Takes-a-Village Outlook Marks Citizens of NYC


By Masha Leon

Published May 07, 2004, issue of May 07, 2004.
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“Tonight is all about our love for New York City,” Mike Wallace said as he raised the curtain April 14 on the Citizens for NYC’s awards dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria. The event, dubbed “New Yorkers for New York,” honored Kati Marton, Nane Annan, Walter Cronkite and Kevin Roberts. The benefit raised $700,000 for the organization’s projects that mobilize New Yorkers to improve the environment and safety of their neighborhoods.

The 450 black-tie guests included David Dinkins, Roy Goodman, Schuyler Chapin and Kitty Carlisle Hart. The presenters were Raymond Kelly, commissioner of the NYPD; media mogul Mortimer Zuckerman, and veteran diplomat Richard Holbrooke, who told the crowd, “I’m known as ‘Mr. Kati Marton.’”

Marton — author of five books including “Wallenberg” and the recent best-seller “Hidden Power: Presidential Marriages That Shaped Our History” (a great read!) — described coming to America “as a refugee in 1957 with only six words of English.” Housed with her parents and sister “in a seedy hotel,” she recalled: “We ordered four steaks…. We knew we were not in Budapest when we got four sides of beef! We put the steaks on the window sill and lived off it for a week…. Now I can’t imagine living anywhere else [but New York]… home to other refugees like me.”

After volubly touting her husband [secretary-general of the United Nations] Kofi Annan’s “commitment to peace and development,” Nane Annan (a niece of Raoul Wallenberg) quoted one of his favorite African proverbs: “The world is not ours to keep. We hold it in trust for future generations.” In his inimitable style, Cronkite, former CBS Evening News anchor, informed: “We Americans have a way of rising to the challenge.… We have to bring an end to the envy of the rest of the world… to bring them out of their abject poverty.”

Referring to his Missouri roots, Cronkite confided: “My professional birth came in New York. Any person who has any sense would be born in New York.” After his tongue-in-cheek comment, he claimed to have “burned my tongue on the chicken pot pie” — the staple entree at the organization’s dinners and a favorite — since 1975 — of its founding chairman, Osborn Elliott.

“I lead a global ideas company,” said Kevin Roberts, New York-based CEO Worldwide of Saatchi & Saatchi. Roberts stated: “I have never met a global consumer…. Everything happens in the neighborhood… I grew up in the industrial northwest of England with no money, few options, surrounded by economic and social decay.… For many people in the world for whom this is their story, New York is their symbol of freedom.… I believe that business is the engine room of human progress. I believe that the role of business it to make the world a better place for everyone… by creating self-esteem, opportunity and choice.”

* * *

Rep. Gary Ackerman (11-term New York congressman, the senior member on the Committee on International Relations and the ranking Democrat on the Sub-Committee on the Middle East and Central Asia) addressed the April 26 meeting of the Greater Flushing Section of National Council of Jewish Women.

Ackerman noted that on each of his 21 trips to Israel over the years, each prime minister said to him, “You’ve come at a very interesting time.”

Following a comprehensive overview of modern Jewish history through the creation of the State of Israel, the New York Democrat praised president Harry Truman, who, “to his credit, recognized the existence of Israel.”

Fast-forwarding to Yasser Arafat turning down “P.M. Barak’s offer of 97% of everything the Palestinians had on the table,” Ackerman expressed dismay at the morphing of the latest intifada into its suicidal spiral. “How does a mother send her children to be blown up and then says, ‘I’d give my other child as well!’” Arafat’s legacy, noted Ackerman, was “kids out of control…. Grownups who don’t exercise control…. In schools, pictures of role models who blew themselves up…. Textbooks… urging ‘Kill the Jews.’ The Palestinians have written off an entire generation.… They have built nothing with the millions [given to] the Palestinian Authority,” said Ackerman. “Rather than blame their leadership, they blame the Jews.” He recalled a meeting with Arafat: “He told me, ‘Israel elected [Ariel] Sharon against peace.’ I told him, ‘Intifada elected Sharon. You elected him!”

* * *

A gentle and sympathetic Jewish character, Mr. Marks (Corey Stoll), illuminates the Roundabout Theatre Company’s production of Lynn Nottage’s literate and poignant play, “Intimate Apparel,” at the Laura Pels Theatre. Set in 1905, it stars Viola David in a soaring performance as an African-American seamstress who has the gift to create luxurious lingerie for both Park Avenue socialites and Tenderloin area prostitutes. In a Cyrano-esque exchange of letters, she is romanced by a Caribbean laborer who falls short of the sweet words that enchanted her out of her spinsterhood. It is only with Mr. Marks, an Orthodox Jew, who like Viola, appreciates the sensuality and beauty of fabrics, that Viola comes out of her shell. The play opens and closes with Viola pedaling the treadle of a Singer sewing machine — her ticket to independence and self esteem. Get a ticket now! Hurry! “Apparel” closes June 6.

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