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At Gracie Mansion, Jokes of Cathie Black & Bloomberg, Moses History & Onion Tart

By Matthew Russell Lee

GRACIE MANSION NYC, December 3 -- At Mayor Michael Bloomberg's holiday party for the press on December 2, the jokes were about Cathie Black and her lack of background in pedagogy. Bloomberg was given as a present a box of Nilla Wafers, said to be from a 99 cent store on Chambers Street, which on the back said Vanilla Waivers.

More interesting was a tour of the upstairs of Gracie Mansion. The guide, who will remain in the shadows for reasons that will become clear, began with what he called the master bedroom. Until Bloomberg, he said, it was called the Mayor's bedroom, as all New York City mayor's from LaGuardia to Giuliani slept there.

Next came the room of the the wife of Mayor Wagner, who raised some $800,000 dollars to build a new wing on Gracie Mansion, where downstairs Bloomberg was working the crowd of reporters, who nibbled on onion tarts with the ubiquitous balsamic vinegar and passable holiday cookies.

Facing the East River, across which British cannons in Queens fired at George Washington's artillery set up on this spot during the Revolutionary War, is a guest room which has hosted, among others, Nelson Mandela, Menachem Begin and Desmond Tutu. Guiliani's daughter's room was converted by Bloomberg's personal interior decorator Jaime Drake into an “old country” bedroom complete with long armed bed warmer in the fireplace.

By the staircase to get back down is a sign board with the names of contributors to the Gracie Mansion Conservancy. Inner City Press asked if companies which do buiness with the City can give money to the Conservancy.

The Conservancy is separate from the City, Inner City Press was told. We will have more on this. Quickly a higher up in the Conservancy approached. The tour would have to be called off, Inner City Press was told. Any such questions should be directed to the press office, not to the “docent.” It was implied that Inner City Press would somehow need the press office's permission to write this article.

Downstairs the drinking and eating continued, the latter largely from the kosher table. There is an oil painting of Mrs. Wagner, and a breakfast room where, among others, the Russian oligarch owner of the Nets was hosted. Ah, Brooklyn real estate. In the room there is a convex mirror, too high to see your face in, meant to spread light.

In Gracie breakfast room, convex mirror, oligarch not shown, all a bit off kilter (c)MRLee

The history of the Gracie Mansion was finally explained. Gracie was a Scottish businessman -- he might have owned the Nets or Knicks of his day -- who looked for a place “uptown in the country” to do his entertaining. He chose the site from which George Washington was routed.

His business failed, and the house passed from hand to hand, finally ending up abandoned when it was taken by the City under eminent domain to build what's now the FDR Drive. During construction, New York's “Master Builder” Robert Moses had the lawn raises so the highway would go undernearth.

No such delicacy was used by Moses in the Bronx, where tenements and bus depots were mowed down for the Cross Bronx Expressway. Ironically, in one of Gracie Mansion's downstairs rooms on Thursday night, a flat screen TV played images of the South Bronx in the 1970s, the burned out blocks of Charlotte Street and graffitied Number Five train over Southern Boulevard and Boston Road. It played without the sound on.

LaGuardia, originator of Public Markets in the Bronx and Essex Street, was offered two mansions as possible homes: one on 75th and Riverside deemed “too fancy” by the Little Flower, and Gracie Mansion, which he okayed. Moses had the Mansion renovated -- it had become a public restroom, a storehouse for the Parks Department and purveyor of Italian ices -- and LaGuardia moved in. All mayors since, until Bloomberg, lived here.

The reporters talk turned to Bloomberg, how he bought a floor of the townhouse next to his on 79th Street in order to extend his living room, how he serves popcorn and hotdogs on expensive china, how an SUV drives him to the express IRT stop on 59th Street for his subway ride downtown. It was time to go.

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As Bloomberg Boosts Uruguay Smoking Fight, of UN & Tobacco, Food Safety Black Hole

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, November 15 -- In a small conference room in Uruguay's Mission to the UN, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Monday announced a grant from his foundation to help Uruguay defend a lawsuit by Philip Morris against the country's no smoking laws.

  Since it was across 48th Street from UN headquarters, Inner City Press asked about tobacco and the UN, in New York and in the field. The UN Global Compact, for example, does not bar from its membership tobacco and cigarette companies, despite claiming to stand for corporate social responsibility.

  Global Compact chief George Kell has twice told Inner City Press that since tobacco is legal, the companies will not be barred.

  Meanwhile on a trip last month to the UN's peacekeeping mission in Sudan, smoking was prevalent, despite what Uruguayan Permanent Representative Jose Luis Cancela on Monday told Inner City Press about the anti smoking resolution his country sponsored in the General Assembly. The problem, he said, is enforcement -- which is also true on health matters ranging from food safety to bedbugs.

“It's not for me to tell anyone else how to behave,” Bloomberg said without irony, adding, “It's very difficult to enforce.” He said life expectancy in New York has gone up by nineteen months in the past eight years, and that users of beaches and parks and not his Mayor's Office pushed to ban smoking even in those outdoors locales.

  In the front row sat his sister Marjorie Tiven, New York City's liaison with the UN. While she played a role in forcing the UN to take note of local fire codes, nothing has yet been done as to food safety code.

Bloomberg & Cancela, Global Compact smoking &food grades not shown

   Back on November 1, Inner City Press asked UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's spokesman Martin Nesirky:

Inner City Press: in New York now, the Health Department has a system under which the representing letter grades for health. They inspect restaurants and any other food facility. And apparently they have… they do inspect… I wasn’t aware of this, but they inspect the UNICEF cafeteria and the DC-One cafeteria, and both have received grades that would be B or in one case C. What I am wondering is whether the facility here in UN Headquarters, does the UN consider this to be outside of that system of health inspections, and if so what can it say about the… given, across the street what the grades are? And also, not to say that the two are related, but what interface has there been with the city government on this bedbug issue and what update can you provide as to the tests that you said last week were being performed in various locations, some here, some out, including one that was supposedly going to be done and or may soon be done on the 2nd floor? So it’s the food issue, and then the bedbug issue.

Spokesperson Nesirky: Well, on the second, I don’t have an update, and let’s see if we can get one. I don’t have an update. But I do know, as you yourself have said, you’ve been in direct touch with the relevant people from Facilities Management Service. I am sure that if you wanted to, you could do the same again. But for the benefit of others, of course, and for you as well, we’ll see if there is an update. On the first part, health inspections, I would defer to my colleagues who liaise with the city authorities. I don’t know the answer to that.

Inner City Press: Should I follow up with them or can you [inaudible]?

Spokesperson Nesirky: As I said, I will see what we can find out.

[The Spokesperson later added that Aramark said that the cafeteria at United Nations Headquarters was not being inspected.]

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 Click here for an Inner City Press YouTube channel video, mostly UN Headquarters footage, about civilian deaths in Sri Lanka.

Click here for Inner City Press' March 27 UN debate

Click here for Inner City Press March 12 UN (and AIG bailout) debate

Click here for Inner City Press' Feb 26 UN debate

Click here for Feb. 12 debate on Sri Lanka

Click here for Inner City Press' Jan. 16, 2009 debate about Gaza

Click here for Inner City Press' review-of-2008 UN Top Ten debate

Click here for Inner City Press' December 24 debate on UN budget, Niger

Click here from Inner City Press' December 12 debate on UN double standards

Click here for Inner City Press' November 25 debate on Somalia, politics

and this October 17 debate, on Security Council and Obama and the UN.

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These reports are usually also available through Google News and on Lexis-Nexis.

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

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