s Ellen Tracy boutique, a corporate lobbyist from Maryland named Vicky was holding up a black jacket with matching pants and skirt. “The last time I was here I bought that black St. John’s suit which looks exactly the same, but feel the material,” she said, thrusting the ensemble at her friend Cindy, a lobbyist from Sacramento.
“You need more color in your wardrobe,” Cindy told Vicky.
Convention organizers had hopefully designated Monday Fashion and Retail Day, but that morning, a planned fashion show and breakfast at Bloomingdale’s was canceled. “Not enough RSVP’s,” said Kelly Mauro, the store’s publicist.
Over at Henri Bendel, however, the mimosas were flowing freely at an 8 a.m. breakfast and private shopping session for G.O.P. visitors. Many of them crowded the lobby for makeovers, perching primly on chairs in tasteful sweater sets and low, sensible heels.
Upstairs, Austin, Tex., resident Julie Oles was trying on a jacket by Andrew Marc while her daughter, Sterling, clutched a just-purchased skirt by Paper Denim & Cloth. Sporting matching highlights, the pair proclaimed themselves “friends of the Bush campaign.”
“We feel so lucky to be here!” the elder Ms. Oles gushed.
Sophie Shah was lounging on a round orange sofa in the shoe salon as a friend of hers modeled fuchsia ballet slippers. Both of them are natives of Houston. “When my friends come up from Texas, they head straight to Bendel’s,” said Ms. Shah, a Smith grad who works as a trader on Wall Street. “It’s younger than Saks, which is where all the old Republican women will head. Bendel’s is Jenna and Barbara, definitely.”
Yet the twins were nowhere in evidence; it was their mother Laura who was headlining the event, bright-eyed and natty in a smart black suit. A handler barred The Observer from approaching the First Lady, but resident Bendel perfumer Lawrence Applebaum divulged that she “was very nice to me and thanked me for coming in early,” adding that he’d been recommending the scent Aquaba by Miriam Mirani to the lady Republicans.
A few blocks up, a matronly looking group had poured into Barneys for a late-morning breakfast reception and fashion show. Afterward, they swarmed the Marc Jacobs shoe table. It was a well-groomed bunch, trim in pantsuits, nicely tailored dresses and heavy gold bracelets. One woman wore a giant choker around her neck, with elephants interlocked at the trunk.
“They’re really blond,” whispered one shopgirl to another.
“It’s like The Stepford Wives,” came the reply.
Stylish twentysomething Trish Wilson, another “friend of the Bush campaign,” had eschewed the formal presentation-“I don’t need anyone to show me what’s hot,” she huffed-and was upstairs on the trendy Co-Op floor, pawing through next season’s capelets. “Even in the cities, it’s hard to find items this current down South,” she said, her round-toed Nine West pumps peeking out from bootcut jeans by True Religion.
“Honey, how do I look? Is it me?” a flaxen-haired delegate from Kentucky asked her mate, as she struck a model pose in a $4,390 black feathery jacket by Alexander McQueen. They both laughed, and left without buying.
The salespeople had been barred from making potentially political remarks to reporters.
“It’s been very Jackie O., I can say that,” said one.
-Noelle Hancock and Sara Vilkomerson
End of the Affair
For some reason I felt uneasy as I pulled up to Fabiola Beracasa’s “End of the Summer” party on Lumber Lane in Bridgehampton on Aug. 28. Ms. Beracasa, the half-Venezuelan daughter of Veronica Hearst, grew up in New York and spent six years in a Swiss boarding school; now she’s 28 and works in public relations. She chose as the party’s theme the Clash’s “Rock the Casbah.” She’d invited 150 friends, such as Emilia Fanjul, daughter of Cuban sugar baron Pepe Fanjul. Ms. Fanjul works in public relations, too.
The house was on the wrong side of the highway, but impressive. I idled my powder-blue 1986 Mercedes and looked down the driveway: Between two very tall hedges stood some mooks-dark-suited security guards with clipboards. Not to mention six off-duty local cops.
I was technically invited-I’d spent enough summers as a wee lad in shorts in the Hamptons-but I wasn’t drunk enough to feel comfortable. I pictured myself standing around the party, awkward and fidgety. Plus my driver’s license was expired: I’d likely get drunk and get pulled over. I’d be spending the night in jail. And I didn’t like the look of those mooks-the kind of thick-necked hired muscle who were just itching for the chance to pop some wiseass like me in the jaw.
I pulled the car up on the grass, got out and unzipped my pants: whizzzzzzzz.
