Rudy Guiliani: The Friend Within

The Friend Within
October 12, 1993

The 1989 mayoral race was one of the dirtiest in New York history. What ap­peared in print was bad enough — age-old tax matters, race- and red-baiting — but the gossip floating around political circles was far worse: speculation about Ed Koch’s sex life, rumors that a stack of love letters to David Dinkins was sitting on the desk of former Post owner Peter Kalikow, whispers about a Dinkins affair and how it compro­mised the then Manhattan borough president.

None other than Giuliani’s former, and current, campaign manager Peter Powers was involved in peddling the purloined Dinkins love letters to the press, the Voice has learned. Yet Powers was not the only Giuliani supporter to engage in CREEP­-style tactics on behalf of the Republican candidate. A Voice examination of the ’89 bloodbath has revealed that some of this mudslinging can be traced to a close asso­ciate of Rudolph Giuliani’s, an IRS agent named Anthony J. Lombardi, who sources said worked in the shadows of the mayoral campaign.

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Giuliani has declined to be interviewed about Lombardi and other aspects of the ’89 campaign. In fact, there is no proof that Giuliani himself was aware of his asso­ciate’s efforts. But Lombardi, while claim­ing that all his investigations were geared toward legitimate criminal prosecutions, told the Voice that both Giuliani and his top assistants in the U.S. Attorney’s office were aware of his activities. “There was nothing I did there that they didn’t know about. I followed their direction on everything. There is not one thing I did, one report that I wrote, that they didn’t know about. One way or another, they would know about it.”

Lombardi was assigned to the political corruption unit inside the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s office in early 1986, and remained there until his retirement last year at age 50. His departure coincided with the latter stages of a lengthy IRS investigation, a probe that, according to a federal prose­cutor, turned up evidence that Lombardi had engaged in “improper conduct” and was “providing inside information” to the target of an IRS criminal probe. That inves­tigation resulted in the felony convictions this year of two longtime Lombardi associates.

One law enforcement source said that the office of Newark U.S. Attorney Michael Chertoff, which prosecuted the two men, judged a possible indictment of Lombardi as a “close case,” and eventually declined a prosecution. Chertoff, himself a former Giuliani assistant, declined to comment on the case.

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The IRS investigation of Lombardi com­menced in mid 1987, and roughly covered the same period during which the ex­-agent’s suspect political practices occurred. Those activities included:

  • Lombardi participated in interviews with at least three men during which the subject of Ed Koch’s sex life was broached. One witness was summoned by Lombardi from California, but declined to provide in­formation about his personal relationship with Koch. Another purported “government witness,” writer and gay activist Larry Kra­mer — who at the time had begun a cam­paign to “out” Koch — was contacted by Lombardi and gladly agreed to an interview. During that meeting, Kramer provided a graphic description of what he claimed were details of the former mayor’s private life.
  • Weeks before the ’89 general election, Lombardi peddled the rap sheet of Dinkins adviser and union leader Jim Bell, who had been arrested in 1971 for slugging a cop who called him “nigger.” The story about Bell’s minor criminal record broke on TV and was attributed to “law enforcement sources.” The report included a denuncia­tion from Giuliani, who questioned “the kinds of people” Dinkins “surrounds him­self with.”
  • The former IRS agent once bragged that, on occasion, he had tailed Dinkins campaign manager Bill Lynch home at night. Asked only whether he recalled any strange occurrences during the last mayoral race — and not specifically about being tailed — Lynch said in an interview that on four or five occasions, he was followed by car after leaving Dinkins’s Manhattan cam­paign headquarters late at night.

In addition to the surveillance, the Voice has learned that, during the ’89 election, an inquiry was begun into the tax status of Lynch, Dinkins’s chief political adviser. Ac­cording to a well-placed IRS source, there was an allegation that Lynch “had not filed his tax returns.” The source recalled that a request was made for copies of Lynch’s tax returns, but the source could not remember where the request emanated from. “I re­member saying, ‘This is pretty hot shit,’ ” the source said, because of the ongoing mayoral campaign.

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Though the bulk of the IRS’s internal probe of Lombardi focused on his involve­ment in the case handled by Newark federal prosecutors, there apparently was one polit­ical facet to the agency’s inquiry.

According to the notes of one Voice source who examined IRS documents relat­ing to the agency’s Lombardi probe, investigators determined that the ex-agent “did engage in prohibited political fundraising activities on behalf of former New York City mayoral candidate Rudolph Giuliani” in 1989. A federal law enforcement source, who is familiar with the IRS inquiry, could not confirm that the agency had reached such a conclusion. Lombardi denied last week that he engaged in any fundraising activities — which would be a violation of the agency’s conduct codes — but did say that he attended Giuliani’s election night “victory party” in November and that a close friend of his organized a “Democrats for Giuliani” fundraiser in 1989, which he did not attend.

