Overenthusiastic cabbies honking as they cruise up Park Avenue. Nervous glances ricochet around the new Oscar de la Renta store on Madison and 66th. New Yorkers may have been window-shopping, climbing out of crowded subway cars, popping out to Au Bon Pain for a cappuccino as usual, but they were all distracted on this day. There was nervous energy in those glances, the sense that the bubble was about to burst. This steadily building pressure cooker had to burst at some point-since the Republicans’ hyper-organized convention transformed this city into Anytown, U.S.A., the city has been in political isolation, the island removed from the mainland in spirit as well as body. Since that moment when George W. Bush ascended the stage in Madison Square Garden, our garden where we’ve watched Ewing and Starks and Messier sweat through another clumsy season, and declare his domain, we’ve all succumbed to the sinking feeling that things have changed, that we really are out of step, that the country has turned Red (even our cousins in New Jersey are turning!) in some strange body-snatching conspiracy.
So, when the first faint echoes of Kerry momentum started to build on Monday, sensed through the headlines and the candidate’s unabashed flaunting of his Red Sox cap, a little hope started to build among the city’s Democrats. And by the afternoon of Election Day, when some early exit polls started to show surprising results for Kerry, some little smiles started to appear. “Did you hear, did you hear?” whispered the counter girl at Le Pain Quotidien café on Lexington, without having to explain what she was referring to. But some businessmen passing by St. Patrick’s Cathedral dismissed the news. “It’s too early-nobody knows anything,” said Jack Calligan, nervously adding, “It’ll be all right for Bush.” All afternoon, that sense started to spread, little gasps as the results rolled in, a cautious optimism for some and a steadily building panic for others, all expressed in a myriad of ways as the night rolled in with its deep currents.
Palm Sways in Shifting Winds
Mort Zuckerman looked tentative and his face captured the indecision of the evening. The Daily News publisher, who had recently endorsed President Bush, was standing outside the Palm restaurant, where Harvey Weinstein and Georgette Mosbacher were throwing a bipartisan election-viewing party. “I’m happy with whoever wins,” Mr. Zuckerman squeaked. “I think the best thing about this is the voter participation, and the new voters no matter who wins.” But he sounded a sour note about the next President’s chances of carrying a divided country beyond this bitter election. “No matter who wins, they’re going to have a really tough time running the country,” he said. “Neither of them in my judgment can unite the country. To combat the war against terrorism is going to last for a generation.”
Did he vote for Bush today? “I didn’t say that,” snapped Mr. Zuckerman.
Inside the restaurant, outfitted like a July 4 barbecue, festooned with red, white and blue streamers and red and blue pitchers of drinks, the mood was just as tense. What a difference a few years make. In 2000, Harvey Weinstein crowed about getting Hillary Clinton elected to the Senate, glowing in his triumph at his party at Elaine’s. This time, the slimmer Miramax executive, wearing a black suit one size too large, stood impassive, watching the returns come in on TV.
“Where’s Pennsylvania?” Mr. Weinstein muttered impatiently, a pained look on his face, his right leg shaking vigorously. “I just want to know what’s going on in Pennsylvania.”
During the previous hour, the wind had shifted. When Mr. Weinstein first walked in with HarperCollins’ David Hirshey, they both looked confident, basking in the early returns. “Bush looked terrified, which is always a good thing,” laughed Mr. Hirshey. Later, Mr. Weinstein moved outside, chain-smoking cigarettes and talking on his cell phone. Wilbur Ross walked by with his new wife, Hillary Geary. The mood kept shifting. A New York Times reporter was asked to leave. Lawyer Ed Hayes voiced his opinion, “To me, politics is a business, and George Bush creates problems we don’t need.”
Across the room, guests were parrying their bets and their hopes. “Kerry’s going to win,” said political consultant Ed Rollins, repeating the same line for the last three hours. Judith Regan, book publisher, countered him with “But Bush is going to steal the election, right?” Mr. Rollins shook his head. Literary agent Ed Victor said, “I believe the exit polls, Kerry’s going to win.”
Humorist Mark Katz, author of Clinton & Me , was asked to describe the mood of the party near the exit of the men’s room. “It’s guarded pessimism, he said. The day started with people imagining the Kerry administration and now we’re mulling over the Dukakis campaign. It’s the Red Sox syndrome. We’re at the Bill Buckner moment and the ball is dribbling toward him and we’re holding our breath.”
So what’s going to happen?
“My gut is George Bushes are one-termers.”
Ambassador John Loeb, Jr. upon exiting, just seemed to enjoy the mood. “I think this was a fun party with a bipartisan crowd from Bob Morganthau to Georgette Mosbacher and there wasn’t even a food fight-yet.”
Outside, Tina Brown stood with husband Harry Evans and looked lost. “I was feeling completely joyful, now I feel like I need an ice pack on my head.”
