I attended the gathering of United Nations delegates at the New York Public Library held by President Barack Obama and Mrs. Obama.
The library is one of the most spectacular public buildings in New York City. Many of its ornate rooms, rivaling in their own American way the dazzling gold-finished galleries at Versailles, the residence of Louis XIV outside of Paris, were restored with the personal fortune of Brooke Astor, who lived until the age of 105.
I first met Mrs. Astor shortly after I became mayor in 1978. A ceremony had been scheduled for the city to honor her contributions to the city’s efforts to get private wealthy charitable people to do what the city was unable to do — spend money on our many deteriorating buildings and in her case, the main library at 42nd Street, bringing it back to its once-preeminent position in the city’s inventory of great public spaces.
A short statement had been written for me to read praising Mrs. Astor, reciting her financial contributions to city projects. I, reading from a script, said, “I am very appreciative of the $75 million Mrs. Astor has contributed over the years.”
She immediately broke in and said, “Mr. Mayor, it’s $175 million, and more is coming.” We became good friends. Her most delightful statement delivered many times in the years down the road was, “I’ve never had a face-lift.”
I personally believe that face-lifts tend to erase character lines, and she was right not to have one. Ultimately, she spent more than $200 million on city buildings and programs.
I remember going to the Bronx Zoo, where she had given a baby elephant named Astor to the people of New York City. It was grazing in the open with a large elephant, I think probably its adoptive mother, and Brooke said, “Mayor, let’s go play with Astor.” I said, “No, not me. My mother told me long ago not to play with wild animals, no matter how domesticated, because someday they remember who they are.”
But Brooke reveled in the opportunity and both mama and baby elephant appeared to recognize her and let her touch them at will.
I thought of all of this as I sat on one of the beautiful couches in the room as the delegates talked with one another. I was lucky when the first lady of one of the Caribbean countries, formerly a British colony, joined me and identified many of the heads of state in the room. One gentleman dressed totally in black with a fedora, who from his attire might have been mistaken for a member of a heavy metal or Goth band, she identified as the president of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan, who apparently is never seen without his fedora.
The last time that I can recall being invited to and attending such an event was when I was mayor after being invited by President Ronald Reagan. It was fun to say the least. All were there to see and shake hands with the president. I had that opportunity. I congratulated him on his speech to the United Nations in which he acknowledged Israel’s presence in a difficult neighborhood, saying:
“America’s commitment to Israel’s security is unshakeable, and our friendship with Israel is deep and enduring. And so we believe that any lasting peace must acknowledge the very real security concerns that Israel faces every single day. Let’s be honest: Israel is surrounded by neighbors that have waged repeated wars against it. Israel’s citizens have been killed by rockets fired at their houses and suicide bombs on their buses. Israel’s children come of age knowing that throughout the region, other children are taught to hate them. Israel, a small country of less than 8 million people, looks out at a world where leaders of much larger nations threaten to wipe it off of the map. The Jewish people carry the burden of centuries of exile, persecution, and the fresh memory of knowing that six million people were killed simply because of who they were. These facts cannot be denied. The Jewish people have forged a successful state in their historic homeland. Israel deserves recognition. It deserves normal relations with its neighbors. And friends of the Palestinians do them no favors by ignoring this truth, just as friends of Israel must recognize the need to pursue a two state solution with a secure Israel next to an independent Palestine
I believe the recent vote in the 9th Congressional District in New York affected in a positive way the policy of the United States on the Mideast.
The New York Times of Sept. 26 reported, “On Friday, the United States, the United Nations, Russia and the European Union — known together as the Quartet — urged the Palestinians and the Israelis to return to direct negotiations within a month without preconditions. Since this is close to Israel’s position, leaders there welcomed the plan.”
The president should be praised for intervening with the Egyptian army to save the Israeli diplomatic personnel from physical assault and providing the Israeli military with bunker buster bombs, advanced military technology and providing military intelligence cooperation far exceeding his predecessors. I’m now on board the Obama Re-election Express.
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