William O’Shaughnessy Interview with Governor Andrew M. Cuomo

A far-ranging interview with Governor Andrew Cuomo … like you’ve never heard him.  He almost sounds like Mario on this one.

Earlier today he spoke with William O’Shaughnessy, Editorial Director of Whitney Global Media’s WVOX, an old family friend of the Cuomo Family. 

His stunningly candid, exclusive interview with Governor Cuomo follows. 


William O’Shaughnessy:

This is Bill O’Shaughnessy with a very special interview.  We switch to his Office in Manhattan for the Governor of New York … Andrew Mark Cuomo.  Governor Cuomo, I’ve known you for a long time.  Your family has meant a lot to me and mine.  Will you trust me to conduct myself properly?

Governor Cuomo:

I always trust you … to conduct yourself properly, no!  But I do have a deep trust for you. And I love how you say Gover-NORE.  And my Father loved how you said Gover-NORE.  And my Father loved you, Bill.  He had tremendous respect and tremendous affection for you, always.  And it was well deserved.  As do I.

William O’Shaughnessy:

Governor Cuomo, how is your Mother, Matilda Raffa Cuomo doing?

Governor Cuomo:

She is indefatigable.  She is just the Energizer Bunny.  She’s doing very well.  She’s staying in touch with all the grandchildren.  She’s calling and she’s remembering birthdays. She’s also picked up, Bill, on the Mentoring that meant so much to her.  She’s doing that on a State-wide basis.  As you know, she was a public-school teacher and she never really stopped teaching.  When we lost my Father and she had that void in her life that she needed to fill, I think, sub-consciously, she re-engaged in Mentoring with an energy that was just unbelievable. I think it was just partially her therapy to deal with the loss. 

Because, as you know, her whole life was my Father.  They were together all the time.  They did everything together.  It’s such a big hole in her life.  You go into the apartment and it’s like a shrine to my Father.  She’s doing the Mentoring.  She’s staying in touch with the grandchildren.  She gives me her commentary on the news accounts on a daily basis.  She’s sharp as a tack. She’s all “sugar,” my Mother. She’s all sweetness, she always has been.  She’s all genuineness, even being exposed to the rough edges of politics for all those years.  She never lost her fundamental sweetness and softness.

William O’Shaughnessy:

Governor Cuomo, your Mother told me something I’d never heard about you. First of all, she calls you the Energizer Governor!  You called her the Energizer Mother!  But she said sometimes you pull yourself out of the frantic, busy, political life and go over and just sit on her terrace. She says you like her potato omelet!    What’s so great about them?

Governor Cuomo:

She makes a potato omelet like no other potato omelet!  (laughter)  It is delicious.  I tell you … when my Father was alive, I went over all the time because he wasn’t well, toward the end.  So I just wanted to spend as much time with him as I could.  I just loved to talk to him as we both did, whether agree with him or disagree with him.  It was just a delightful conversation and always an exciting conversation.  Since my Father has been gone I go over more just to spend time with my Mother. 

There’s a sadness for me when I go there because there is so much of my Father in that apartment.  So many memories.  But she just loves quality time and she loves to cook.  As you know, she always has … in that Italian tradition where the act of loving is eating, you’re around a table.  She does make a phenomenal potato omelet and it is my favorite.  But it’s just an excuse to spend time with her and catch up and to get her to slow down because she’s out every night! She’s doing events and she’s recruiting for her Mentoring program.  I worry about her because she’s not as young as she used to be. 

William O’Shaughnessy:

How old is Matilda Raffa Cuomo?

Governor Cuomo:

I cannot tell you. She is 39 years old.  That’s my story and I’m sticking with it!

William O’Shaughnessy:

Governor, there’s so much to cover.  We appreciate the few moments while we’re in your care and keeping – or rather you’re in ours!  These are not alone challenging times, these are awful, cruel, mean times.  First of all, you won the Primary by a hell of a lot more than people thought you were going to do.  How did the Primary set with you?  It was pretty nasty.

Governor Cuomo:

Well, first of all, these are ugly, ugly nasty times.  People are anxious. They are fearful.  It can bring out the worst of human nature and I’m afraid it has.  I’m afraid the actions of the Federal government actually have made it worse.  I think the President incites people.  I think the President plays on people’s fears and uses it politically.  I think that’s very unfortunate.  The Primary, and when I talk to you, Bill, I think of my Father and the conversations that you guys had, but during my Father’s time there was always an activist-left Agenda for the Democratic Party.

There used to be a group called the NDC – New Democratic Coalition.  They used to harass my Father because he wasn’t liberal enough, believe it or not.  Most people would say he was a great liberal.  Many people would say he was too liberal.  But there was a Left to my Father who complained that he was not left enough.  He would say they were “Professional Liberals” or Professional Political People.  Meaning that they have a valid point of view … but it’s a professional point of view as opposed to a populist point of view. 

I think that’s actually exasperated now – and if I could just take another second on it …  you have a group of political people who are engaged on a daily basis for one reason or another.  They’re running an organization or they are a political reporter or blogger.  And the communication and intensity among them is much higher.  There’s Twitter … there’s Instagram … and the energy they generate amongst themselves is much higher than it has been in the past and some of them then believe that is Reality.  It’s not reality.  That’s their own political reality. 

Reality is what people live day to day who aren’t reading the blogs because they have jobs and they are trying to make ends meet.  And when it came to the Primary, this State is the most progressive state in the United States of America!  Not because a blogger opines.  But because people know it.  People know that we passed ‘Marriage Equality.”  It was a very big deal.  They know that I passed the “Gun Safety Law” … they lived it.  They heard it.  They saw the controversy.  They know that I raised the Minimum Wage to the highest in the country because 2.3 million people got a raise.  That’s how they know. They see it in their paychecks.  They know that we have the best free college tuition for middle class families in the country because they are looking at it for their child.  So I understand the academic attack … but you’re not going to tell the people in this State that I’m not a progressive.  They know differently.

William O’Shaughnessy:

Governor, I don’t want to label you, sir.  But are you a centrist?  Or a progressive … who the hell are you? 

Governor Cuomo:

I am a pragmatic progressive.  Whose definition was that, Bill?

William O’Shaughnessy:

That was your Father, of sainted memory. 

Governor Cuomo:

Think about that for a second.  Pragmatic progressive.  Now this is Mario Cuomo, the greatest liberal … the greatest intellectual politician.  Pragmatic Progressive.  I hated the term, by the way.  No one understands what that means.  And he would say – as only he could say:  If they’re not smart enough to know what it means … I don’t care!   Pragmatic Progressive.  It almost sounded like an oxymoron.  But his point was … you can’t be a progressive if you are not Pragmatic.  There is no academic progressive politics.  Progressive politics happens in actuality.  There is no theoretical Progressive politics. 

Either you made my life better or you didn’t.  Either I have more bread on my table or I don’t.  I don’t want to hear your theory and your intellectual exercise and your academic political analysis.  I want progress in my life because I need it because I’m poor.  I’m a working family … I’m disabled.  Because I’m a victim of discrimination.  So I need progress.  So his point was Progressive needs a modifier.  And the modifier is the words Pragmatic.  Not because it is an oxymoron or inconsistent.  But it is a modifier.  It is the practical Progress.  It is the actuality and the concrete accomplishment of the progressive theory.  That was his point. 

And when you are an executive, you realize very quickly – as opposed to a legislative branch or an academic – to make actual change.  That is much harder. That involves compromise.  It involves nuance.  It involves fashioning a specific solution to a problem.  It is not as easy as just opining or pontificating about absolute idealism.  The pragmatic takes you to a different place.  We now have to get it done.  That means I have to get a piece of legislation passed.  That means I have to talk to Republicans.  That means I have to talk to conservative Democrats.  That means we’re going to have to shift a little bit from the ideal because we live in the real … and that is the pragmatic part. 

He would voice this in the on-going debate he had at that time with the people at the time who were to his left and he would say Look … it’s very easy to be a purist ideologically if you don’t have to get anything done, right?  If all it is about writing a paper on it or giving a speech on it, then it’s easy to advocate for the perfect.  But if you have to get something done as a executive or because you believe people actually need help, and because you actually want to improve the situation, that then introduces the element of pragmatism.  So he was a Pragmatic Progressive.  And that’s what I would call myself.

