“There aren’t many dissenters in the room,” said another young man at the party Monday night for Steven Brill’s new book, Class Warfare, about education reform in the United States. The young man, blond, worked with one of the schooling organizations celebrated in the book.
“But, us two,” he continued to The Observer. “We’re certainly in the lowest income percentile in the room — unless you inherited wealth, unless you come from serious money.”
The Observer said we had not.
We had come to the corner of Fifth Avenue and 63rd Street, a hundred-year-old Upper East Side estate purchased by Leonard Blavatnik in 2005 for $31 million, to discuss Mr. Brill’s problems with the state of the city’s public schools. The townhouse is crusted in ancient stone between the last buildings standing before Central Park starts, a relic with princely marble that leads the eye to a pebbled courtyard, an anteroom, and then several more anterooms.
Copper platters swung around offering steak tartare, truffle grilled cheese mini-sandwiches and goblets full of sloshing red and white wine. Jill Abramson, executive editor of The New York Times, Jeffrey Toobin, staff writer for The New Yorker, and John Hickenlooper, governor of Colorado, chit-chatted with members of education agencies associated with Mr. Brill’s philosophy. Ms. Abramson, newly installed atop The Times’ editorial masthead, had a long conversation with party pic legend Patrick McMullan as one of the paper’s Wall Street staffers stood by blurting off exclamations in the direction of Mr. McMullan’s powerful camera.
“Steve’s taken a lot of hits,” Boykin Curry, a money manager friend of Mr. Brill’s and the man behind the party, as he addressed the crowd atop a podium. “The New York Review of Books hired Diane Ravitch to review the book. That’s like having Richard Nixon review All The President’s Men!”
Mr. Brill took the stand.
“Thank you, thank you,” he said.
He began pointing out the people in the audience mentioned in the book.
“Jessica Reid,” Mr. Brill said. He gestured toward a young blonde woman with a buoyant dress and ample smile.
“If you’ve read it, you’ll know she’s dressed the way she is in the book.”
Talk turned serious. When discussing a teacher, he revealed that she was allowed to keep teaching despite an indiscretion.
“She actually ended up passed out drunk in her Stuyvesant High School classroom.”
A few women in the audience gasped.
The speeches ended, and afterward everyone stuck around for another drink, as Mr. Brill had implored.
“It’s all Steve’s friends, he knows everybody, and they do what he says,” Boykin Curry said. “He commands them.”
We went on, and then Mr. Brill walked up to us as we were talking about the dissenters, the people he couldn’t command.
“Did we invite Diane Ravitch?” Mr. Curry asked.
“It’s improper legal etiquette to invite someone who’s threatening to sue you,” Mr. Brill snapped.
We said thank you, and as we walked toward the door, Mr. Brill stepped forward to grab one of the last pigs-in-a-blanket from the server’s silver tray.
“This is so terribly pretentious,” he sighed.
NOURIEL ROUBINI LIVES 62 BLOCKS SOUTH and five blocks east of the Blavatnik mansion, and when we arrived by cab at Dr. Doom’s house we entered a door on First Street, took an elevator up six floors and opened the penthouse, where a flock of somewhere-by-way-of-extraction fabulous people were dolled-up and watching a projection of Sean Penn intone goodness on the giant screen. Mr. Roubini was a bit obscured behind the columns, but his atrium said it all — three levels gripped around a staircase that shared its extra space with a helix of floating orbs linked together by golden strings.
“Where did you get those loafers,” a woman said to my friend who we came to the party with.
He looked at her.
“Stubbs & Wootton, 73rd and Lex,” he responded.
“Don’t tell the downtown crew about Stubbs & Wootton!” an eavesdropping woman yelled.
Mr. Roubini is best-known for his position teaching at the NYU Stern School of Business and his morbid — but often scarily accurate — predictions regarding the economic climate, which accounts for his “Dr. Doom” moniker. But, he’s also known for throwing great parties.
Where do these Monday night hosts differ, then? Both Mr. Brill and Mr. Roubini are respected academics, yet we can’t remember the Steve Brill blasting Rihanna’s “Only Girl” as guests commandeered the bar from its tenders.
“Don’t worry, don’t worry” Mr. Roubini said from behind a table with empty bottles of booze splayed about.
This was the place where we had met him, moments earlier.
“We’re getting more liquor,” Mr. Roubini said. “And we’re getting more wine.”
The Observer refilled our vodka as the tenant opened a bottle of red with his fist. We finished it and all of a sudden he was right. There was more liquor. And then we drank it.
And as we left we wondered: Was Roubini predicting his doom there on the chilly patio, there on that glowing yellow bench, his arm around a young woman? Perhaps, the only doom we could predict was a hangover.