I got back in the car and drove home. I switched on the TV news: two men had been brought in for questioning for plotting to blow up parts of Manhattan. That made me feel better: God bless racial profiling, I thought. Then I felt guilty. Then I remembered that involuntary bad thoughts often occur in the Hamptons. Earlier that day, for instance, walking around Main Beach, I’d noticed a lot of trash (packets of Red Lobster tartar sauce, etc.) and had some misanthropic and classist thoughts.
Well, at least I don’t say these kind of things out loud.
I drank some wine and called my friend Henry, who offered his services as a designated driver. He and his girlfriend Ashley and I arrived back at Ms. Beracasa’s at midnight. The party was going strong. The hostess was decked out in a jeweled Thai dress and elaborate headgear. (I figured Thailand was close enough to Morocco.) Four bars were sprinkled throughout a big backyard, which had been transformed into what a party planner might think a Moroccan nightclub would look like. There were tents with Oriental rugs, pillows, backgammon boards, lanterns and hookahs. Tons of food, no one eating. It looked like a Hollywood set.
The male guests were either prepped out, or looking like dopes in tunics, and the women wore either skintight spaghetti-strap dresses or Moroccan hooker-inspired outfits. I spotted socialites like Lulu Kwiatkowski, Tinsley Mortimer, Liz Cohen and Fernanda Niven. I was thinking about the white slave trade (more bad thoughts!) when I saw designer Stacey Bendet, the petite, curvy Democratic fund-raiser. She was wearing a black top of her own design, a Moroccan vintage necklace and a white calypso skirt. I thought about what she must look like naked, but asked about the convention. She said she was glad not to be in the city.
“I think it’s gonna be rather sort of dysfunctional and a bit of a mob scene,” she said. “It is sort of nice and surreal to be out here at a party like this. The Moroccan state of mind suggests total surrealism and sexual fantasy and being away from everything. But I don’t think I’m totally there, because I do realize that I have to be back in New York in my office tomorrow afternoon.”
She looked around the pool area. “It’s just a great party, it’s fun, it’s the end of summer, it’s happy and very Hamptons,” she said.
She went off a little on President Bush: As far as I could tell, she didn’t like his positions on the Iraq war, gay marriage, “everything financial,” abortion, “his religious fervor,” stem-cell research and the convention itself.
“I mean, why do it in New York?” she said. “You know, great: They caught someone trying to bomb 34th Street, but why have to worry about that? Of all the places!
Nearby was Chris Cuomo, the son of former Governor Mario Cuomo and brother of Andrew Cuomo. Mr. Cuomo said he thought that the party’s Moroccan theme had significance.
“If you think Morocco, you think Muslim,” he said. “But you think the Brahmin class, the wealthy Muslims. And out here you have the wealthy Republicans, the people who come out here are the monied class; the ideology is second. And when you think of Morocco, they may say, ‘Well, it’s Muslim, maybe it’s in sympathy,’ but it’s not. That’s the wealthy class also. So it’s the money meeting the money.”
I didn’t really have a clue what he was talking about but appreciated his insights. I started to look around for a waiter; I needed a fresh cold one, and fast. Mr. Cuomo was on to another analogy, this one between the traffic in the city and the convention’s ideological congestion.
“There’s going to be a lot of ideas that don’t get out in the way they should, it’s like idea constipation,” he said.
Could he sum up the crowd at the party? “This is the classic: lots of white rich pretending to know how to dance,” he said.
One of them was John Theodoracopoulos, an heir to the Greek shipping fortune and nephew of right-wing writer Taki. “The only observation I would have is that you see people carry on here, and it’s just not how the rest of the world lives,” he said, looking around the swimming pool area. “A lot of privileged people enjoying themselves.”
Shoshanna Lonstein Gruss, the fashion designer who dated Jerry Seinfeld before he married that girl from his gym, told me that her “hot-ass husband,” a Coast Guard Reservist, was on a boat right then in the East River.
“That’s all I’m thinking about right now,” she said. “Worried about him, worried about New York. Bad traffic, bad traffic, bad traffic.”
I asked about her outfit.
“It’s black, heavily gilded-it’s a good dancing outfit.”
“What are those babies?” I asked.
“Boobs!” she said laughing. “We call these boobs.”
It was after 1 a.m. when I sat down with Elisabeth Kieselstein-Cord, the 23-year-old daughter of the fancy belt-designer couple. She was wearing a tight pink vintage Halston dress. Her hair was sun-bleached. She wasn’t wild about the Republican convention being held in her hometown.
“I have a feeling this may have been a Vanity Fair–type situation-for Giuliani, trying to host something so significant in the city, and saying we’re equipped to do it,” she said. “I have to say I find it a little bit irresponsible, to take up such a huge responsibility, just because it’s such a hard city to patrol-I’m repelled by the idea that anyone would say, ‘It’s all right, come here, endanger our city further’-no matter who they were.”