William O’Shaughnessy:

Governor, first of all, the clock is ticking.  The Democrats, your party, they’ve got to put somebody against President Trump.  I risk our friendship of many, many years.  Is it possible to like Donald Trump – President Trump – and Governor Cuomo?

Governor Cuomo:

Anything is possible!  Can you like both theories … both philosophies?  No.  My philosophy, my theory of government is diametrically opposed.

William O’Shaughnessy:

How so?

Governor Cuomo:

This President delights in division.  He thrives in division.  It’s not just that he thrives in competition … or he thrives in confrontation.  He thrives in division.  He looks to energize people through anger, I believe.  I try to do the opposite.  I try to appeal to people’s better angels.  Now, it’s much easier to appeal to fear as opposed to love. 

Hate is, in many ways, easier to generate than love is to generate. And when people are anxious to begin with, as they are now – they are economically anxious, etc. – it’s easier to give them a target for that anxiety and to vent for that anxiety. And to say it’s them over there.  They are the problem.  The different people are the problem.  You know the different people … people who pray to a different God.  The people with a different sexual orientation.  The people with different skin color.   The people who speak a different language.  There’s the target!  And I believe that’s the course that the President follows. 

Now, Governor of New York, 19 million people from all over the globe, you start to divide us … that unleashes a cancer in the body politic because what you feel everyday in New York is … we are all about differences.  You start to demonize differences … that is incendiary and that is spontaneous combustion where you would make the situation intolerable.  Now is it harder to motivate people by the positive?  Yes.  Is it harder to explain to people that creating a situation where we all do well enures to your personal benefit ultimately. That the concept of community is not just self-lessness but also selfishness.  That you can benefit when others benefit?  Yes. 

That’s a much harder case to make.  Especially when people are angry. 

But that is the case that I preach.  And the President does the opposite.  We had a situation over this past weekend, Bill, for all your listeners who haven’t been able to detect … You are a Republican the last time I checked!  The Metropolitan Republican Club in New York City invites in a group called the Proud Boys … who are the Proud Boys?  They are a hate group.  They are white nationalists.  They are White Supremacists. 

William O’Shaughnessy:

They call themselves Western Chauvinists!

Governor Cuomo:

Western Chauvinists!  What a label!  They have a long history of hateful speech.  They advocate violence.  Metropolitan Republican Club brings them in.  They offer no real explanation.  They said Free Speech … we believe in Free Speech.  So I guess the Republican Party will invite the Ku Klux Klan next week in their continuing series of “Free Speech” scenarios. It’s hateful.  It’s demeaning to who we are in New York.  It’s demeaning to a productive political dialogue.  They invited them.  There was then vandalism and should be prosecuted.  And then there was violence afterwards.

William O’Shaughnessy:

Didn’t you have a message as a “Queens guy” for this group?

Governor Cuomo:

Well, I said that they are a bunch of thugs! 

William O’Shaughnessy:

That’s pretty clear …

Governor Cuomo:

That was as far as I will allow my Queens roots to take me because I try to maintain basic protocol now as Governor of the State of New York.  But these are just thugs.  I also called them that which was also reminiscent of my Queens roots.  But that’s who they are.  It’s incendiary and it is disgusting.  And I believe it was tactical …  I believe to fire up the Republican base for the mid-term elections in November which are very, very important for the Republican Party.  They use the flames of bigotry and racism and sexism to fire up their base.  I believe that’s what they’re doing.  I believe the Metropolitan Republican Club mirrored what President Trump was saying nationally about the importance of the mid-terms and getting out the vote. And it’s a shame because I remember the Republican Party. Nelson Rockefeller, Senator Javits, Warren Anderson … you could have principled political differences.  But the Republican Party was a party of honor and values.  And what we’re seeing now, Bill, this is a different Republican Party.  This is the Republican Party of a brand of extremist conservatives that we haven’t seen before.

William O’Shaughnessy:

Governor, you said that you hold the president responsible.  Do you really mean that?

Governor Cuomo:

I believe the national Republican strategy is to fire up the base.  And the President was saying that the Democrats are bad people and that they’re a mob and they create chaos.  The President was going on this weekend about his take on the Civil War and Robert E. Lee.  The President said after Charlottesville when you had White Supremacists rallying and protestors on the other side and Klu Klux Klan rallying … he said there are good people on both sides.  That, Bill, was – to me – the single most damning statement he’s made.  Because there are no good White Supremacists!  And you should never suggest that to the American people. 

William O’Shaughnessy:

Governor … first of all.  I am almost at a loss for words as I listen to you today.  You are so profound dealing with the great issues. Today I’m listening … and you really are your Father’s Son.  I’ve got to ask, as you prepare to move forward … people are starting to talk about you … I’ll lay it right on the table … for president of the United States.  You’re starting to get into the national dialogue on this thing.  Are you interested?  Would you do it?

Governor Cuomo:

I’m interested in one thing which is running for governor and being the best governor that I can be.  The National Agenda is in many ways the New York Agenda in a way it’s never been before, Bill.   With their now takeover of the Supreme Court and with their legislative agenda, you’re talking about a woman’s right to choose being overturned with Roe v. Wade … you’re talking about gun safety laws  … you’re talking about basic healthcare for people … you’re talking about Criminal Justice Policy … you’re talking about Public Education.  Those are the core issues for New York State. 

You know in the old days, the Federal Government would do defense policy and we’d have a great debate about Defense Policy.  But the State ran state issues.  Today, many of the state issues are going to be decided by Washington and what they do.  So the confluence of the two agendas has never been stronger.

But I’m running for Governor.  I love what I’m doing.  I believe I’m making a difference. And as long as I’m making a positive difference, that’s what gets me out of bed in the morning. 

William O’Shaughnessy:

Governor, I hear them knocking on the door so I’ll be very brief and rap this up.  You’ve given us some beautiful and wonderful stuff.  The book on Andrew Cuomo … on Governor Andrew Cuomo … is that he’s respected.  Even your critics “respect.” He’s got “dynamism.”  Nobody knows the levers of government like Governor Cuomo.  He’s the Doer.  He’s the Mechanic.  You are also the son of a man they called “the great philosopher-statesman of the American nation.”  The Boston Globe said that.  I hear that today.  I hear it in your voice.  I hear it in your thoughtful comments.  Why the hell don’t you talk more like this more often?

Governor Cuomo:

You know, Bill … it was a different time when my Father governed.  They don’t give you more than 30 seconds today.  The intelligence … the substance of government, the theory of government, the philosophy of government.  There’s very little appetite for that now.  I don’t want to get myself into too much trouble.  But we had great reporters back then where you could have a two-hour conversation on an issue before they would write a story and they would think about it and research it. 

We’re in an age of blogs and tweets and frankly reporters who don’t have the background or the time to develop a really substantive piece.  My Father was a brilliant communicator.  He was a brilliant intellectual.  But he also had that pragmatic side.  Part of it, I think, is a reaction to what they said about my Father … because they said that about my Father.  But also remember they said, unfairly – but so much of this business is unfair – but he didn’t accomplish enough, right?  The naysayers – the nasty ones – and I won’t mention any names …

William O’Shaughnessy:

The “dumb blonde argument” – he was so articulate …

Governor Cuomo:

Right … he gave a great speech, but he didn’t get anything done.  He was a great talker – that’s right.  He called it the “dumb blonde!”  You can’t say that anymore, by the way. But he did call it the “Dumb Blonde Syndrome.” 

William O’Shaughnessy:

Sir, let me ask you … as you go forward for governor or president or whatever is in your future Andrew Mark Cuomo … do you want to be loved or do you want to be respected?

Because as I hear you today on this rainy, drodsome day, you’re not really showing this inner, wonderful stuff to many people.  Do you want to be loved or respected?

Governor Cuomo:

I want to be loved by the people I respect!

William O’Shaughnessy:

I’m going to give you the final word, sir.  We’re very grateful to you.  You are your Father’s son.  Thank you ..

