Anthony Weiner is so very, very New York. So is Alex Rodriguez the just suspended Yankee third baseman. Even though they once called Arkansas home, Bill and Hillary Clinton are so very New York, too. They Clintons are spending August in the Hamptons don’t you know, while Hillary takes a little break from the $200,000 a speech circuit. Cashing in can be so tiring.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the biggest big city in the world. It’s the capitol of everything from food to finance, but New York is also the world center of entitlement and excess. And its almost always been so. Long before Weiner was tweeting his Anthony to complete, but always attractive strangers New York’s mayor was a dandy dresser and world-class grafter named James J. Walker. That’s Hizzoner nearby at the height of his power and corruption in the late 1920’s. Nice suit.
Had Jay Gatsby existed anywhere other than in Scott Fitzgerald’s great novel Walker would have been at one of his Long Island parties. Not for nothing was Walker called “The Night Mayor of New York.” When the Yankees were home at the Big Ballpark in the Bronx the mayor was there. While in the State Senate Walker pushed a bill legalizing big-time boxing in New York. His seat ever after was a ringside. The mayor was so good to the boxing world that he’s in the Boxing Hall of Fame and the Hall named its biggest award for Beau James.
Long before Weiner’s encounters with electronic communication and sexting, Jimmy Walker, the very married mayor, had a thing for a New York show girl and living very, very large. Ben Hecht, the Chicago reporter who wrote The Front Page, once observed: “Walker is a troubadour headed for Wagnerian dramas. No man could hold life so carelessly without falling down a manhole before he is done.”
For a while – a long while – all the city loved him. New York has always loved good copy and Walker always practiced the first rule of New York – don’t bore me. But eventually the excess, the recklessness, the corruption and, yes, the sense of entitlement that is such a part of the New Yorkers who think they have it made caught up even with Gentleman Jim.
Then New York Gov. Franklin Roosevelt, eying a presidential candidacy in 1932, opened the manhole for Walker and down he went. As he took the stand Walker quipped, “There are three things a man must do alone. Be born, die, and testify.” With an indictment hanging over his slick backed hair Walker headed for Europe and only came back when the heat was safely turned way down. In that way, too, Walker was an earlier example of New York entitlement. The motto must be: “Do it and do your best to get away with it.”
Weiner, a seriously troubled guy with a pathological need for tabloid attention, seems determined to go down texting. Shame isn’t the way new York rolls. Weiner will never be mayor, but he may actually expand the definition of New York excess as he grasps for Gracie Mansion. The Clinton’s web of relationships with Weiner’s wife Huma – the candidate and spouse live in a fancy Manhattan apartment owned (of course) by a wealthy Clinton supporter and Ms. Weiner worked for both Bill and Hill – is all of a piece with the New York Times Style section, which most weeks reads to those of us who live anywhere west of the Hudson River like the house organ of the truly beautiful and entitled. Not to mention the frequently clueless and the tasteless sons and daughters of excess.
A-Rod, the perfect New York combination of talent, arrogance, excess and entitlement, seems ready to do everything possible to postpone his ultimate punishment at the hands of the game that made him a gazillionaire in order to make the Yankees – more big excess from the Big Apple – pay him extravagantly for going through the motions for a few weeks of this baseball season. Maybe he needs the money. Buying up evidence, not to mention banned substances, can be expensive.
Thank me. I’m not even going to mention Eliot Spitzer.
At least Beau James Walker had the grace to resign as mayor when the luster finally wore off. Still, as they say, nothing succeeds like excess. When Walker finally came back to Manhattan and before his death in 1946 many New Yorkers continued to love the man who made his sense of entitlement a political virtue. His sympathetic biographer wrote in 1949, “He stayed Beau James, the New Yorker’s New Yorker, perhaps the last one of his kind.”