She went back to her date; I hadn’t had the heart to tell her that Giuliani was no longer Mayor. I looked for Henry, but I didn’t see him.
They “R: The Party”
“First a Suburban filled with the girls’ friends and family members is going to pull up, and then the girls are going to arrive in separate Suburbans,” a clipboard-wielding publicist instructed the members of the ravenous media pack, each of whom was jostling behind barricades for position before the arrival of Barbara and Jenna Bush.
For their first solo public appearance of the convention, the Bush Twins were making a no-interviews-allowed red-carpet arrival at Roseland Ballroom on the night of Sunday, Aug. 29, for “R: The Party,” an otherwise B-list concert held for the benefit of young Republicans. The first Suburban arrived around 10:30 p.m. and disgorged a dozen members of the first daughters’ entourage-most of whom quickly traversed the red carpet and looked vaguely embarrassed as the photographers lowered their cameras in collective disappointment at the lack of boldface names. (The entourage included people like Elise Jordan, a recent Yale grad and friend of Barbara’s who works in the White House speechwriting office.)
Women wore tame summer outfits, while blue button-ups and stone-colored khakis were standard attire for men.
“Disco Inferno” could be heard echoing from inside the cavernous club. Her male companion fiddled nervously with his Blackberry. Republicans are never ones to miss an important e-mail.
Veteran G.O.P. pollster Steve Lombardo was waiting in line with a posse of suit-clad men. “Do they have to be sober quotes?” he asked The Transom.
“We’re very big fans of the Bush twins. We support them in-uh, what are they doing? They’re hosting? Announcing?-Well, they’re supporting their father and we’re supporting them. Oh, and I’m Bill Kristol from The Weekly Standard!” He started cackling.
Jenna or Barbara? “I gotta go with Jenna. Barbara is more cerebral, but Jenna is probably a little more wild. But I don’t know why it has to be either/or-they’re not mutually exclusive, are they?”
“It’s going to be a fun party; although I’m not a very good dancer, so I think most of the people here are going to hope that I don’t dance. The fact is people think Republicans don’t know how to have fun and we do. We’re just a little more discreet.”
He grabbed a glass of 12-year-old single malt out of a friend’s hand and tried to down it. “I don’t want the ice!” he frowned.
When the twins themselves hit the carpet outside, they terrified the media pack by walking into the ballroom almost without pause-before stopping a cool 45 seconds to pose for the cameras.
“Jenna, what are you wearing?” one reporter called out.
“Rebecca Taylor,” Ms. Bush replied, breaking the no-interview rule in reference to her petite black jacket-and-jeans ensemble. Her sister, Barbara, also in jeans, left unanswered the question of who designed her slinky white tank top.
“Let’s see a little over-the-shoulder action,” one of the photographers suggested to the twins, who sheepishly complied, and traded a sisterly giggle.
And then, they were gone-inside to host a private party for their friends inside a curtained-off corner of the V.I.P.-reserved second level of the ball room.
The twins had left, entourage in tow, by 12:15 a.m.
-Blair Golson with Gabriel Sherman and N. H.
When you’re talking about the Great Republican Smear Machine, as Democrats like to these days, Rick Wilson takes it a little personally.
“It’s bullshit,” he said Saturday night, sipping champagne at the pre-convention media party at the Time Warner Center. “Look at the Democrats in 1996. Bill Clinton fucked Bob Dole harder up the ass than anyone. They said that [Mr. Dole] was going to kill granny and throw the baby into the snow.”
If Mr. Wilson sounds a little defensive, it’s because he occupies a special place in Democratic demonology.
In 2002, he made a television ad for Georgia Republican Saxby Chambliss that featured his opponent, Senator Max Cleland, along with Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. Mr. Cleland is the triple-amputee Vietnam veteran who introduced Senator John Kerry at the Democratic National Convention, and the ad-which helped unseat the Senator-is now a standard example of Republicans’ willingness to question veterans’ patriotism.
“I watched what they did to Max Cleland last year,” Mr. Kerry said in 2003. ”Shame on them for doing it then and shame on them for trying to do it now.”
Mr. Wilson’s telling is, of course, a bit different.
“Just like John Kerry, [Cleland's] position was, ‘I’m a war hero, don’t ask me any fucking questions,” Mr. Wilson recalled. “But he wanted to hold the homeland-security bill hostage to labor unions.” That, Mr. Wilson says, is what the famous advertisement was about, and its text-which he recently posted to his blog, thebadrepublicanman.com-bears him out.
The consultant hardly looks like a bad Republican man. He’s a medium-sized man in early middle age with spectacles, ears that stick out a bit and a mild demeanor belied only by his wide, creative use of profanity. (He was worrying that evening because an anonymous quote he’d given included the word “assload,” a sure giveaway of his authorship.) Wearing a checked jacket and a bright blue shirt, he fit in nicely with the journalistic horde.