Governor Cuomo:

Thank you. Good to talk to you, my Brother Bill.

William O’Shaughnessy, a former president of the New York State Broadcasters Association, was chairman of Public Affairs for the National Association of Broadcasters in Washington.  He has been a point man and advocate for the broadcasters of America on First Amendment and Free Speech issues and is presently chairman of the Guardian Fund of the Broadcasters Foundation of America, the national charitable organization.  He is also a longtime director and member of the Executive Committee of the Foundation. He has operated WVOX and WVIP, two of the last independent stations in the New York area, for 56 years as president and editorial director.

He is the author of “AirWAVES” (1999) … “It All Comes Back to Me Now” (2001) … “More Riffs, Rants and Raves” (2004) … and “VOX POPULI: The O’Shaughnessy Files,” released in January, 2011. He has also written “Mario Cuomo:  Remembrances of a Remarkable Man,” a tribute to his late friend Governor Mario M. Cuomo which has just been published.  He is currently working on his fifth book RADIOactive for Fordham University Press, another anthology with interviews, commentaries, speeches and tributes.

 

Contact:

Cindy Gallagher
Whitney Media
914-235-3279
cindy@wvox.com

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Biaggi for State Senate

A WVOX Editorial of the Air
Broadcast September 5, 2018
By William O’Shaughnessy, President & Editorial Director


In a dreary and nasty political season, Alessandra Biaggi stands out as a refreshing and very welcome breath of fresh air.

The granddaughter of the late Mario Biaggi of sainted memory is running an enlightened, inspiring – and very effective – campaign for the Democratic nomination in the 34th State Senatorial District against the controversial Jeffrey Klein.

The odd-shaped 34th District includes a lot of the Bronx and a chunk of Westchester and we’ve thus known Jeff Klein for a long, long time. He used to come around almost every day early in his career until … until he cut a slick deal with the elders in Albany and led five or six disgruntled, rogue Democrats into a questionable scheme in which the IDC (the Independent Democratic Conference) made their infamous “power-sharing” deal with Senate Republicans, the sole purpose of which was to accrue personal power and influence for Mr. Klein.

However, with pressure at last from the Governor, this cozy and nefarious compact has now fallen apart as Senate Democrats rallied to the legitimate and authentic leadership of Westchester’s own Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins.

Now that Jeff Klein has lost his once powerful perch in the Leadership … good government types in the District are hoping Miss Biaggi can finally put an end to Jeff Klein’s self-serving and less than stellar career.

And so now our friends in Westchester and in the Bronx can render the final coup de gras by voting next Thursday, September 13th, for a gifted, dynamic, committed – and really quite wonderful – challenger Alessandra Biaggi.

In the New York area’s roiling political waters there have emerged several candidates waving the banner of so-called “Progressivism.” But Alessandra Biaggi, with her sensible, centrist approach to the great issues of the day, has steered clear of the way-out fringe loonies abroad in the land.

And while some candidates and challengers are entranced by national issues and Trump-bashing … Biaggi has appropriately kept a laser-like focus on State issues within the purview of the Senate to which she aspires.

To be clear: She’s bright, she’s creative and very dynamic.  But she ain’t “way out there.” Alessandra Biaggi will make a great New York State Senator.

WVOX and WVIP proudly endorse her candidacy.

 

William O’Shaughnessy, a former president of the New York State Broadcasters Association, was chairman of Public Affairs for the National Association of Broadcasters in Washington.  He has been a point man and advocate for the broadcasters of America on First Amendment and Free Speech issues and is presently chairman of the Guardian Fund of the Broadcasters Foundation of America, the national charitable organization.  He is also a longtime director and member of the Executive Committee of the Foundation. He has operated WVOX and WVIP, two of the last independent stations in the New York area, for 56 years as president and editorial director.

 

He is the author of “AirWAVES” (1999) … “It All Comes Back to Me Now” (2001) … “More Riffs, Rants and Raves” (2004) … and “VOX POPULI: The O’Shaughnessy Files,” released in January, 2011. He has also written “Mario Cuomo:  Remembrances of a Remarkable Man,” a tribute to his late friend Governor Mario M. Cuomo which has just been published.  He is currently working on his fifth book RADIOactive for Fordham University Press, another anthology.

 

contact:

Cindy Gallagher

914-235-3279

cindy@wvox.com

“A Death in the Family” re: Tim Russert

“A Death in the Family”

A Whitney Media Commentary

Broadcast on WVOX and WVIP

by William O’Shaughnessy

June 16, 2008

 

His father, immortalized in an endearing and best-selling book, collected garbage and trash from the hard, bleak streets of south Buffalo.  And if you came out of that dwindling city in western New York as I did, you will recognize Tim Russert as a child of the neighborhood.

If you’re listening to this in Yonkers (where true love conquers), the Bronx or even in Peekskill or Mamaroneck, you will also feel a kinship with the television journalist who collapsed and died in a studio in Washington Friday afternoon.  Timothy John Russert, Jr. was the best of what we are as broadcasters.  But he did not resemble anyone who ever lived in Scarsdale, Bronxville, Rye, Bedford or Litchfield. 

He was a reassuring, comforting presence you thought would always be there in our lives.  And my own tribe, our entire profession, took this hard.  Anyone who ever sat in front of a microphone or peered into a television camera feels an awful sadness which is deep and personal.  Russert’s passing, so unexpected and so sudden, was like a death in the family.

I knew him when he worked for Mario Cuomo.  But I am entitled, if not entirely qualified, to get on the radio to tell you about Tim Russert because we also went to the same Canisius High School on Delaware Avenue, the big, broad boulevard that runs through one of the remaining nice sections of Buffalo even to this day.

And although we were in the care and keeping of the German Jesuits some ten  years apart, Russert and I both got whacked upside the head by the same worn old leather prayer book belonging to the Reverend John Sturm, S.J., who took most seriously his title and high estate:  Prefect of Discipline.

Father John was built like a fireplug.  And although an equal opportunity disciplinarian, he made Timmy Russert his favorite charge almost from the minute he first encountered the personable Irish youngster from South Buffalo with the bright eyes and easy smile.  That was back in the 60’s and they have been friends ever since.  Canisius has turned out federal judges named Crotty and Arcara, political power brokers like Joe Crangle, big car dealers, stellar athletes including a few Holy Cross and Notre Dame quarterbacks, and doctors and lawyers of great renown.  The Jesuits spotted Russert’s beguiling potential early on.  Even then they knew.

He would go back to Buffalo over the years to see his father and during summers better than this one Tim Russert would sit at Cole’s bar in the Elmwood section to talk sports over a beer and a “beef on weck,” Buffalo’s legendary version of roast beef, a steamship round of which was personally carved by the bartender and then piled on a Kimmelweck roll covered with salt to be dipped in Heinz Ketchup.  The music in the air on those nights was provided by ancient tapes of Fred Klestine’s old radio programs from the 50’s and 60’s which survive to this day at Cole’s.

They would order another Simon Pure beer or a Carling’s ale and talk about the rich girls who went to “The Mount,” a boarding school, and about Johnny Barnes, the old Canisius High football coach and sometimes about Cornelius MacGillicudy, a favorite teacher who owned a bar in the Parkside section over near Delaware Park.

He never lost touch with the Jesuits.  And just a few weeks ago, Father Sturm, now in his 90’s, sent out invitations to a scholarship luncheon in his own honor with the obligatory picture of his protégé Tim Russert on the cover.

Before his dazzling work on television which made him famous, Tim labored in the service of the two brightest minds in public life during our time:  Daniel Patrick Moynihan and the estimable Mario M. Cuomo.

Someone said yesterday on television:  “He wasn’t exactly a pretty boy.”  With his cheeks and jowls, Russert was the complete antithesis of all the hyper, vacuous “talking heads” and all the bimbos –   male as well as female – who sit each day in those anchor chairs praying the teleprompter doesn’t fail lest they be forced to utter something more profound than “absolutely!”

