The bicycle delivery boys and the puddles of slush from the stopped-up drains aren’t enough of an aggravation for the city’s pedestrians. Now they are barred from crossing key intersections. As the lame, the halt, the blind, the very young and very old walk blocks out of their way in the winter weather, they can thank Rudy Giuliani for the pain and inconvenience. Lest we forget what a callous S.O.B. this guy is, he is putting up barricades manned by police to stop pedestrians from interfering with limousines making right-hand turns.
Far be it from me to suggest that this little quality-of-life gesture has something to do with the arrival on our streets of the new 34-foot limos that require no less than 68 feet of turning room. These vehicles, with built-in bars and such, come with granite or marble floors, which helps in mop-up operations when their passengers vomit. “You can’t pull a rug out every time they puke,” the proprietor of several of these grand machines has been quoted as saying. “With this, you just wash it off. Not like a stinky rug.”
Within the luxurious confines of these automotive Titanic s, a movie star or stockbroker can stretch out full length when having oral sex performed on him or her without the vehicle having to wait to make a right turn while some decrepit person scuttles out of the way. No doubt about it. In the course of the last few months, many a person riding in the back seat of a limo of lesser length has been driven to minor fits of impatience by traffic jams, caused by what? Why, the people on the sidewalks, who else?
So the Mayor, whose nasty, ambitious energy can be confused with intelligence, orders up this ill-thought-out plan. Well, it’s easier than telling the police to enforce the traffic laws, an activity that would, unfortunately, distract them from cornholing immigrants with their nightsticks. Why, oh, why have the Fates stuck New York with this humorless keeper of grudges and settler of scores?
Other cities have modern management-type mayors who are bringing their towns back from the ashes without Mayor Giuliani’s truculence-Edward Rendell in Philadelphia, Bret Schundler across the river in Jersey City, others in Chicago, Los Angeles and Seattle, all mayors whom Mr. Giuliani resembles in accomplishment without the displays of pride and petulance.
But maybe New York has in Mr. Giuliani a mayor condign to its tastes and level of civilization. We have, for example, the bitching and moaning of Marylou Whitney, who didn’t think that $17.1 million was enough for the Adirondack land she recently sold New York State. “It is with a very heavy heart that I part with this portion of my land,” whined Ms. Whitney the other day, as she snatched the check out of Gov. George Pataki’s hands and, for all I know, leaped into one of those 34-foot limos with the vomitproof floor and lit out for the deposit window at the bank.
New York’s rich people are so mingy. This Whitney dame still has another 30,000 acres in the Adirondacks that ought to go into parkland, too, but families like the Whitneys don’t hang on to the moola by giving it away. Once upon a time, they may have, but old respectable names mean nothing now, if they ever did. And the older and more respectable the New York name, the more likely the holder thereof will reveal him or herself to be a crook.
Just the other day, some of the biggest and oldest names in downtown Manhattan agreed to pony up hundreds of millions to settle a suit accusing them of rigging the stock market against thousands of their own customers. Look at this partial list of Wall Street malefactors and what they’re paying for not admitting “wrongdoing,” as they like to say when they’ve been caught “stealing,” as we laymen like to call this kind of behavior: Merrill Lynch & Company, $100 million; Lehman Brothers Inc., $80 million; Goldman, Sachs Group, $75 million; Salomon Smith Barney Inc., $70 million; Morgan Stanley, Dean Witter, Discover & Company, $65 million.
I get a particular honk out of the gang (and gang is the mot juste in this case) at Morgan Stanley. The firm is still referred to as “white shoe,” meaning they’re too hoity to steal and too toity to stoop to the unethical. For a short course in white-shoe ethics, as it is practiced on the Street, I refer you to F.I.A.S.C.O.: Blood in the Water on Wall Street , by Frank Partnoy, a book enthusiastically recommended in these pages some months ago by Michael Thomas. Only in a society where the stock jobbers own the lawyers, the law courts and the lawmakers can it transpire that the things done at Morgan Stanley and described in F.I.A.S.C.O. have passed largely unremarked on. One cannot put down Mr. Partnoy’s firsthand account without being amazed that the Federal Bureau of Investigation or some other police agency hasn’t surrounded these dirty doers in their headquarters and ordered them to come out with their hands up.
Down the street at Prudential Insurance and Metropolitan Life Insurance, the level of honesty rises no higher. In the past year or so, these two companies, after being pursued and sued by their own customers and various law enforcement agencies, have had to disgorge more than $2 billion. With yet more legal action pending, the two companies may have to pay out millions more. And what did they do that has brought about this pretty pass? They say nothing, but those of us who don’t know the ins and outs of the insurance business would probably call it a systematic swindle of thousands of people who got a piece of the rock all right, right up the ying-yang.
Everything has its risible aspects and that includes the crimes of the richest and the greediest. Last November, the city was invited to take a sudden quick breath in shock and fear at the announcement that a mob plot to move in on Wall Street had been uncovered. A 25-count Federal indictment was made public here in which 19 people, including alleged members of the Genovese and Bonanno crime families, were accused. “The purpose was to drive up the volume and price of publicly traded small-cap stocks and then sell those stocks at the artificially raised prices … In all, we estimate that defendants profited in excess of $1.3 million,” said U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White.
One point three million? The white-shoe crowd over at Morgan Stanley would laugh the Mafia out of town for bothering to pick up that kind of chump change. On Wall Street the junior associates get that for their year-end bonuses. Poor Mafia-out of date, out of sync and soon out of money if its members don’t learn to steal better than that.
If you see a group of children being marched three blocks out of the way so a 34-foot limo can make a fast right-hand turn, have a little understanding. It might be a Mafia accountant on the way over to Met Life to get a few lessons on how to do it right. You’re in Rudy’s town, where if you meet a man with a heart of gold, you can be pretty sure he stole it.