I don’t think I’m a good assignment editor when it comes to selecting topics for this column, and I’ll tell you why. Sometimes I’m O.K. when the stream is flowing and I can just step into it. But sometimes I can’t, like now.
For February, I picked Andy Warhol when I suddenly realized that February marks the 25th anniversary of his death, and I have some personal observations from working with him that I thought you’d find of interest.
Then that 20-foot-tall construction fence the color of male orderly blues went up around the Coleman Building at St. Vincent’s, and that pumped the air right out of my sails. (“Mame”!) Reality has finally hit me and I’m speechless: “Rudin’s going to start demolition!”
Meanwhile, Giants hero Eli Manning heads to the Super Bowl more than half a million bucks richer in pocket because of a bizarre “spokesperson” agreement with St. Vincent’s that ended only at the doors to Bankruptcy Court. (Google “Eli Manning” and “St. Vincent’s Hospital.”)
Why pick Manning as a spokesperson? Was he a patient? A relative of a patient? A neighbor? Marlo Thomas? Or just some big NY sports star that the hospital “heavyweights” wanted to pal around with?
The clown parade of overpriced hospital “consultants” hired by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn—that’s right, the Village’s “own” St. Vincent’s had absentee management all this time—they must have loved Manning, considering that the gangly quarterback had few commitments to fulfill as “spokesperson” other than some photo ops, a couple benefit dinners and appearing at the opening of a new birthing center at St. Vincent’s in 2009 named after him and his wife, Abby.
Now, help me out here, George. Usually, when an institution names a part of itself, like a chair, a wall or a wing after a human being—either living or dead—isn’t it usually in return for a considerable donation made by that person, or the executors of that person’s estate, to the institution in question? So how odd was it to name the birthing center for somebody who not only did not contribute money to the hospital, but, instead, took half a million dollars from it over a handful of years in return for what? That just shows how mismanaged this whole affair has been. But Eli’s deal was simply the tip of this deadly iceberg.
The hospital first had to flush away its 200 million dollars in liquid assets before it could start digging its billion-dollar debt hole. (Doesn’t this story sound familiar?) The Good Fathers may have needed that same Bankruptcy Court to start the process to replenish the coffers that had been somewhat depleted by legal fees and financial settlements to former choir boys whose lives have been permanently dysfutured (sic) by the trauma of childhood sexual abuse.
And the Church was doing it by getting out of the hospital business and selling its rich real estate in a fire sale to a prominent family with grand social aspirations from the Upper East Side. (They don’t really come more clueless, do they? “The Belles of St. Mary’s”!)
Remember the good Mormon Doctor Richard F. Daines, the former NY State Commissioner of Health who didn’t stop the Fathers from closing St. Vincent’s, nor did he make them observe due diligence while violating Federal rules governing expenditures in the operation of a not-for-profit charity which, as it turns out, St. Vincent’s was?
Another Elliot Spitzer appointee (remember Fred Armisen? I mean Governor Patterson?), Daines came to the State from his position as an executive with Continuum Health Partners, a consortium formed in 1997 that now manages St. Lukes, Roosevelt, New York Eye & Ear and Beth Israel, which sits just two blocks above the East Village and is the most obvious beneficiary of St. Vincent’s closing.
In the City, the doctor lived on hospital(s)-adjacent Park Avenue with his Goldman Sachs executive wife, but in February of 2011, Daines and family were at their Duchess County home when Daines, aged 60, suffered a fatal heart attack, out in the barn, alone, disassembling Christmas decorations to put away for another year.
When I heard this, of course I was struck by the sad irony. With St. Vincent’s gone, West Villagers are also going to die of heart attacks by living too far away from any hospital that can promptly be reached by an ambulance stuck in 14th Street traffic, when merely minutes can mean unrecovery and death.
And we must not forget to mention the name of the man with the famous New York legacy who chaired the St. Vincent’s board during all of this: Al Smith, the Fourth. Of Wall Street.
“Survivors of the Titanic who required medical attention received it at St. Vincent’s.” (So, Al, when did you abandon ship?)
Another thing that has trouble seeping in is the brazen and arrogant stand that all of our elected officials have taken on this matter: 100 percent of the “1%” sides with Rudin, in spite of the glaring examples of misappropriation of not-for-profit funds as demonstrated by the Good Fathers and their laughably over-paid secular executive hires, whose judgments proved so questionable as to possibly be actionable in a criminal court of law, a path that attorney Yetta Kurland tried to take, but the courts simply handed her her hat and then showed her the door.
Then the politicians began to get in line. To a man (and Christine Quinn), they all supported the Rudin Management Company’s plans.
The “company line” was formalized by SKDKnickerbocker, a national strategic communications firm started by former liberal operative Josh Isay, who sells advice to New York power brokers and who numbers among his clients the Rudins, Mayor Bloomberg, former Mayor Koch, Christine Quinn, Bruce Ratner, Scott Stringer and Governor Cuomo. They all have decided that we neither need nor can support a hospital, so the Tibetization (sic) of the West Village continues.
God forbid that there should be another catastrophe on the Lower West Side, which will soon be growing denser now that the heirs of the creepy Bill Gottlieb, owners of over 100 long-held parcels of historic Village properties, seem to be getting close to actually selling some.
Believe me, the one-, two- and three-story structures that Gottlieb owned will not remain as such, and our neighborhoods will be altered beyond recognition as the “West Village” becomes a destination-name less descriptive of where we live and more an historical oddity that will require explanations in future walking tours to visitors who have difficulty reconciling towering structures with words like “village” and “artists.” But I’m glad I have lived to see it when us artists did ply these paths.
And how was our community’s response to all this? Truthfully? Flaccid, unimaginative and amateurish. Our self-appointed (and seemingly self-serving) leaders lacked know-how, deep legal expertise and organizational skills. Rallies were timid affairs confined to the St. Vincent’s sidewalk behind police barricades and well away from the traffic that should have been disrupted. Some neighbors carried homemade, basically illegible signs; there were few cameras, no event lighting and really poor—if any—public sound system.
In fact, I was wondering whether some of the ineptly conceived protests were not actually being secretly paid for by Rudin to demonstrate to the public that there was little interest in the community (which he claims to be working with) to oppose his massive conversion plans.
God, where was the audacity and anger of another ACT UP New York when we so desperately needed it? Where was the passion of civil disobedience and taking over the street and daring the media not to cover it? Where was The New York Times?
Look, I am not here just to assuage my own feelings of incompetence by faulting others without taking some responsibility for this fatal failure of a prime necessity in our lives—but my space is up, so my confession will have to wait until another time, God willing.
By the way, George, you may have noticed that this column deals with political theater, but how far can one stretch a label like “Theater Editor”? So, if I may, I’d like to retire the title that you heaped on my shoulders last summer while continuing the column as “BoldFace Names©” to see where that leads us. Of course, I will continue to write about “theater,” though not necessarily theater as confined to the stage. And yes, one can say I’m pulling a “Frank Rich.”
Best, Bobb Goldsteinn.