Only Chris Matthews was his equal in terms of depth and intelligence.  And maybe Jon Meacham or Lawrence O’Donnell or Peggy Noonan.  George Stephanopoulos can hold his own in front of a camera (and in front of George Will).  And classy Deborah Norville has a brain.  While among the youngsters coming up – William “Billy” Bush and Chris Cuomo are bursting with intelligence and promise.  Ditto Bill Geist’s kid Willie.  And David Gregory and Tucker Carlson are easy to take.  Barbara Walters and Diane Sawyer are class acts in any season. 

We’ve always liked Bob Scheiffer and Judy Woodruff.  And how can you not like Mike Barnicle and Joe Scarborough (but not the girl with him, the one with the famous father, who talks over everybody).  And I hope Larry King, like Paul Harvey on the radio, goes on forever.  Plus I still take pleasure in our infrequent sightings of Rather and Brokaw.

Russert, however, operated on a level far beyond most of them.  And he didn’t need high tech production values or fancy overhead lighting in an ultra-modern studio to enhance and amplify his unique genius.  He was to network news what Mario Cuomo is to public discourse.  And as the great Cuomo himself reminded us, “Tim never forgot where he came from and he never let us forget it either … and we loved him for it.”

He would summer on Nantucket and go to parties at Sally Quinn’s in Washington.  But Russert never denied his roots in Buffalo.  There was a realness about him, a genuineness, on and off the air.

A few summers ago, Russert was the main speaker at an important conference of the New York State Broadcasters Association up at Bolton Landing on Lake George.  After his talk he was persuaded by our mutual friend Joe Reilly, the head of the broadcasters in the Empire State, to linger and give out the Association’s Awards for Excellence … even as an NBC plane waited on the tarmac at the nearby Glens Falls airport to rush him back to Washington.

There were many awards and citations in every category.  But Russert was his usual generous self and so he stayed late into the night as the awards presentations wore on.  And when it was announced that your own WVOX had won the designation for “Best Editorials in New York State” (which we clearly did not deserve), Russert arched his eyebrows and the Irish eyes twinkled as my son David and I advanced to the front of the ballroom to receive our award.

As we posed for the cameras and the flashbulbs popped, Tim asked, sotto voce, “How’s Mario? … how’s Nancy? … how are the kids? … how’s the station?”  And now as my mind drifts back on this weekend after he died, I wonder if I remembered to inquire about his own welfare?  I hope so, but I doubt it, given that heady moment in the spotlights.  But he remembered.

Russert then thoughtfully pulled away my son David for a shot with just the two of them … and said, again on the QT, while still smiling for the cameras, “How the hell did your old man win this damn thing … it must have been by shear guile!  Or did Cuomo write it for him?”  As the two of them cracked up with laughter, no one in the audience of more than 500 had a clue what they were chuckling about.

James O’Shea, who owns The West Street Grill, a high class saloon in Litchfield, Connecticut (he much prefers the designation “fine dining establishment”) called while I was thinking about all this.  According to O’Shea, “Russert possessed the genius of the Irish.  Just say he was Irish.  People will know what that means. He was Irish!”  As O’Shea provides libation and sustenance for the likes of Philip Roth, Rex Reed, Jim Hoge, Bill vandenHeuvel, Rose Styron, George Clooney, Peter Duchin and Brooke Hayward … I will bow to his wisdom.  Russert did indeed have the genius of the Irish.

Nancy and I would see him around town of an evening, when he would come up from Washington to do some business at the NBC Universal mother ship at Rockefeller Center or if one of us had to emcee a dinner.   And no matter how late the hour or how tired and rumpled he appeared, it was always the same:  “How are the kids? … how are the stations doing? … how’s the gov?”

NBC delayed the news of his passing and actually got scooped by the New York Post and the Times until someone from their shop was retrieved to go and inform his wife Maureen Orth, their son Luke and his beloved father Big Russ.  But who, I wonder had to knock on the door of the old priest in the Jesuit retirement house on Washington Street up in Buffalo to tell Father John Sturm, S.J. Timmy Russert was gone?

I always thought Russert would have made a wonderful politician himself or a great teacher.  Or even a priest.  And with his sudden, untimely departure at 58, he probably taught us one more lesson learned from the old Jesuits:  “You know not the hour … or the moment.”

The newsman-journalist known as Tim Russert has been mourned by millions and eulogized in all the journals and periodicals in the land.  But the most exquisite tribute, and probably the one he would have liked the most came from Michelle Spuck, a waitress at Bantam Pizza in the Litchfield hills, who told a customer over the weekend, “I’m so sad about this …  I never met him … but I knew him.”

He died in front of a microphone.

This is Bill O’Shaughnessy.

 

Contact:

Cindy Gallagher
914-235-3279
cindy@wvox.com

 

 

William O’Shaughnessy is president of Whitney Radio and editorial director of stations WVOX and WVIP, Westchester, N.Y.    He is a former chairman of Public Affairs for the National Association of Broadcasters and served as president of the New York State Broadcasters Association.  During his 18-year service at NAB, he specialized in free speech and First Amendment issues. 

He is a director and chairman of the Endowment Committee of the Broadcasters Foundation of America, based in Greenwich, Connecticut.

A self-styled “Rockefeller Republican,” he was active in the presidential campaign of President George H.W. Bush and served as chairman of Republicans for Mario Cuomo during each of the Governor’s three successful campaigns for governor of New York.

He is the author of “AirWAVES” (1999) and “It All Comes Back to Me Now” (2001), collections of his radio commentaries, essays and interviews, published by Fordham University Press.  “More Riffs, Rants and Raves” was released in April, 2004.  He also edited “Serving Their Communities,” a 230-page history of the New York State Broadcasters Association and has just started his fourth volume “AGAIN!  Run That By Me One More Time.”

Philip Roth – Out and About of an Evening

Philip Roth

Out and About of an Evening

by

William O’Shaughnessy

WVOX and WVIP

May 23, 2018

 

Philip Roth has died. He was 85, tall, trim, an attractive man who carried broad shoulders and a smoldering genius for the English language. And in his 85 years he wrote some 32 books that caused him to be accused by the New York Times of being “a giant of American letters” and “a pre-eminent figure in 20th century literature.”

I bought and collected a few of his books, but I never read one of them.  I much prefer non-fiction and, as Roth himself once confessed, he did too.

I “knew” him mostly through our mutual patronage and affection for the West Street Grill, the estimable country restaurant on the Village Green in tony Litchfield which has been lovingly operated for almost 30 years by two marvelous and dear souls Charlie Kafferman and James O’Shea.  Philip Roth got there long before I darkened the door of the eatery.  For years he was a member in-good-standing of “The Roundtable,” a weekly private luncheon and lemon squeeze featuring the writers William Styron, John Updike, Arthur Miller and the actor Richard Widmark.

In recent years Roth would dine at the Grill on Sunday nights with Mia Farrow, still a knockout at 73.  She would drive over from her Frog Hollow Farm in Bridgewater. And the great writer would journey down from his farmhouse in the woods of Warren, Ct. 

And on one of these agreeable nights the proprietor Charlie Kafferman, as I was about to sit at table 21, steered me over to the adjacent table #22.  My compadre Gregorio Alvarez and I were at table 21.

Here is a snippet of dialogue from that evening:

Kafferman: “Philip … Bill writes books too.”

O’Shaughnessy: “Charlie, don’t do this to me.  I am not worth to loose the strap of his sandal …”

Roth: “I know him, Charlie …we talk baseball.  You know Mia (Farrow).  We thought you were in Radio.  What kind of books do you write?”

O’Shaughnessy: “Anthologies … but my new one is about Mario Cuomo and our friendship … I admired him.”

Roth: “Well … so you do anthologies … about whom?  Who do you write about …?”

O’Shaughnessy: “Oh, New York characters … Toots Shor … Nelson Rockefeller … Sirio Maccioni … John Lindsay … Cardinal O’Connor … characters …”

Roth: “Oh, I see … you really write about all your friends!” (laughter)

Here’s another marvelous anecdote that comes out of our favorite restaurant in the Litchfield hills …

The great writer couldn’t count the number or frequency of the literary awards bestowed on him or the encomiums showered on the canon of his prolific works.  So one day Roth called his friend Charlie to beg a favor. “Charlie … I’m being given some big award up in Hartford by the governor and I just don’t feel like schlepping up there. Could you ‘represent’ me and accept on my behalf …?”  So Kafferman and his partner James O’Shea journeyed to Hartford to accept the award, a two-foot tall bronze with outstretched hands in a “winged victory” stance, from the Governor’s hands and lugged  it back to the Grill where it sits to this day.