But Mr. Wilson is a rare political professional willing to defend in public what many concede in private: the political power of going negative.
“The fact of the matter is that that’s what works in a campaign,” he said. It’s not, he realizes, a popular position.
“That Annenberg thing [otherwise known as the Annenberg Public Policy Center] puts out a study every couple of years deploring the rise of negative campaigning,” he said. “Blah blah blah blah blah.”
Democrats don’t always know how to fight back. Mr. Cleland “fucked it up at every pass,” he said. And he sees Senator Kerry going down the same road. “It’s the death of 1,000 cuts,” he said.
Mr. Wilson only works for Republicans, and he’ll happily hammer away on their favorite themes from security to abortion. But before he skittered away in the direction of an aide to Mayor Michael Bloomberg-Mr. Wilson has worked for Mayor Giuliani, and he’s always on the lookout for business-he added a personal note.
“You know, I’m not really that right-wing,” he explained. “I’m an operative.”
William Miller sat on the patio of the Bryant Park Grill Sunday afternoon nursing a bloody Mary and recalled his political awakening.
“I was arguing the virtues of President Nixon when I was 9,” said Mr. Miller, a 41-year-old investment banker from Park Slope, Brooklyn. Proclaiming his grade-school allegiance to Republicanism, he went on: “But the Carter-Reagan election was when I really started paying attention to politics.” Wearing a blue blazer, tan slacks and delicate metal-framed glasses, Mr. Miller was exactly the kind of conservative, nerdy guy so many New Yorkers imagine when they summon for themselves a picture of a Log Cabin Republican, those Republicans whose combined passions for gay and Republican politics an idea that seems so strange here.
And yet, if there are liberal Republicans to be found, it’s here, isn’t it? To Mr. Miller, the gays don’t get it.
“If you tell a gay New Yorker you’re a Republican,” said Mr. Miller, “they just look at you and say, ‘why?'”
The Log Cabiners had swarmed excitedly to New York City to watch George W. Bush take the reigns of the party in the upcoming election. It had started out nicely enough. Cabin members from around the country checked in to the organization’s official hotel, the Melrose on 63rd Street and Lexington Avenue; some carried golf gear, others attended strategy workshops on the 18th floor; most all wore pleated khaki pants. For a change Mr. Miller, rather than being the odd one out in New York’s Bush-bashing gay community, was surrounded by hundreds of fellow travelers, with 200 of them in attendance at the much-touted Sunday afternoon event celebrating “Big Tent” Republicanism where Mr. Miller spoke to The Observer.
But, as on television, pundits who dissected what they saw as a movement of the Republican party to pick up support from moderates were seeing a different story.
By Monday morning, the Log Cabin executive director, Patrick Guerriero, found himself at a press conference announcing the release of a television ad on behalf of Log Cabin Republicans claiming that the convention and the party platform had been mugged by the radical right: It would include a plank calling for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. He issued a statement saying in part, “We are here today … to tell those on the far right that they do not own the Republican Party. This party belongs to no one person and no one group. It is time that our platform recognizes this reality.”
Late efforts by Log Cabin Republicans to include even a plank acknowledging some Republicans differed on the subject of marriage, to supplement the marriage-amendment plank, were also rejected.
In fact, things had turned sour before any of the media, or most of the Log Cabin delegates, arrived at the Melrose Hotel. Christopher Barron, the group’s political director, had arrived in New York last Tuesday and the next day attended the committee hearings discussing the final wording of the G.O.P.’s 93-page platform document.
“I went in hoping that we would be having an open discussion on the possibility of adding our party unity plank that we had proposed a couple of weeks before with the Republican Youth Majority and Republicans for Choice,” he said, “and that we would be able to convince the committee not to take a position on the constitutional amendment, especially given that the Vice President had come out the night before and spoke from his heart and made it clear how divisive this issue had been and how he still opposed it. But I got there that morning and saw [the language was in the platform].”
Senator and presumed 2008 hopeful Bill Frist was present at the hearing and spoke to Mr. Barron. The conversation the two men had was “private,” but Mr. Barron said that he spoke to the Senator about the specific language that ended up in the document.
In the days that followed, Mr. Barron and 40 Log Cabin delegates and alternates began lobbying incoming convention delegates to consider taking the fight to the floor of the convention.
Asked about the response they’d received from delegates so far, Mr. Barron only mentioned one name. Congresswoman Mary Bono, Sonny’s widow and the representative from Palm Springs, Calif., had voluntarily opted to skip the convention and cited one of the reasons as the president’s support of the Federal Marriage Amendment. “We never even asked Congresswoman Bono to take this position,” he said.