Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Vigilance and Dedication

The Empire State Building. 9:00 PM. Photo: JH.
Yesterday was St. Patrick’s Day; a beautiful, day in New York, mild and sunny, almost no-coat weather. The St. Patrick’s Day parade on Fifth Avenue completely disrupts midtown. It starts at 11 and is still going at 3 pm, corps after corp marching up the middle of Manhattan. That means all of those thousands and thousands of vehicles that travel from East to West and/or West to East for the forty crosstown streets on a weekday midday must wait. And wait and wait. For a break in the parade. Draw your own conclusions.

I went to Michael’s for lunch. There was a ten minute wait to cross Fifth Avenue. However, that said, it is a tradition in New York. and another reason to party.

Meanwhile, in reality, just a few blocks down the avenue the real news story, the collapse of Bear Stearns was beginning to be felt by a lot of its employees and their families and their friends.

A reader emailed me: I had my first Wall Street job at Bear Stearns. My grandpa was one of the original partners. It was a firm built on integrity, and where the customer came first. Ace Greenberg once made a man resign because he thought he charged a customer too much commission on an international trade. I am sure the old timers are rolling in their graves. I hope Jimmy Cayne sleeps peacefully in his million dollar Plaza apartment. Maybe he and Alan Schwartz should be worried about taking care of some of the employees, whose entire retirement nest egg is in Bear Stearns stock. Very Sad to see Bear go down like this ...

Another reader whose husband works (or worked) at Bear wrote: There goes our savings. No choice but to think like Eva Zeisel (referring to last week’s NYSD HOUSE interview).

A reader in Connecticut wrote: I am a native of Stamford where there are many retired and current (or should I say, soon-to-be ex) employees of Bear Stearns who live here, in Greenwich, and in New Canaan. Several have made sizable philanthropic commitments to schools and hospitals in the area. Now what? And what happens to their personal wealth? I suppose the same issues hold true for the Manhattan coterie of Bear Stearns folks and their charities as well.

  DPC and Silda
NYSD readers may recall that last week I was going to be hosting a luncheon for Silda Wall Spitzer at "21" on the very day that her husband made the announcement that ended his political career.

The reason for the luncheon, as it was conceived, was two fold. The first was to introduce Mrs. Spitzer and the organization she founded several years ago (“Children For Children”) to a group of New York women whose work and/or focus is on issues having to do with children and their growth and results. The second reasons for our meeting was to add fuel to the development of ideas and programs to better the mental and physical health of our children.

I was planning to tell the assembled that in my opinion the financial crisis is far from finished. It is going to have a profound effect on many of our lives, and especially on the children – those members of the community who are entirely dependent. You can think this is just pessimism but what happened to Bear Stearns in the past few days was not a surprise to many who have been monitoring this dilemma.

We have arrived at a place where vigilance and dedication will be the aces that we hold. Silda Wall Spitzer’s creation, Children For Children, is simple: it is developing programs to teach children the rewards of helping their contemporaries who are in need. When Silda used these techniques to teach her own children, she was amazed by not only how much they were inspired by their good works but how they were empowered by them to do more.

The financial events of the past six months are marking a transition, a change that is going on right before our eyes. The party’s over, or, to borrow from Mr. Cayne’s now famous quote about his former business: no “more dancing,” “the music” has stopped. From this perch, observing the world of New York that is known as social, or society, but more importantly, the world that is known as philanthropic, the changes are going to be felt by everyone. People in need may need more, and there may also be many more people in need.

Now, for the flip side of the avarice and unconscious greed that fuels our follies: in New York there is a perpetual, yet growing force of men and women, young and old, who have created, sponsored, financed, supported all kinds of crucial community, cultural, education and medical programs and institutions. This is the heart of  New York, much of it grown out of these recent extravagant times;  and provided for by the heart of New York. It may be that the encroaching crises will energize these people, the Silda Wall Spitzers et al of this world, and zap our resilience. The luncheon for Silda Wall Spitzer on this day last week was postponed; not canceled. One of these days we’ll re-convene. I’m sure when that happens there will be more of us more aware of the needs that await us not far down the road.

Comments? Contact DPC here.