But the story doesn’t end there. A few weeks later Roth was summoned to Washington to be honored as “America’s Greatest Living Novelist” by President Barack Obama.

When Mr. Roth came in for dinner the next week, his friends at the restaurant inquired how the Presidential Award ceremony went: “It went fine … but when I went up to receive the award … the president whispered, ‘Where’s Charlie’?” He was really disappointed!  (Roth swore it was a true story).

Someone once said he could have been a stand-up comic. When he wasn’t out and about of an evening making people laugh, Philip Milton Roth published almost 90 books including Hispanic and foreign editions of his American classics among which were Goodbye Columbus … American Pastoral … Portnoy’s Complaint … My Life as a Man.  And then in 2012 he closed down his computer and put a lid on his genius for all time to come

I was by this time no longer in possession of the mental vitality or the physical fitness needed to mount and sustain a large creative attack of any duration.”  He actually put a Post-it note on his computer: “The struggle with writing is done.”

He also said: “Old age isn’t a battle, old age is a massacre.” 

He inveighed against the “diminishments” which assault us as we confront old age. It’s a marvelous word often used by Mario Cuomo and Father Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, the brilliant Jesuit philosopher-paleontologist. 

And,

When I write, I’m alone.  It’s filled with fear and loneliness and anxiety and I never needed religion to save me.” 

He was a Jew, to be sure.  But he hated to be called a “Jewish writer.”  “I am an American writer, if nothing else …”  he once said.  And like Mario Cuomo, he was denounced by his own. Mr. Cuomo was criticized and censured by auxiliary bishops.  Roth was assailed by influential rabbis.

He was also a self-professed “atheist” who had a deep and abiding distrust of Organized Religion.  But despite his strong feelings on the subject, he was a nice man in every season with an altogether attractive persona who in his 85 years entertained millions and made them think … while causing some of us to laugh of an evening at his favorite watering hole.

He left us earlier this week with all those books I never read … his great good nature … and that marvelous sense of humor. 

I was not worthy to loose the strap of his sandal.

 

Charlie Kafferman & Philip Roth

 

William O’Shaughnessy, a former president of the New York State Broadcasters Association, was chairman of Public Affairs for the National Association of Broadcasters in Washington.  He has been a point man and advocate for the broadcasters of America on First Amendment and Free Speech issues and is presently chairman of the Guardian Fund of the Broadcasters Foundation of America, the national charitable organization.  He is also a longtime director and member of the Executive Committee of the Foundation. He has operated WVOX and WVIP, two of the last independent stations in the New York area, for 56 years as president and editorial director.

 

He is the author of “AirWAVES” (1999) … “It All Comes Back to Me Now” (2001) … “More Riffs, Rants and Raves” (2004) … and “VOX POPULI: The O’Shaughnessy Files,” released in January, 2011. He has also written “Mario Cuomo:  Remembrances of a Remarkable Man,” a tribute to his late friend Governor Mario M. Cuomo which has just been published.  He is currently working on his fifth book for Fordham University Press, another anthology.

 

 

 

Contact:
Cindy Gallagher
914-235-3279
cindy@wvox.com

 

WVOX Endorses Julie Killian

Julie Killian for State Senate
A WVOX Editorial of the Air
broadcast April 18, 2018
by William O’Shaughnessy, President & Editorial Director

Julie Killian vs. Shelley Mayer.  Someone on Facebook said this week that they’re both nice women.  Of that we have no doubt. But how then to explain the catfight between Julie Killian and Shelley Mayer? Granted the race to succeed the estimable George Latimer in the State Senate is a matter of considerable importance, not alone here in Westchester, but in New York State as well.  But it’s gotten downright nasty.

Here’s how we see it shaping up:  First, let’s take a look at the Democrat candidate Assemblywoman Shelley Mayer of Yonkers.  We tried hard to like her … but Shelley Mayer doesn’t have any of the grace notes of George Latimer who she seeks to replace in the State Senate.

During her brief, but undistinguished tenure in the Assembly, the Legislature’s lower house, Shelley Mayer has been almost invisible in our Sound Shore communities and in Southern Westchester in general, save her home base in Yonkers to which she clings.

In this current shouting match, she has predictably trotted out the old Democrat war horses for their obligatory blessing and imprimatur.  But her campaign is completely controlled by paid hired guns from Brooklyn, some of whom labored on behalf of such Democrat “all-stars” as the hapless David Paterson, who succeeded the “stunningly magnificent” Eliot Spitzer for another brief, chaotic interlude before Andrew Mark Cuomo restored some professionalism, intelligence and ability to the governance of our State. And we’re reminded that one of Shelley Mayer’s current handlers at one time also touted the charms of two other stellar candidates:  the disgraced state senator Malcolm Smith … and comptroller Alan Hevesi, another star in that troubled Democrat firmament in Albany.  As the distinguished Senator Smith currently resides in the Federal Penitentiary in Lewisburg, PA, he was temporarily unable to join the long list of Mayer boosters who are now speaking for her.

As you know, this seat in the State Senate, which is really your seat in the State Senate, was held for many years by “Senator Suzi” – Suzi Oppenheimer.  And no Republican, no matter how gifted or possessed of purse and resources, was able to break the Democratic Party’s grip on your Senate seat.  Over the years, the fading GOP here in the Golden Apple did field some pretty attractive and even extraordinary candidates like John Verni of Mamaroneck, an absolutely terrific fellow … and the well-intentioned (and well-heeled) Bob Cohen from Scarsdale who impressed a lot of people but could not overcome the Democratic majority in Westchester. The Republicans also put up a couple of rich guys from Rye who weren’t ready for prime time. 

Which brings us to Now.  And we’re tasked with finding someone to take the place of the graceful and articulate Mr. Latimer, our county executive, and in whom we are so well pleased. 

The choice you make could also affect the Balance of Power in Albany.

We’re for Julie Killian … who really proved her mettle during that debate staged last week by our Journal News friends at the College of New Rochelle.  The lady from Rye did very well indeed … while Shelley Mayer was scripted and predictable as she recited from the Democratic Playbook, never once straying from its ultra-liberal orthodoxy.  Clearly Ms. Mayer is one lady who paints by the numbers.

Mrs. Killian, on the other hand, showed herself to be eminently and refreshingly “Real” by bringing genuine conviction and passion to the discussion.

Listen to what this brave lady – the Republican candidate – had to say on the critical, fundamental Abortion issue.

I don’t support partial birth abortion and abortion up to the ninth month performed by non-doctors … or ‘infanticide’ abortion. It’s hard to even think of this … but if a baby is born live, they’re able to kill it.  There’s a reason that has not passed yet in our State government.  And I think it’s horrible … it’s horrible.  I do not support those things.  I am for access to quality healthcare for everybody.  But I am not for these things.  I don’t even want to talk about it because I find it reprehensible …”

Boom!    Good for you, Julie Killian!

Listen now to her Democrat opponent Shelley Mayer:

 

“Well, I’m not sure what Bill my opponent is talking about. The Reproductive Health Act takes the provisions guaranteed under Roe v. Wade.  Nothing more, nothing greater than the current constitutional protections that apply to abortion.  We don’t have an ‘Abortion Law.’  We have a Law, the Criminal Law.  And it moves the relevant provisions that ‘mirror’ Roe v. Wade (again Roe v. Wade!) into the Public Health Law. Just like any other health procedure, it is defined under the Public Health Law.”

Brilliant. Spoken like a lawyer! But never once did Assemblywoman Mayer add to her enthusiasm and embrace of Roe v. Wade, a cruel finding that elevated lethal violence against the most vulnerable of human bodies.  Its bi-product is vulgar, violent and, as a growing number of people are now beginning to realize, really akin to permission for Murder.  The Slaughter … of the Innocents.