-George Gurley and Jake Brooks
“They’re calling it for Kerry!” groaned George T. Conway III, a litigation partner at the law firm Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, around 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday night.
Mr. Conway, dressed in a gray chalk-striped suit and an American flag tie, was co-hosting a Republican election-results viewing party in the back room of Michael’s Restaurant, and early into the evening, things were looking grim.
Early exit polls had Mr. Kerry ahead in several key swing states, including Ohio and Florida. According to Mr. Conway’s wife, the Republican pollster and TV pundit Kellyanne Conway, “The race was tighter than a shrink-wrapped pine.”
“We’re not a bunch of screamers,” said Ms. Conway, calling in on a Blackberry before appearances on NY1 and ABC, after which she would join the party. “We’re just a bunch of like-minded people with a different point of view from the rest of Manhattan. We’re basically friendly.”
About twenty Bush supporters, braving enemy territory in the heart of the media’s favored lunch spot, were gathered uncertainly before a giant flat screen TV tuned to Fox News, wearing mostly dark suits. At one end of the room was a table piled with electoral-vote maps, calculators and cups full of red and blue markers. At another was a table stocked with fine white Burgundy and a California Cabernet Sauvignon. There was a special Kosher wine stocked behind the bar.
“People who don’t know history prior to Vietnam don’t like Bush,” said Paul K. Rowe, another Wachtell, Lipton partner and a former writer for the Harvard Crimson, who was wearing a navy suit with gold buttons, and small, round spectacles. “You only have to go back to 1936, when Hitler invaded the Rhineland, to appreciate him.”
Mr. Rowe conceded that things seemed to be going in Mr. Kerry’s favor.
“I look at Bush, and I see a man who’s at peace with himself,” said Mr. Rowe. “He gave it his all. He was the right man at the right time. If the American people don’t appreciate it, it’s their loss.”
Around 8:30 p.m., the Bush campaign director Ken Melman flickered on screen, and the room became hushed.
“Come on Florida,” said Mr. Conway. “We need all of you to get out the vote in the Panhandle!”
Richard Bill, the ponytailed, suit-clad wine director of Michael’s, said that most of the restaurant’s staff was Democrat, but that the chef was a “staunch Republican.”
“He’s making all the food,” said Mr. Bill, referring to the plates of grilled rock shrimp, filet mignon and seared tuna on toast making the rounds of the room. “He’s very talented. I’m glad to see he’s so passionate tonight.”
Susan Estrich appeared on screen.
“I don’t know,” she said, referring to the exit polls in Florida. “Maybe you’re seeing a very high turnout of women voters.”
Around 9 p.m., the mood in the room became decidedly more upbeat, as several state polls tightened. Myrna Blyth, the former editor of Ladies ‘ Home Journal , described as “the only republican in women’s publishing,” and Kenneth Langone, the former New York Stock Exchange director implicated in the Dick Grasso pay scandal, walked into the room.
“How’re we doing?” asked Mr. Langone towards no one in particular.
“We’re doing great!” said Ms. Conway, who had arrived fresh from her television appearances, in a black skirt and jacket with plenty of gold and jewel appliqués.
“Well, we’re doing terrible on the radio,” said Mr. Langone.
“If George Soros loses, will he have to go to a monastery?” asked Mr. Langone’s wife, Elaine.
“Yeah, in Iraq!” said Ms. Conway.
Fox flashed a poll on screen: 53 percent for Bush, 46 percent for Kerry.
“Stop right here,” said Mrs. Langone, gesturing at the screen. “Don’t go any further.”
Peggy Noonan, wearing a glamorous camel coat over a black suit, was trying to find the address of her next stop for the evening.
“My son just had a little election viewing get-together at his girlfriend’s apartment on 107th Street,” said Ms. Noonan. “My son and his girl- he appears to be a liberal republican, at this point in his development- we were all watching together. It was a true Manhattan moment.”
Lloyd Grove, looking tall in a tweed jacket, huddled with Ms. Noonan.
“Oh, no, there’s Satan,” said Mr. Grove, spotting Ralph Nader on TV. “I’m not kidding.”
Mr. Grove was heading to The Palm restaurant next, which was the site of the Harvey Weinstein-Georgette Mosbacher gathering. He was also trying to help Ms. Noonan figure out where her next party was taking place, and was making furious cell phone calls. A few minutes later, he handed his phone to Ms. Noonan, which she grabbed before running towards the door.
“Some things are a man’s job,” said Mr. Grove.
