Off one island and onto another

New York Newsday
Augustus 30, 2004

"Prince Andrew, a Martha's Vineyard visitor, tried to grasp the island's magic and that its many wealthy and sometimes famous residents and visitors live simply and unpretentiously, unlike residents of other summer resorts. After much discussion, he brightened: 'Ah,' he said, 'like Scotland!' " (This from Nancy Ellison's impressive photo book, "Vineyard Days, Vineyard Nights.")

I JUST SPENT SOME TIME on this little island off the Massachusetts coast. Now I've returned to the real world of a Manhattan, half deserted by inhabitants who feared the coming GOP convention and the terrorist possibilities forever outlined for us by a desperate media. So I am truly in shock.

The chaos of the convention is yet to come, but let's pray it won't happen. We do welcome our Republican friends but wonder if they'll be getting a true picture of this city? The streets seem relatively deserted, you can hail a taxi and get into restaurants, the theaters are begging for business with open aisles, and almost everybody is long gone until after Labor Day.

But I did go to last week's Four Seasons party given for New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd's new book. She has written "Bushworld: Enter at Your Own Risk," but the biggest risk to this redheaded charmer was in being ruthlessly questioned by my peer Cindy Adams at the bar. While most of us concentrated on the Pulitzer Prize-winning Maureen's ongoing talent, Cindy was intent on her cleavage, intimating that Maureen was dressed provocatively. (I thought she looked just great, as usual.)

A clutch of Times types attended - even the now seldom seen Punch Sulzberger the Elder, the editorial page's gifted Gail Collins, dynamic managing editor Jill Abramson, and my longtime friends, Barbara and Arthur Gelb. (If you have never read Mr. Gelb's book "City Room," try to do so. It's a top tale of newspapering.) Although everybody said Maureen would be late for her own funeral, she showed up only moments behind. As you may know, a New York Observer reporter was there asking us each to name one good thing about George W. Bush? (I said he liked the right kind of tacky Texas food.)

I glimpsed David and Helen Gurley Brown, who showed me the Aquarian zodiac money clip I had given her a zillion years ago. She said she lived in fear of losing it. "That'll be the day," quipped David. "It's holding your cash. You'll never lose it!" (Ms. Brown is famous for her parsimonious ways.) I had a long chat with one of my favorites, New York's former Gov. Mario Cuomo, who left me to talk with Ms. Collins about the possibility of restructuring the state constitution.

THINKING BACK on the Vineyard, I was struck by how the island seems to have seceded from the red states of the union. It was the most Democratic place I've ever been. Stores have signs in windows reading "WELCOME BILL. WE MISS YOU!" And, indeed, Bill Clinton and his wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, were everywhere, flying in and out of the tiny airport, showing up at parties, signing books in the Bunch of Grapes, fielding rumors. ("They're buying a house this year! They're not buying a house - why would they when they can visit the Mary Steenburgen/Ted Danson property!")

There were Democrats everywhere - Maureen White and her financier hubby, Steve Rattner; veteran liberals Vernon and Ann Jordan; the Baron Evelyn de Rothschild's all-American wife, Lady Lynn; the Jack Valentis; Democratic kingmaker Mandy Grunwald and her now famous Time magazine mister, Matt Cooper, who is under the gun for refusing to reveal his Washington sources. Also seen: former Clinton aide Lisa Caputo, now of Citibank, and hubby Rick Morris, wearing an "Anyone but Bush" button. At a party given to celebrate the Baron's and Vernon Jordan's joint birthdays, I spoke with Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg and Maurice Tempelsman of Jackie fame, as well as both Clintons. The former president made a gracious, brief speech in which he said that since he first came to the Vineyard, he'd been accused of "hanging out with the swells." He added it was true, he loved Vineyard people, and they had all been simply "swell" to him. He got a big hand.

At another dinner honoring former Texas Gov. Ann Richards, the bumper sticker mounted on the fireplace read "Visualize one term." Here, I was nominated for president with the fabled Mr. Jordan for vice-president. We even had campaign buttons. The handsome Vernon expressed outrage at being demoted to "vice." After Matt Cooper entertained with his impressions of Bill Clinton, Arianna Stassinopoulos and Mort Zuckerman, a table of 90 percent Bush-bashers fell silent as the great Carly Simon rose at the end and began to sing "The Star-Spangled Banner." Everyone joined, hands over hearts. It was a touching moment. When this subsided, Henry Grunwald, former ambassador to Austria under Ronald Reagan, commented to no one in particular, "When the F.B.I. plays back the taping of this dinner, they won't believe it!"