Literacy Partners at it again
Michael Cunningham, Wallace Murray, Joel Klein, Nicole Seligman, Parker Ladd, Nora Ephron, Liz Smith, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Arnold Scaasi, Augusten Burroughs, and Sherrie and David Westin, and Rich Prestia at Literacy Partners' 22nd annual Evenings of Readings. Photo: JH.

Happy Days Are Here Again: Contrary to what you read here (or read elsewhere first, as I did) Gigi and Averell Mortimer are very happily married and intend to stay that way. As are Jennifer and Larry Creel. No divorces for them. And no matter what you may hear, see, think or imagine, Jonathan and Somers are still together. I know because they gave me a ride home last night, dropping them off first.

Jonathan and Somers and several hundred other New Yorkers were over at the New York State Theater at Lincoln Center where Literacy Partners was holding its 22nd annual Evenings of Readings.

Meanwhile, arriving at Lincoln Center, the first thing you see is a crowd on the plaza and a large green plastic sphere filled with water and a body and bubbles. That body is David Blaine the illusionist/exhibitionist/magician who, shirtless and with an oxygen tube in his mouth, took up a week-long residence yesterday. At the end of his week’s stay, Blaine intends to hold his breath underwater for longer than the 8 minute 58 second record. He also plays to try to escape from 150 pounds of chains and handcuffs (a la Harry Houdini) during the breath holding finale which will air live as a two-hour ABC special entitled “David Blaine; Drowned Alive.” Let’s hope it remains that way.

Blaine will eat and relieve himself underwater with the use of tubes. He lost 50 pounds so that his body would require less oxygen. It’s an odd sight, one of those things that you can’t help looking at because it’s so odd.

Meanwhile, speaking of ABC-TV, inside the New York State Theater, besides the Literacy Readings, Literacy Partners were honoring David Westin, the president of ABC News and his wife Sherrie Rollins Westin, executive vice president and chief marketing officer of Sesame Workshop, along with Joel Klein, the Chancellor of New York City public schools and his wife Nicole Seligman, executive vice-president and general counsel of Sony Corporation.

Louise Grunwald with Felix and Elizabeth Rohatyn
Rich Prestia, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and Wallace Murray

Literacy Partners started as an idea. They called it Literacy Volunteers in the beginning. Its founders remain deeply involved today: Liz Smith, Arnold Scaasi, and Parker Ladd. Their first fundraiser was held in a church on Lexington Avenue. About 150 people came and paid $50 a ticket. They raised about $1000. Their first year in business they served about 200 people. This past year the number was 2000. Last night they took in $1.22 million.

Those of us who can read never even give a thought to the horrendous handicap of not being able.

There are one million New Yorkers who cannot read beyond the 5th grade level. It is not a New York problem, however. It is a national problem. Mayor Bloomberg who appeared briefly to speak before the readings got underway, reminded everyone that “literacy opens the door of opportunity” in life.

ABC News’ ad in the program quoted Thomas Jefferson, “I cannot live without books.” And William Faulkner: “Read, read, read.” And Groucho Marx: “Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read."

Liz Smith was the emcee for the evening, looking very chic in her pale pearly green silk charmeuse pants and matching plaid jacket by Jackie Rogers. She introduced the mayor, then the two stars of the show – the readers – two men who went well into adult life before they were willing to put their pride aside, admit they couldn’t read and went to Literacy classes. Both men read their compositions about the experience of going through life without literacy and the joy and satisfaction of having finally changed that and changed their lives.

Besides the Literacy Readers, the evening always consists of some famous writers reading from their own works. This year featured Michael Cunningham, Nora Ephron, and Augusten Burroughs – all humorists about contemporary life. Nora Ephron read from her upcoming book on Maintenance – the female/vanity (and male) kind. Ephron has the knack for riffing on the everyday of contemporary American, especially New York sensibilities. Her posits on hair, nail and skin maintenance had me laughing to the point where the woman in front of me turned around as if to question my sanity.

The readings part of the evening ran for about an hour and a half. Then those of us who had dinner tickets adjourned to the Promenade on the mezzanine level for dinner and dancing to the music of Bob Hardwick and his orchestra. There were lots of writers and literary people in the room as well as a good cross-section of prominent members of the New York social scene.

Co-chairs of the evening were Fabiola Beracasa, Samantha Boardman and Aby Rosen, Peter Brown, Joan Ganz Cooney and Peter Peterson, Beth Rudin DeWoody, Jamee and Peter Gregory, Joanne and Roberto de Guardiola, Steven Rattner and Maureen White, Sir Howard Stringer, Harvey Weinstein, Jackie Weld and Rodman Drake.