Hedging and Hoping
At 8:45 p.m., Governor George Pataki still didn’t know if the man that he had introduced two months ago at Madison Square Garden would be anointed for another term. The cautiously optimistic Governor, in a navy blue jacket, was surrounded by a scrum of reporters at the Women’s National Republican Club on West 51st Street. Asked if he’d talked to the President, Mr. Pataki said that he had not, but speculated about the first family’s mood. “I imagine they’re like everyone else, waiting and hoping and not sure about the outcome,” the Governor said about President Bush before a scrum of reporters at the club. “I hope the President wins tonight,” Mr. Pataki continued, “but regardless of who wins, I hope the attitude of everyone in politics-more importantly, the American people brings that to the table.”
Indeed, much of the mood early in the night seemed to echo the tension infusing the Bush camp following the headlines that streamed across the Drudge Report that afternoon indicating strong exit polling for Kerry in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida. “I’ll blow my brains out if he loses,” said Bush supporter Elise Burn, a sharp-looking woman with pearls, a navy pullover and Capri jeans, while sipping an Amstel Light and watching the New Jersey vote stream in on the Fox News screen playing in the background.
Dawn Schweitzer, a financial advisor from midtown, aired more confidence a bit later as Mr. Bush pulled ahead 102 to 77 on the Fox News ticker. “I’m cautiously optimistic,” said Ms. Schweitzer, a tall, raven-haired woman wearing a cherry-red anorak coat with a pair of “Viva Bush” pins affixed to her lapel. And if the night ended badly, “We didn’t play as ugly as they did,” said Ms. Schweitzer. “Republicans always take the high road.”
And before the race was narrowed to two nominees, the contest contained no fewer than five men who’d spent time at Yale: George Bush, Dick Cheney, John Kerry, Joe Lieberman and Howard Dean. Indeed, Yale’s death-grip on the Presidency has been so pronounced as of late that the President himself couldn’t help but remark on it during a speech he gave upon receiving an honorary doctorate at the school’s 2001 commencement ceremony.
“A Yale degree is worth a lot, as I often remind Dick Cheney-who studied here, but left a little early. So now we know: If you graduate from Yale, you become President. If you drop out, you get to be Vice President.”
Not that many people at the Yale Club on Election Night thought the two candidates’ alma maters counted for much with the general electorate.
“Outside of the New York area, 90 percent of the population has no idea where they went to school,” said Jonathan Bonelli, a 53-year-old Dartmouth grad who sells swimming pools.
Indeed, even Mr. Bush had to admit during his commencement speech that his Ivy League pedigree didn’t necessarily count for all that much.
“Most people think that to speak at Yale’s commencement, you have to be President. But over the years, the specifications have become far more demanding. Now you have to be a Yale graduate, you have to be President, and you have to have lost the Yale vote to Ralph Nader.”
Sex and Politics
“We knew people were going to be excited about the voting, but we were very surprised how excited they were going to be about the sex!” said Peter Koechley, a 23-year-old Columbia graduate and writer for The Onion . It was the election-eve flagship party for Votergasm.org, a nonpartisan (“but pro-partying”) group. In an effort to increase voter turn-on, the organization has recruited over 39,000 patriots to have sex with voters on Election Night and abstain from non-voter sex in the next four years.
“I don’t know if I could commit to that for four years. They need, like, an intermediate level that goes for a week or something!” said Brad Madsen, 22, a musician from Sunset Park.
Michelle Collins, 23, a Barnard graduate and legal assistant, helped Mr. Koechley organize the event. “We saw that there was little youth-voter turnout and a very low rate of sexual activity-and so, to quote my favorite Holocaust tagline, we said, ‘Never again!’ Now I’m a Jew, so I can say that!” Her dark ponytail bobbed as she laughed. So did she take the pledge? “American hero, baby! How could I not be an American hero when all our boys are dying out there? Of course, my success really depends on how much I drink, and there are drink specials tonight, so I better get cracking!”
Liz Gately works at the Gersh talent agency and helped orchestrate the flagship Votergasm party at the club PM in the (of course!) meatpacking district. “If someone’s going to pledge their vote to a candidate and their body to another voter on Election Night, it’s only right that we should give people a venue to fulfill their pledges.”
However, one thing the organizers could give the crowd was coverage. Due to technical difficulties, the television was down for the first hour of the party. “If they don’t get a TV, I’m definitely leaving,” said 23-year-old commodities broker Dave Simon. He said he was there to be among a “same-thinking” type of crowd. “I hoped that I’d meet some girls,” he said, straining to look around at the mostly male crowd. “But I had a feeling it was going to be like this, to tell you the truth-a bunch of guys, two or three girls that work here.”
“There are more guy votergasms than girl votergasms,” echoed Nick Malkevich, 24.
His friend Robert Craddock, a 25-year-old consultant, blamed the club’s layout. “There’s no dance floor. It’s very cliquish and exclusive, because every booth is off on its own. There’s no privacy, either-you can’t like go off to the side and … well, it’s not a very intimate setting. With this venue, I don’t see how the night could pick up, or how I could pick anyone up.”
