Monday, December 20, 2010

Party time in New York

Manhattan by moonlight (the night before the total eclipse of the moon). 11:35 PM. Photo: JH.
Monday, December 20, 2010. Yesterday in New York was grey and cloudy. but it was that white grey you often see before a snowfall. Naturally I was hoping for the snowfall, always looking to revive that childhood joy that used to come with Christmas and the holidays (and School’s Out). The weatherman, however, isn’t forecasting any for New York so far.

Jay McInerney, Anne Hearst, and George Farias. (Photo: Patrick McMullan).
It’s party time in New York. Not that it isn’t always. But now the parties are everywhere and all kinds for everyone because it’s a celebration.

The Year is drawing to a close, No Matter What. Resolutions you maybe made, but didn’t keep, are irrelevant now. In fact you probably don’t even remember them.

Now it’s time for gift-giving, and getting some rest. A lot of people who show up on the NYSD will be heading south to Palm Beach or Lyford or someplace in the Caribbean, or out West to ski — to rest later) or out East to get away from the madding crowd.

Thursday night I went to a party at “21” given for more than a hundred guests by Jay McInerney and Anne Hearst and George Farias.

Big crowd but mainly a crowd that recognizes itself – friends and frequent acquaintances everywhere. Like Homecoming. Everyone was glad to be there. A wonderful New York cocktail party. Governor Paterson was there with his beautiful wife Michelle. He was in fine fettle and looking relieved to be a free again with his unique charm intact.
Frances Hayward and Alison Mazzola. George Farias and Blaine Trump.
Frances Hayward, Robert Zimmerman, and Dana Stubgen (with Geoffrey Thomas coming up from behind). Vicky Ward.
Kyle DeWoody and Jonah Fay-Hurvitz. Paola and Arnie Rosenshein.
George Farias, Hilary Geary Ross, and Wilbur Ross.
Cornelia Bregman and Sharon Bush.
Sharon Sondes, Joe Armstrong, Susan Stroman, and George Farias.
Alex Hitz and Ashley McDermott. Lisa Fine and Peggy Siegal.
Bettina Zilkha and Ivana Lowell having just run into Taki. Patty Raynes and Ivana Lowell.
Joanne de Guardiola, Roberto de Guardiola, and Carol Mack. Janna Bullock and R. Couri Hay.
Anne Hearst. Michelle Paterson and Cornelia Bregman.
Susan Magrino and Genevieve Bahrenburg. Amy and Alison Mazzola.
Somers Farkas and Dana Stubgen. Alana Tabacco and Anne Meacham.
After leaving the McInerney-Farias party at '21' I hiked up a few blocks to 140 West 57th Street and the atelier of interior designer Brian McCarthy (pictured center) where he and his partner Danny Sager were hosting another holidays party for friends and associates. L. to r. James Reginato, Brian McCarthy and Will Strafford
Meanwhile back on the street, our Palm Beach correspondent Augustus Mayhew reports on the story that continues to distract the town ...

Peter & Marion Madoff ask $6.5 million for Palm Beach house

While Corcoran associates Paulette Koch and Dana Koch’s recent $34 million listing of a Vita Serena oceanfront at 105 Clarendon, the outstanding former Jean Flagler Matthews estate designed by Marion Sims Wyeth where King Saud and his entourage encamped in 1962 for several weeks, might otherwise be the island’s lead real estate story, it was upstaged this week when, according to several sources, Sotheby’s International Realty associates Carole Koeppel and Brett Koeppel scheduled a luncheon preview on December 15 at 200 Algoma Road, Peter and Marion Madoff’s house located in the South End. Reportedly, the house is priced at $6.5 million.

Described as “stylish tranquility” and as a “sophisticated renovated residence,” the more than 7,000-square-foot French Norman-styled house features 5 bedrooms and a 3-car garage, room perhaps for the prized vintage Aston-Martin currently in litigation, according to court filings. After selling their apartment at 389 South Lake, which they had bought from Bernard and Ruth Madoff, Peter and Marion Madoff acquired the house in 2001 for $3.752 million. Then, the Madoffs quit-claimed their deed in November 2006 from both their names into Marion Madoff’s name.
Designed by Wyeth, King & Johnson for Bradford and Marjorie Whittemore, the house was built in 1969 by Wilson Construction for a permit cost of approx. $350,000, according to news reports. The house was known for its elaborate gardens, included in the Garden Club’s 1976 House & Garden Tour.

As the Peter Madoff’s reception was underway, just down the beach at 1410 South Ocean Boulevard, the Jeffry Picower estate was settling up for a bit more than $7 billion. Where else but Palm Beach could someone have the serendipitous misfortune, as Mr. Picower experienced, crossing paths with the likes of Ivan Boesky and Bernard Madoff during one lifetime? Jeffry and Barbara Picower had snapped up 1410 South Ocean in 1994 for $10 million from Peter May, Trian exec with Nelson Peltz. Three months after buying the property as the 1410 South Ocean Boulevard Corp, their attorney, A. Paul Prosperi, filed a new deed transferring the house’s ownership into their own names. For many years, the house was best-known as Blanche Paley Levy’s house, William Paley’s sister. It is not a historically-designated landmark. The Picower house is not known to be currently on the market, surprising, for Palm Beach.
The sins of the father. Many readers asked me last week after the suicide of Mark Madoff why I hadn’t written about it. I didn’t know young Madoff (or his parents). Like a lot of others, I long suspected that the Madoff boys knew about their father’s scheme.