It’s fine to wave the banner and wax enthusiastic about Roe v. Wade if you wish… but then, we think, you’ve got to pause, reflect, take a deep breath and say – straight out – just how horrible and absolutely terrible Abortion really is.

Julie Killian did that … bravely and powerfully and sincerely. We admire her guts and courage.

Why do we focus now on the awful and unsettling Abortion issue?  Only because that exchange during the recent debate, which was completely missed by our colleagues in the public press, captures … in the case of Julie Killian … how a candidate thinks and feels.  Or in the case of Shelley Mayer: how she recites … devoid of feeling.  Or compassion.

For over 50 years we’ve covered both sides of the Abortion question … letting countless individuals get on the Radio and have at you with their sad pro-Abortion views.  (But as I approach senility, I’m’ wondering if there exists any more important issue than Life itself). 

Life in every instance.

Julie Killian gets it …

Then there was the bombshell story last week in the Daily News by respected veteran Albany Bureau Chief Ken Lovett covering two full pages and revealing that while serving as counsel to the Senate Democrats Shelley Mayer did little beyond “passing on” harassment complaints from at least two female workers in the Legislature.  Even Mayer said, “I should have done more.”  We can’t resist the observation that Killian would have raised holy hell in that situation.

Shelley Mayer’s Brooklyn handlers are also laboring mightily to tarnish Killian with President Trump. (We think the President is a lot more popular than the polls suggest). But this race to succeed George Latimer is not for a seat in the House of Representatives. It’s all about Albany.  And our State government.  And it’s all about our own backyard.

Much has been written about the “Good Old Boys” culture in Albany, at the headwaters of the Hudson.  What we’re saying today, perhaps inartfully, awkwardly and imprecisely … is that we don’t think Westchester wants to send, with all due respect, a “Good Old Girl” who has been around the tainted and tarnished corridors of power back up to Albany yet again to accommodate those “good old boys” in the State Senate.

But we do want, we urgently suggest, a woman of independence, bravery and good common sense who thinks for herself.

It’s clear that Julie Killian is the enlightened choice for the Latimer seat. 

She’s fresh, fearless and altogether very “Real” and not at all afraid to say what she thinks and believes in her heart of hearts. 

The Republican candidate doesn’t need Talking Points crafted by political handlers in Brooklyn.  She’s got a real mind.  And we’d much prefer Mrs. Killian than someone slavishly devoted to that Democrat Playbook.

In this contentious race, the Republican thinks for herself … while the Democrat paints by the numbers.

We’re for Killian.

This is a Whitney Global Media Editorial of the Air.  This is William O’Shaughnessy.

 

 

William O’Shaughnessy, a former president of the New York State Broadcasters Association, was chairman of Public Affairs for the National Association of Broadcasters in Washington.  He has been a point man and advocate for the broadcasters of America on First Amendment and Free Speech issues and is presently chairman of the Guardian Fund of the Broadcasters Foundation of America, the national charitable organization.  He is also a longtime director and member of the Executive Committee of the Foundation. He has operated WVOX and WVIP, two of the last independent stations in the New York area, for 56 years as president and editorial director.

He is the author of “AirWAVES” (1999) … “It All Comes Back to Me Now” (2001) … “More Riffs, Rants and Raves” (2004) … and “VOX POPULI: The O’Shaughnessy Files,” released in January, 2011. He has also written “Mario Cuomo:  Remembrances of a Remarkable Man,” a tribute to his late friend Governor Mario M. Cuomo which has just been published.  He is currently working on his fifth book for Fordham University Press, another anthology.

 

Contact:

Cindy Gallagher
914-235-3279
cindy@wvox.com

Latimer for Westchester County Executive

Latimer for Westchester County Executive
A Whitney Global Media Editorial of the Air: WVOX & WVIP
by William O’Shaughnessy, President
broadcast November 2, 2017

 

Our colleagues at Gannett’s Journal News, Westchester’s important daily newspaper, have found in favor of George Latimer to be our next county executive. 

Their editorial endorsement is a well-constructed and exquisitely reasoned treatise on both candidates in the contentious and nasty county race. 

The paper argues that with all his mistakes and flaws – and they are considerable – Senator Latimer, the Democrat, is much to be preferred over the incumbent Rob Astorino, the Republican, who also has the endorsement of the Conservative Party.  As you know, if you’ve been reading the public press and listening to WVOX … the Astorino machine has hit George Latimer with everything but the proverbial kitchen sink.  Some of it justified. 

Our take, however, on Senator Latimer is that he is one of the hardest-working and most dedicated public servants we’ve encountered in over 50 years as your local station. Only Greenburgh’s peripatetic Paul Feiner can match Mr. Latimer for being everywhere apparent and constantly at the People’s Business, 24/7.

At the risk of being Biblical, Latimer reminds us often of Saint Paul in the Bible who, it is said, advised converts to the early Christian faith “What doth it matter if everyone else is fine … and you are not alright …?” Paul’s instruction was clearly a message to ancient Latimer-types who are driven to do good for all the other people, their neighbors … but often neglect themselves. Which brings us to the present day George Latimer. It is obvious he needs to spend some time tending to himself.  In other words, Senator George needs to, every once in a while, take some time out from doing the mitzvahs and kindnesses of his public life to tend to his own damn household (no pun intended). 

Much has been made of Latimer’s transportation problems.  It’s no excuse … but he doesn’t have drivers and bodyguards to convey him here and there as Astorino commands in abundance, (after vowing to cut back on “security” read “perks.”)

Gannett is right. Latimer is a rumpled, but hard-working and altogether dedicated fellow. 

Having been a former chairman of the County Board, and, in every telling and account, a very good one, he knows the levers and potential of County government.  And when we speak of superior county board chairmen … the great and estimable Herman Geist is in that class with Latimer and so too was Andy O’Rourke and New Rochelle’s brilliant Stephen Tenore. 

In this mean-spirited race, Mr. Latimer is also up against an ultra-conservative billionaire, and his daughter’s purse, who are reported to have put $1 million bucks on the line to re-elect Mr. Astorino and defeat the Democrat.

It’s no secret abroad in the land that Rob Astorino wants to be governor and his heart and soul is clearly in another run for Albany. 

We don’t always agree with the local Gannett elders.  But in this important race, we are in 100% agreement with The Journal News and their thoughtful editorial. George Latimer is much to be preferred as our next county executive.

Rob Astorino, in his best moments, is a nice, agreeable and affable fellow and we were proud to endorse him over our own New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson, the stunningly brilliant and precocious, but tone-deaf Mayor of New Rochelle who is ultra-fluent in the jargon and municipal-speak of government rules and regs, but you wouldn’t want to ask him for a favor for your brother-in-law or a neighbor who is hurting. You may recall, we “endorsed” Noam for the US Congress  in the last county exec’s race because that’s where Bramson has his sights set, still to this day. 

On the occasion of the last county executive contest, we opted for Astorino.  He has many good qualities.  And very much to his credit is his relationship with the Plunketts.  The estimable William Plunkett is an advisor as he is to many.  And his brother Kevin is Rob’s hard-working Deputy County Executive. He also found something for the highly regarded former Supreme Court Justice Daniel Angiolillo when the Cuomo Office cut him loose after a distinguished career on the Appellate bench. He’s also been loyal, many think to a fault, to his former colleagues at the dearly departed White Plains radio station before it gave up the ghost and mantle of a community station.

He also enjoys, as we do, the friendship of Timothy Cardinal Dolan, the Cardinal Archbishop of New York.  But, make no mistake, Senator Latimer is the better choice in this race.

Nobody quite knows where Astorino is on Playland, Westchester Parks or the County Airport.

It really is a question of priorities, instincts and inclination.  While Rob Astorino spends a lot of time “auditioning” for New York City radio stations, here every morning without fail for the past 30-something years, has been the voice of George Latimer calling attention to community meetings and local events.  It tells you something.

Incidentally, we’ve also learned just this week that Mr. Astorino’s campaign quietly slipped over $21-thousand dollars to WOR for “advertising” which means that somebody at least knows the meaning of the Latin phrase “Quid Pro Quo.”