So he tried to pick up an Observer reporter instead. “Hey, can we do a double-team here?” Mr. Craddock asked.
Back to Mr. Koechley. “I talked to a guy at the Berklee College of Music who’s hosting a party, and he is expecting there to be so much sex at their party that he’s actually prescreening people to make sure they’re normal first. He’s having a full-on orgy of democracy!” So was he going to fulfill his pledge that night? He laughed. “Well, I think confidence is key in any election.”
There will be two more election cycles before Harper Makowsky can grind the lever back and forth to register her choice for President, but the 12-year-old, a seventh-grader at the Dalton School, has at least unofficially cast her vote. On Monday night, at a fund-raising concert for a pro-Dem 527 group, Harper was wearing a baggy T-shirt that showed President Bush whizzing oil on Mother Earth, accessorized with red-stone chandelier earrings and cargo pants. Kerry’s her man, she said, “because he’s not Bush.”
She watched the debates and was impressed with the Senator’s performance. “I think he’s a little more confident and he really knows what he’s talking about, as opposed to Bush, who stutters a lot and he repeats himself, and I also think that Bush has made a lot of mistakes, and I think that John Kerry will do the things that are really needed and not do inappropriate things that aren’t. There are so many documentaries,” she added, speaking so quickly that her words sometimes jammed and jumbled.
“Like Fahrenheit 9/11 !” squealed her childhood buddy Alana Haynes, also 12. “That was my favorite movie of all time! It just captured how Bush is so idiotic, like when he’s making speeches on worldwide TV. I don’t want him representing our country, ’cause it’s like an insult to our smarter half-it’s like, ‘Ha ha, we have a stupid round-headed geek man.'”
Harper and Alana were surrounded by an intense but borderline-pipsqueaky group of seventh-graders, all of whom were connected through like-minded parents, parties and Hebrew school. They were chaperoned by adults to the concert, which was officially 14 and older. So they stood on the outskirts of the nightclub BLVD, located on the Bowery, while some older teens with peach fuzz and pimples thrusted to the beat.
“I have no idea who’s going to win-it’s really close,” said Taia Kwinter, who had a big smile and thick hair clumped in a side ponytail. Her older brother Theo Brooks, 15, a sophomore at Dalton, was one of the concert’s organizers, along with Wyndam Makowsky, 15, Harper’s brother, a sophomore at Stuyvesant, and Dwight-Englewood student James Malloy, 16.
“Our school is very Democratic, so you find anti-Bush pins like all over the place,” said Isabel Cohen, 13, a lanky seventh-grader at Fieldston. “On all the bags, there’s a Kerry-Edwards pin or like anti-Bush pins. Even though we’re only in seventh grade, we have a lot of discussions about politics-like yesterday, we had like a whole debate with our friend, and it was very intense.”
She continued: “I hope that Kerry wins. I don’t want to say anything to jinx it.”
Over on the dance floor, a foul-mouthed comedienne and some rappers were keeping the older teens marginally occupied; a pair of crew-cut cynics perched close by.
“It’s definitely going to be pretty close. It’s going to be so close that we’re not going to know who won for another three years-or for another three weeks, at least. They’re going to do recounts in like seven different states,” said James McElroy, 14, a freshman at the Lab School.
“We’re never going to get the results,” added Davis Cathcart, 15, a sophomore at Brooklyn Friends.
“Kerry’s going to win Florida, then Bush is going to say, ‘No, I won Florida,’ then they’re going to go to the Supreme Court. And the Supreme Court is going to say Bush won. If he wins … I strongly believe that if Bush wins, he’s going to have a draft. He’s going to get himself into so much more shit in the Middle East-and if he’s elected, by the time he has a draft, we’re going to be of age. So that’s a problem.
“That’s Bob Kerrey-John Kerry’s brother!” James exclaimed as the New School president and former Senator took to the stage, before being corrected.
He started chewing on his nails. “It’s just a habit,” he explained.
“I don’t think John Kerry is great-I just think he’s better than Bush,” he continued. “It’s so great to have Nader in the election, because he’s forcing Kerry and Bush to be clearer about their agendas. He’s the only real truthful person.”
They started eyeing a group of long-haired party girls from the Dwight Englewood school in Jersey.
“That’s like the textbook of a female teenager,” James scoffed. “You can tell-the way they’re holding onto each other’s shoulders and talking about what a great party this is. ‘It’s such a great party,'” he said, mimicking their imagined conversation.
Not too soon for these Pulp Fiction fans, Uma Thurman, a friend of Theo Brooks’ dad, Wimbledon screenwriter Adam Brooks, headed from her V.I.P. quarters to the stage. She threaded through the crowd quickly, led by one bodyguard and followed by two others.
She ran her hands through her hair and spoke briefly.
“It’s never felt so cool to be at a party organized by two 15-year-olds and one 16-year-old boy,” she said.