David and Sherrie Westin, Sir Howard Stringer, Liz Smith, Parker Ladd, and Arnold Scaasi
Wafah Dufour
Mickey Ateyeh and Tony Manning
Augusten Burroughs, Liz Smith, and Peter Rogers
Eden Collinsworth and Parker Ladd
Giovanni LoFaro, Bill Rondina, and Peter Rogers
Mona Ackerman, Arnold Scaasi, and Richard Cohen
Arnold Scaasi and Pauline Pitt
Peter Kostmayer and Sharon Hoge
Peter Brown and Mona Ackerman
Dominick Dunne and Colette Harron
Helen O'Hagan
Jeffrey Leeds and Joel Klein
Michael Selleck and Colette Harron
Chris Meigher and Jim Brady
Barbara Taylor Bradford and Bob Bradford
Peter and Jamee Gregory
Ellery and Marjorie Reed Gordon
Rich Prestia
Wallace Murray
Michael Cunningham
L. to r.: Nora Ephron; Inside the New York State Theater; Augusten Burroughs.
Arnold and Parker
Nicole Seligman
Joel Klein
Liz introduces Sherrie and David Westin
David Westin addresses the guests
Arnold, Parker, Michael Cunningham, Nora Ephron, and Augusten Burroughs
Liz Finkle
Bill Rondina and Elizabeth Peabody
Adaora Udoji and Kim Brody
Pete Peterson and Lesley Stahl
Grace Meigher and Lionel Larner
Jackie Weld Drake, Pauline Pitt, Arnold Scaasi, Cristina Cuomo, and Jamee Gregory
Aaron Latham
Sir Howard Stringer and Lyn Nesbit
Amanda Burden
Parker Ladd and Audrey Gruss
Peggy Siegal and friend
Yoko Ono
Vada and Ted Stanley
Scott Currie and Susan Magrino
Barbara Taylor Bradford and Jane Friedman
Liz and Elizabeth Hayes
DPC with Helen Gurley Brown
DPC with Jackie Rogers
Norris Mailer
Jason Grant and Mimi Strong
Alana and Lewis Frumkes
Jonathan and Somers Farkas
Joan Ganz Cooney and Marie Brenner
Doug Cramer and Hugh Bush
Amy Gross with Karen and Jesse Kornbluth
Jeffrey Leeds and Holly Peterson
Bob Hardwick
Literacy Partners' goody bags

Some of my dinner partners were talking about the evening and Michael Bloomberg. One of them asked me if I thought Michael Bloomberg would run for President. This is not a new subject as its been bandied about recently, none of which surprises me.

A number of years ago, sometime in the mid-1990s when Michael Bloomberg had made his great fortune in his media company and established himself in the New York firmament as a player, a philanthropist and a social animal, he had lunch with a mutual friend, Heather Cohane. Reviewing all of his achievements, Heather asked him where he would like to go from there. His answer (and it was very possibly off-the-cuff; a man talking about his dreams with someone he felt comfortable with – as is very easy in the company of Mrs. Cohane): he’d like to run for President.

When Heather Cohane recounted their conversation to me at the time, it sounded like the not infrequent notion of a man who’d made his bundle, acquired a kind of personal power and was looking for something to keep himself in the game (of money and power). Because Michael Bloomberg was not, despite his great achievements in business and in the New York social world, an accomplished public figure by any means. In fact, many remember his early days of campaigning for mayor when he often seemed at times awkward and ill-at-ease in the role of public speaker and campaigner.

However, in reviewing his life from this vantage point of a man now in the second term as mayor of the city that is the center of Western civilization and American culture, one can now see a kind of methodical building – brick by brick – of a substantive public role.

That may be my imagination, but Michael Bloomberg’s list of accomplishments is clear evidence of well thought-out actions delivering a desired result, i.e. political power. Just like his business past. His enormous did-it-himself success gave him the foundation of admiration and respect among many peers and aspirants in the business community. His great philanthropy endeared him to all the social hostesses of New York who could almost always depend on him for a generous contribution to the charity committees they chaired. This is no small asset despite how people regard social life.

Very few men and women of comparable wealth, despite the equal opportunity of such endeavors, have come anywhere near the depth and breadth of his charitable giving. So when it came time to get out the vote, he had a very wide base of support amongst the influential and the wealthy as well as many in the professional classes. And when he switched parties in order to run for mayor, it not only was taken lightly but even regarded as smart politics – he had both sides on his side.

He does not have the persona of charm of the typical national politician, although many who have known him and seen him privately for a long time, are very charmed by him. He’s not unfamiliar with the common touch although most of the people I know who know him and like him are rich and successful or plan to be. He’s perceived as an urban personality, although he’s a born and bred Boston exurban – a most definitely provincial demographic, a world in which the power of the American dream resonated deeply. He represents that dream, actualized, as it was, by brilliant executive ability and the capacity for work.

I should add that I don’t personally know Michael Bloomberg although he and I have been in the same rooms maybe hundreds of times and I probably know scores of people who count him as a friend. However, what he obviously has going for him, as a candidate for higher office, in my humble opinion, is certainty of purpose. It is written all over his life. It is a combination of ambition, a shrewdness armed with intelligence, a sensitivity to socio-economic issues and a natural resolve in addressing them.

Several months ago I sat next to his steady companion Diana Taylor at a fundraising dinner (it was for the National Menopause Association). We had a pleasant conversation although because I was aware of her relationship to the mayor, out of courtesy, I avoided asking anything about him that could construed to be private or personal. However, toward the end of the evening, the conversation must have drifted in the mayor’s direction because she took an opportunity to tell me, as if confiding something private, that the mayor was really “a very very very good man.” And I could tell she really meant it.

So, will that man run for President? And, if so, might he win? Michael Bloomberg comes from a world where anything’s possible. So do I; and so do many of the rest of us. That is still the American way.

David Blaine under the crescent moon in front of the Met Opera House at Lincoln Center


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May 2, 2006, Volume VI, Number 75
Photographs by Jeff Hirsch/


© 2006 David Patrick Columbia & Jeffrey Hirsch/