During the 50-plus years of our stewardship, WVOX has usually found our way to the side of gifted and able local Republican candidates: the incomparable Nelson Rockefeller, Malcolm Wilson, Andy O’Rourke, Edwin Gilbert Michaelian, Anthony J. Colavita, Alvin Richard Ruskin, et al … while saving our enthusiasm on the State and National scene for Jack and Robert Kennedy, Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Mario Matthew Cuomo of sainted memory and his dynamic son and heir Andrew Mark Cuomo, the “Energizer Governor.”

We’ve clearly favored Republicans on the local scene close to home. But in this critical county election of 2017, we confidently endorse the Democrat:  Senator George Latimer for County Executive. 

We believe he’ll make a great one with his accessibility, stamina, willingness to listen to ordinary people and a very good and generous heart. 

Plus, when it comes to government and governance: he’s damn smart. 

We suggest he begin to apply those smarts to his personal life and the minutiae of everyday living that we all have to deal with. 

This is an Editorial of the Air.  This is Bill O’Shaughnessy.

 

Contact:

Cindy Gallagher
cindy@wvox.com

Saloon Songs (EXCERPTS)

Saloon Songs (EXCERPTS)

From Toots Shor to Sirio Maccioni

(Originally Published in 1999 in

AirWAVES,’ Fordham University Press)

I have always found great wisdom in saloons. As a young man I first knew the beguiling haze of an evening in Bernard “Toots” Shor’s glorious establishment on 52nd Street in Manhattan. Toots had his “kids” back then. Frank Gifford and Kyle Rote were his favorites. But he also had a soft spot for an Irish radio time salesman from Westchester.

At the Toots Shor bar one could learn many valuable lessons about times you never lived. The drinks were strong and the talk was of DiMaggio, Hemingway, Mark Hellinger, Runyon, Bill Corum, Eddie Arcaro and Grantland Rice.

The conversation was vivid and dazzling. And on a good night you would encounter Howard Cosell, William Pierce Rogers, who had a day job as a secretary of state, Bob Considine, James A. Farley and his tall, attractive son Jim, Paul Screvane, Jimmy Breslin, Jock Whitney, Walter Thayer, Hugh Carey, Howard Samuels, James Brady, John Lindsay, Sonny Werblin, Jack Whittaker, Jack O’Brien, Jackie Gleason, Edward Bennett Williams and Ford Frick, who would stop in on his way home to Bronxville. Also the great Hearst sportswriter Jimmy Cannon. I idolized him. And everyone who ever had to approach a typewriter for a living has tried to copy him. One night Omar Bradley, a general of the armies, walked in with a circular cluster of five stars on the epaulets of his dress blues.

You would see the legendary John “Shipwreck” Kelly eating apple pie on a barstool while Toots ate kosher pickles washed down with diet coke. On one such occasion, Toots paid Ship Kelly an extravagant compliment by identifying the two toughest guys he ever met … the ones you want next to you if you’re “trapped in an alley!” Shipwreck Kelly “with his bare fists” … or Sinatra “with a broken beer bottle in his right hand.”

Other barroom philosophers included classy Bruce Snyder, an enduring and endearing presence at the invincible “21” Club. Bruce is keeper of the flame for “21” and guards the heritage and tradition of this grand old Lorelei of a saloon with a fierce devotion. He understands about generations and in-laws and always has a marvelous story to divert you when you are hurting or just plain exhausted.

And surely there are no more endearing souls than one encounters at Mario’s of Arthur Avenue in the Little Italy-Belmont section of the Bronx. No matter how fast your world is spinning out of control … the Migliuccis – Mama Rose and her son Joseph – will restore your balance and equilibrium. The ingredient dispensed along with their drinks and Neapolitan food is called Love. Here you will see Lee Iacocca, Mario Biaggi, Bill Fugazy, some Yankees and, maybe, Steinbrenner. Also a lot of Fordham professors and their students … plus a group of Westchester high rollers in Jaguars, BMW’s and Range Rovers.

Maestro Sirio

But the greatest of all barroom poets is Sirio Maccioni. Now when I recently encountered Billy Cunningham, the Times’ brilliant lensman, on his favorite corner, 57th and Fifth, the great society photographer who is Manhattan’s pre-eminent chronicler of the rich, the famous and stylish, advised me against comparing Toots Shor and Sirio Maccioni or even putting them in the same breath. Cunningham is a beloved icon of New York … and it may be a far stretch … but I still believe a saloon is a saloon, no matter the trappings or neighborhood. Thus Sirio.

Sitting on a barstool with Maestro Sirio at the Le Cirque restaurant is a thrilling adventure. Maccioni is a wise man, provocative, charming and absolutely accurate in his marvelous commentary about life and people. Here then are some late-night pronouncements from the Magnificent Maccioni … who is America’s greatest restaurateur. And barkeep. They were flung out into an empty dining room … late at night … when all the swells had gone home. Here then, retrieved from my notebook, are mementos of delightful evenings spent with the greatest of all contemporary saloonkeepers …

 

The Gospel According to Sirio

“I think there should be a moment in life when you do what you want to do.”

“You should show that you respect people … but also show you can do without them.”

“I resent stupidity. One must have rules. I have rules. One must always be ‘correct’.”

“90% of the people are nice … too nice. If I would follow my instinct, I would be sued … I would open a restaurant for only attractive people … make that nice people.”

“Donald Trump is a very nice person. I call him and within one minute he calls me back. I don’t care about his problems with other people …”

“When you ask someone to build you a $3 million-dollar kitchen … they ask are you sure you need it. I never did all this to prove I am better than the other people in my business. We did it because it was something we had to do. We are working people. Physical work. Mental work. And not to be intrusive. That is what we are about.”

“If something happens to me … just say: ‘Sirio has said it all.’ One life is not enough to prove yourself.”

“I like women who are fun … who don’t try to save the world … and men who are ‘correct’.”

“There is an Italian saying: If you wake up in the morning and have no pain … you’re dead!”

“When anybody can criticize a king or a president … then they are not a king. Or a president.”

“In my short life, I have seen a fellow open a bottle of Dom Perignon when they killed Kennedy. Stupidity … just stupid.”

“They say I put pressure on my sons to achieve. But I would never force anybody to be great in life.”

“They ask me if I’m religious. Of course I am. But I hate people who only pray when they need something.”

“When I was maitre’d at the Colony … people didn’t understand why I gave Warren Avis and Yanna the best table. They’re attractive.”

“My wife Egidiana tells me when she came here she didn’t know anybody. The only thing that mattered is she wanted to be with me.”

“When I hear today that only 12 civilians were killed in the bombing in Iraq I got sick. I remember the bombs falling on us in my town. I have been under the bombs. My father, a civilian, died on his bicycle under the bombs. My grandfather saw it. He said let’s go to church. He had unlimited respect for authority and uniforms. When he saw a uniform of any kind, he would bend. 27% had the courage to say we should not bomb. The Moroccans and the English ‘liberated’ us. They only raped 1500. The Germans no one. They might shoot you!”

“My wife always says: If everybody takes care of their own little spot … everything would be O.K.”

“I’m always scared. But for me to be scared is a point of strength. I don’t believe in luck. If someone shoots you … you’re unlucky.”

“I tell my sons: Concentrate on the people. Don’t spend time talking to the coat check girl or the bartender. Don’t look outside on a day like this to see if it’s raining or snowing. I tell them to look inside. The time you spend talking to the coat check girl is wasted forever.”

“I’m reading a book Europa Vivente.” It means Europe is still alive. A Florentine wrote it … a Florentine with a German father. He is trying to show the stupidity of Democracy. The only problem with Mussolini is he was trying to please everybody. The greatness of Italy was in the Medici, the Borgias. They were assassins! But they alone created and encouraged Art. But they were against the Italians. You put two Italians together and they can destroy anything!”

“The Italians always seem to need a tyrant to become great.”

