The powerhouse committee charged with the awesome task of planning the city’s official millennium events has convened only once since it was established a year ago. Over 30 prominent individuals—including Donald Trump, Brooke Astor, Arthur Sulzberger Jr., and Tommy Mottola—were recruited by City Hall for the mission, but one appointee, writer George Plimpton, says that an April 20 get-to-know-you luncheon at Le Cirque restaurant was “the last I ever heard” from NYC 2000 organizers. He recalls contacting the central office with a proposal for New Year’s Eve fireworks. “They said, ‘Oh, we’ll look into that,’ but nothing ever happened.” He laments that “I don’t know a damn thing about” NYC 2000 activities, and says some of his fellow members feel similarly left out.
luncheon at Le Cirque restaurant was “the last I ever heard” from NYC 2000 organizers. He recalls contacting the central office with a proposal for New Year’s Eve fireworks. “They said, ‘Oh, we’ll look into that,’ but nothing ever happened.” He laments that “I don’t know a damn thing about” NYC 2000 activities, and says some of his fellow members feel similarly left out.
Four people who can’t possibly feel that way are the executive committee members of NYC 2000. One of them, Bruce Teitelbaum, who resigned early this year as the mayor’s chief of staff to head his Senate campaign, has been questioned in an ongoing investigation into events leading up to a recent building collapse in Brooklyn. Chief of Staff Anthony Carbonetti is also an executive member. So, too, is Tamra Lhota, longtime Giuliani moneymaker and wife of Deputy Mayor for Operations Joseph Lhota. She’s rolled up her sleeves for the mayor’s campaigns since 1989 and raised over $6 million since 1994 for his pet projects, including NYC 2000, through her fundraising operation, NYC Public-Private Initiatives Inc. The fourth is former City Hall communications director Cristyne Lategano. Thanks to some mayoral arm-twisting this August, she snatched away the $150,000 job as president of NYC & Company, formerly the New York Convention and Visitors Bureau, from a group of qualified candidates the organization’s board had been considering.
NYC 2000 enjoys considerable clout—the December 28, 1998 mayoral executive order which created it mandates that “all agencies shall cooperate in providing to the office such personnel, facilities, information, and other assistance as is necessary”—and could potentially receive unlimited funds, yet it appears that some members have more access to these resources than others. According to some of them, there has been no committee-wide meeting since the April lunch; business is discussed among a handful of participants over the phone or meals; minutes of meetings are not kept or disseminated; and little information is furnished on budget andadministration matters.
Millennium committee spokesperson Kim Serafin is quick to dismiss the executive body’s role as “advisory,” refusing at the same time to release the names or any other personnel information about those who “are doing the actual work.” But several NYC 2000 members confirm the obvious, saying that the leadership is closely involved with committee business. Surely, the mayor wouldn’t waste his top aides on paltry assignments as he enters the heat of his unfolding battle against Hillary. And their mere presence at the helm of NYC 2000 shows how close the project is to Rudy’s heart. Committee participant and eatery maven Tim Zagat, who as chair of NYC & Company employs Lategano, says, “Most of the things I talk about are privately between individual members of the executive committee. If they like them, they say ‘yes,’ and if they don’t, they don’t.” Indeed, the executive committee is “responsible for overseeing and directing the operations of the Office for the Millennium and the committee,” according to the executive order.
Serafin admits that NYC 2000 chairman Ron Silver “does a lot of day-to-day work and takes a lot of meetings and is very involved.” The actor has also supported candidate Rudy since the latter’s unsuccessful challenge to David Dinkins in 1989, participating in numerous fundraisers, including one he co-chaired in November.
So far, NYC 2000 hasn’t done much. The committee hosted a September fashion show in Times Square. It is helping to organize some events for the First Night New York new year’s celebration, which successfully took place for years before NYC 2000 existed. Also in September, NYC 2000 reportedly exacted $500,000 from American Express for the use of Central Park as the venue for a promotional concert, although the committee appeared to play no part in the event.
But while most New Yorkers will be ringing in the millennium this week, NYC 2000 is planning to celebrate right through the actual millennial turnover on January 1, 2001. That gives the executive committee a whole year of opportunities to bedeck their man, or at least his name, in Y2K pomp.
New York Public Interest Research Group senior attorney Gene Russianoff calls Giuliani “very adept” and “excessive” in promoting himself through public events, such as the Yankees’ World Series victories. But Steve Rubenstein, son of public relations guru Howard Rubenstein and his father’s liaison to NYC 2000, doubts such motives are at work in this instance. He says the mayor missed several press conferences that the Rubensteins coordinated for the owners of the Times Square ball, even though those events “get great coverage.” But the Times Square celebration has traditionally been run by the Times Square Business Improvement District, not the City. The only part officially assigned the mayor is “when he stands on the stage with the special guest to push the button,” which is “the only [moment] the mayor really seems to care about personally,” according to BID president Brendan Sexton. Perhaps not coincidentally, then, “the only thing [NYC 2000] were able finally to help with a little bit is, they’re going to be able to offset the cost of a couple of the video screens on the street,” according to Sexton.
Hizzoner will likely play a bigger role in NYC 2000 projects, as he did when he hosted the simulcast fashion show from a giant runway in Times Square. But along with the prospect of his using public Y2K galas for self-promotion goes the more unsettling possibility that NYC 2000 functions as a repository for political dollars. “A corporation is limited in what it can give to the mayor in terms of campaign contributions. But what’s to stop a corporation from giving a hundred thousand dollars to this entity?” asks a former City Council staff member who fought to diminish “soft money” during both Dinkins and Giuliani eras. “That then provides the same access and influence,” he warns. At least a dozen of those who were picked for the prestigious NYC 2000 roster contributed generously to the mayor’s 1997 campaign. And a recent Newsday story revealed that NYC 2000’s money machine, NYC Public-Private Initiatives—which is registered as a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit agency—has collected major bucks for projects billed as mayoral civic activities from some of his most generous political donors.
Meanwhile, Plimpton still hopes that “this big check mark I gave on my [suggestions] form sheet will be noticed.” Curious New Yorkers will join him, while he sits “waiting in the wings,” to find out what NYC 2000 will do.