That assumption was made out of nothing but venal imagination. I assumed everybody involved with Bernie Madoff knew something was awry or amiss. It seemed obvious. In retrospect.

It seems, however, that this may not have been so. It wasn’t so obvious, but more like that line from Paul Simon’s The Boxer, “a man believes what he wants to believe and disregards the rest.”

Bernard Madoff with his brother Peter Madoff and sons Andrew Madoff and Mark Madoff during July 1995 in Montauk, NY. (Photo: GETTY IMAGES).
A friend of mine who knows Ezra Merkin, and who is also very savvy about the investment business, and perspicacious about the players, told me recently that he doesn’t believe Ezra Merkin “knew” what Bernie Madoff was up to with the millions he was moving for his clients to the Madoff “fund.”

My friend concluded that Mr. Merkin only knew he was getting results that were enriching him and his clients. And successful money is always and only about results, no?

Although my friend has known Mr. Merkin for quite some time, he wasn’t making excuses out of friendship or loyalty. He was merely pointing out the salient fact: in situations like this – where there is a consistent financial “guarantee” that has been operating for decades – people were happy to take the money and run without asking question or performing due diligence. My friend believes the same explanation can legitimately be applied to Walter Noel, another large contributor to the Madoff funds.

This kind of behavior (see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil) while outside the realm of good business practice or ethics in terms of fiduciary responsibility is not uncommon among even the most “successful” people in the investment business, just as it is frequently not uncommon in our own lives under circumstances having to do with money, that is: our money. Look at how families and others fight over wills, mixing mendacity with moral highmindedness while keeping an eager eye on the buck that might be heading for someone else’s pocket.

It is very possible that the wizard himself, Mr. Madoff may have felt he had an image to protect and perpetuate for his sons: that of a successful, smart man. He was also a family man. No doubt he had his dreams about the best of all possible worlds, no matter what he knew. He did what many a generous father does: made a place for his offspring in his business. Did he bring them up to be shills, to be dons? I’d bet not.

It could also be that young Madoff knew, and in fact was implicated and facing potential indictment. This is the speculation and widely believed by many people who have nothing to go on but their own imaginations.

Then we read that Ruth Madoff “blames” Bernie for the death of their son who has killed himself on the second anniversary of his father’s arrest. The Sacrifice. Shakespeare. Arthur Miller.

Ruth Madoff. Photo: NY Daily News.
This story has such a personal drama to it: a family in crisis, wreaked by the sins of the father, that it’s easy to isolate it from the rest of the story, but this is our drama now.

There is prevailing thought repeated everywhere that our financial dilemma is the result of this man or that man, this politician or that; this left-thinker or that right-wronger.

There is a tendency to find a punching bag as palliative for our own anxieties. The fact that is ignored by most of the people most of the time is that WE, the People, are the ones responsible for the mess we’re in. WE are the ones who bought into the con artists (known by other very important titles, of course) who encouraged us to buy that house and vote for them, buy that car or condo, buy that whatever to improve our lifestyles (and take on debt without an afterthought).

Only a generation and a half ago, for all time leading up to it, we spent money only if we had it. The smart boys spent money that they borrowed but the rest of us had no access to that privilege. Then came the credit card. Forty years later, a drop in the bucket of the history of civilization, we borrow money everyday and spend it as if it is ours, although it is not. Many of us never borrow more than we already have (so we can pay our bills). Many others among us live from loan to mouth, day in, day out. Not unlike Bernie, although he was way ahead of us plastic users in terms of the numbers.

I know several people personally who played the Madoff game and gladly, and without a thought of its implications or manifestations. This is not uncommon either. I know others who did not but are just as dumb about their assets and trusts funds. WE are the dummies. WE are the ones who when offered a ticket to a golden ring said yes, like some teenage Saturday night parked in car by the woods, after a few beers and whatever. Absurd but same idea. “I couldn’t help it” ends up as the explanation, when all others have been refuted by Common Sense. Common Dense. The devil made me do it.

When I say WE, I obviously don’t mean everybody. There are lots of exceptions, and in some ways I am one of them.

It’s obvious to anyone with an ear or an eye that this is a very difficult and dangerous time. A time to consider the consequences of blaming others and continuing to absolve the self. It is WE who have to change our ways and protect our freedoms and educate our children in order for them to grow up into an increasingly complex world. It is we who have to turn off our cell-phones and watch our step walking down some street into oncoming traffic. It is we who have to stop thinking that it’s all right that we don’t read, that we don’t think, that we’re not curious to know.

The lesson of Bernie Madoff and his tragic son is simply put in the words of the American songwriter Lorenz Hart, “the self-deception that believes the lie.”

It is WE who pay its price.
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