“The other night I was with the Cardinal at the Knights of Malta dinner. I did not wear my sword and certainly not the cape because I look like Dracula. I was the only one at my table who was not Irish. They sang Danny Boy. I said you are discriminating at this table. What about O, Solo Mio? I hate that song! I didn’t tell them that the first gift to me in America was given by Morton Downey. It was a record of Danny Boy.

“My sons lecture to me. You are in America, they say. You have to adjust. What is going to be with the next generation? There is no class, no style.”

“Clinton is not the exception. There are so many stupid men.”

“I am going to be one of the three voting judges of the Miss Universe Contest in Martinique the first week of May. Donald Trump asked me to take his place because he is so busy. He is also so smart. The first thing he did was ask my wife. She said it was very nice. It would be good for Sirio. And then she went off to Atlantic City with her Uncle Renato for the day and came home after midnight and woke me up to show me the 300 quarters she won!”

“I blame the basketball season on the players. My wife agrees. She went after Patrick Ewing at the restaurant. He is very nice, but she told him he was wrong and she will never to go another game. And she never will.”

“New York has been very good to us … the press … Donald Trump … Mayor Giuliani … everybody. I never did all this to say I’m better than the others. It’s something we had to do. We’re working people. There is no such thing to be an artist. We work … the thing happens. It is about having an understanding of what people want when they come to your restaurant.”

“When we fed the Pope there were 16 cardinals at the table. It was on 72nd Street at the Papal Nuncio’s house. The Pope is a good eater. He likes fish, he likes rice, he likes pasta. Archbishop Martino, a great, intelligent man, is the Pope’s ambassador and so he can only be intelligent, was the host. We

went, we cooked … with security from the United States, from Italy, from the Vatican. He is a good eater, the Holy Father. He ate risotto with porcini and he ate fish. My pastry chef Jacques Torres made a replica of the Vatican’s Saint Peter’s Basilica. The Pope asked me if it was true we had a three month wait list for a reservation. I said, ‘Holy Father … why don’t you come tonight.’ The Pope laughed and said tonight he was not going to have such a good dinner. Since the Holy Father was talking about ‘reservations,’ I asked Archbishop Martino what about a ‘reservation’ up in Heaven. So the Archbishop asked the Holy Father … don’t you think it would be very nice to have a great restaurant in Heaven? And the Holy Father looked at me and Cardinal O’Connor and said: ‘Are we sure … are we sure we go up there?’ The Pope is amazing. He spoke to me in Italian, to my son in English, to the pastry chef in French and to my executive chef Sottha Kuhnn in Thai. Then the Holy Father asked me if I was a good Christian … or just another Italian who only gets religious when he gets sick? You know in Italy we think because we have the Pope … and it’s a local call, we sometimes get a little casual and complacent.”

“The philosophy of a restaurant is to make a place pleasant. Sometimes it is the people who create the problems. I think people should look correct. I’m not talking black tie. But in the middle of summer these people go out in a t-shirt that looks like they have come out of a shower … and then it is not right that they come to Le Cirque and want to sit next to a lady. New Yorkers are elegant people. We should teach the rest of the people. We should teach the world.”

“I don’t know why I have been chosen as one of the 30 most important men in New York. It is ridiculous. I just sell soup. I’m glad I’m well known in my country because everybody has to be what he is. You never talk bad about your country, your mother, your brother, your family. Here, I’m a guest. But in Italy I can have my say. Most of the political group there is a disgrace. A Communist could be good, but it’s bad when applied in the wrong way. Communism was bad in Eastern Europe, so why try it in Italy? Thank God the Italians are not with anybody. They’re against everybody!”

“They say I feed their egos as well as their stomach. But why do you buy a Versace suit instead of one that costs 60% less? It’s a question of ego. Why do you go to your hairdresser who knows you? It’s ego. It’s also quality of life.”

“Everybody should be equal when we start, when we are born. But then I don’t believe in egalitarian any more. Everybody should start and go up. I tell my three sons if one gets up at eight and one at 10 and one at 12 … the first one up should do better. It’s a simple philosophy.”

“People can’t eat caviar and foie gras all the time. Sometimes they need hamburger … vulgar food … the things we grew up with … pig feet, tripe, boiled beef, lamb chop cooked with potato – lamb stew – roast chicken. And especially me … I’m not easy to please in a restaurant. But I will go when they have those dishes. We invented pasta primavera. In 1975. We were invited by the Canadian government to try new recipes for pigeon, lobster and wild boar. But after three days, all this got boring. So it came my turn to cook. And I took everything I could find in the kitchen … all the vegetables … and we created pasta primavera.”

“I notice that man is looking at your wife … but don’t worry. He has had a lot of wine. But he is a gentleman and he is always correct. He has manners. But he can’t help himself from looking.”

“You’re a man and automatically you’re stupid. As a young boy in Italy I was crazy. I have always been stupid.”

Q: But your greatness, a part of it, is that you’re Italian.

A: Yes, but I’m alone!

More “Saloon Songs …”

(An Update)

2017

ALEX & JULIAN

JULIAN NICCOLINI and his courtly, taciturn partner ALEX VON BIDDER have relinquished the iconic and timeless space which once housed the FOUR SEASONS restaurant in the Seagram Building. And all New York now hopefully awaits the Four Seasons’ new incarnation a few blocks south at 280 Park Avenue.

And speaking of “legends” in the culinary firmament: admirers and aficionados of the stately “21” rejoice in its recent rebirth and renewal. The ageless “Numbers” has been restored to its former glory by general manager TEDDY SURIC and all is once again quite right with the world at “21” … thanks to Suric, a brilliant young restaurateur who brings his own great respect for the traditions of the hallowed New York landmark to our beloved “21.”

PRIMOLA, a very agreeable place on the East Side, is presided over by GIULIANO ZULIANI, whose spectacular food and warm personality attracts A-listers night after night.

THE OUTER BOROUGH

I should also acknowledge that I’ve discovered quite late in life, a marvelous place in what locals call the “outer” borough of Queens. We’ve had a lot of really wonderful evenings in the care and keeping of TONY FEDERICI at PARKSIDE in Corona. Its interior and customers are right out of the mind of Scorsese or Mario Puzo. And Tony’s charisma and magic is always applauded and appreciated by a room full of good fellows, attractive ladies and assorted “Goodfellas.” You gotta love it … if ya know what I mean. It’s a favorite of GIANNI RUSSO, MATTHEW MARI, ABRAMO DeSPIRITO and RALPH CAMPAGNONE. Also yours truly.

CIPRIANI

HARRY CIPRIANI, in the stately old Sherry Netherland at Fifth and 59th, traces its lineage right back to ARRIGO CIPRIANI’s original HARRY’s BAR on the Venice waterfront near San Marco Square. The New York version is a magnet for society dames and an upscale Euro crowd. I go for late lunches or an occasional nightcap after black tie charity dinners. No matter the hour, maitre’d SERGIO VACCA, who moves around the dining room like a Nijinsky or a Nureyev, makes sure all is right with your world as he escorts you to the care and keeping of star waiter Fernando or primo barman LUCA. And occasionally you’re also greeted by Maestro Arrigo’s attractive grandsons MAGGIO and IGNAZIO. Cipriani is great fun at any hour and in any season.

At CIRCO, Le CIRQUE’s West Side sibling, you’ll be greeted and dazzled by BRUNO DUSSIN, the diminutive and graceful long-time compadre of the MACCIONI family. The Tuscan food and European service is as good as the Sicilian wines on offer. And the pasta primavera is even better than at the Mother Ship, but don’t tell SIRIO.

Le CIRQUE (today)

When you’re putting together an evening for a client or a “friend” and it’s just gotta be right, I still head for the mighty Le CIRQUE in the courtyard of the Bloomberg building off 58th Street between Lex and Third. The incomparable and ageless MARIO WAINER “Your Excellency … welcome back!” (Is he talking to me …? Yes, and what’s not to like!) still runs the dining room for SIRIO and his attractive sons MAURO and MARCO. And the legendary chef TOM VALENTI now presides in the kitchen as well. PRESIDENT TRUMP and billionaire RON PERELMAN are regulars. And so is ANDREA BOCELLLI and his wife VERONICA BERTI, friends of Sirio’s.