Last week, the Voice asked for an inter­view with Giuliani to discuss aspects of the the ’89 mayoral race, but the request was flatly turned down by campaign spokesman Richard Bryers in a telephone conversation Thursday morning. “We’re declining to talk with you” was all Bryers would say. Earlier in the week, at an Al D’Amato fundraiser, Giuliani approached another Voice reporter and indicated that he wanted to talk about matters he heard the newspaper was exam­ining. During a short conversation, Giu­liani denied that while he was U.S. Attor­ney inquiries were conducted into anyone’s sex life. He also said that he was unaware that Lombardi had been accused of wrong­doing in connection with the New Jersey IRS investigation, saying that he had not spoken with the former agent in more than a year. According to two sources, Giuliani has cut off contact with Lombardi because he believes the ex-agent “was going with a Finkelstein agenda,” a reference to busi­nessman Jerry Finkelstein, a Lombardi friend and the father of Andrew Stein, him­self a mayoral candidate until last May.

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By his own account, Tony Lombardi be­lieves he was “in the forefront of law en­forcement,” a “high-powered guy.”

As a young Treasury agent, he was de­tailed in 1968 to assist the U.S. Secret Ser­vice in its protection of then presidential candidate Richard Nixon. Lombardi even­tually landed in the agency’s Criminal In­vestigation Division (CID), where he became a supervisor and worked cases involving organized crime figures, white collar criminals, and corrupt politicians.

Lombardi helped nail mobsters and mu­nicipal crooks like former Bronx Democrat­ic boss Pat Cunningham, but he is probably best known as the agent who helped trans­form Sukhreet Gabel — the ditsy diva of the Koch-era corruption scandals — into a pros­ecution witness against her own mother, 76 years old and nearly blind.

Lombardi’s career intersected with Giu­liani’s in 1986, when the agent began work­ing for the prosecutor as a special investigator attached to the U.S. Attorney’s office. Lombardi had previously been assigned to the President’s Commission on Organized Crime and, directly preceding his assign­ment with Giuliani, worked for a short time as chief investigator for the Martin Commission, which was charged with ex­amining aspects of the city scandal then enveloping the Koch administration.

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Working with public corruption prosecu­tors, Lombardi helped build a successful case against sewer contractor Andy Capasso that eventually segued into a probe of Ca­passo’s then girlfriend, Bess Myerson. At the same time, Lombardi was also involved in the early stages of Giuliani’s probe into the Parking Violations Bureau and late Queens borough president Donald Manes’s corrupt dealings. It was during the PVB preliminaries that Lombardi’s investigative style first raised concerns among some Giu­liani assistants.

One former prosecutor recalled that Lombardi had to be “constantly admon­ished” to refrain from contacting a prime target of the PVB investigation in an effort to “flip” him, or secure his cooperation. Lombardi had visited the target at home over the weekend, a practice that stopped only when the target’s attorney lodged a complaint with prosecutors. From that point, according to the source, “as well as other things that people saw, there were a number of assistants in the U.S. Attorney’s office who had a real unease about him.”

“He was a big, bluff, gruff, big-mouth agent,” another former prosecutor recalled. “Guys like that can be the most effective or the most dangerous type of agent. He lived in the Southern District, worked like a dog and was extremely trusted.” A third ex­prosecutor, who worked directly with Lom­bardi, said the agent “had access to the throne while Rudy was there,” a recognition of both Lombardi’s work on high-pro­file cases as well as his close relationship with Giuliani. Another prosecutor familiar with Lombardi said that it was “common knowledge” that Lombardi was one of the people Giuliani relied on to handle “things that the boss wants done.”

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In a series of lengthy interviews with the Voice, Lombardi said that because of the “sensitive nature” of many of his investigations, he “worked closely with” Giuliani and his top advisers, including Deputy U.S. Attorney Dennison Young. Lombardi con­firmed that he sometimes chauffeured Giu­liani and regularly attended end-of-the­-workday sessions in Giuliani’s private office during which cases and strategy were discussed. “I really held a position of im­portance,” Lombardi recalled. “My posi­tion was to do big cases.”

“Tony had free access to anyone” in Giu­liani’s office, one former IRS agent said, noting that the agent was close to now FBI director Louis Freeh, who had prosecuted the Pizza Connection heroin case and who served as head of the office’s organized crime unit from 1987 to 1990. Another former IRS investigator noted that Lom­bardi rarely appeared at the IRS’s Manhat­tan office, but when he did, it was clear that “he was some type of big shot. People jumped when he spoke. He got anything he wanted.”

Kevin Ford, a prosecutor who worked with Lombardi and said the investigator was “one of the best people I’ve ever worked with,” recalled that “Tony had a strange and difficult job to do. He was the point man for the IRS in dealing with a lot of very wealthy people who were in a posi­tion to provide … very valuable informa­tion, often about one another, that the gov­ernment was able to capitalize on in making civil and criminal cases.” Lombar­di’s vast array of contacts — he said 163 individuals had served as informants for him during his career — made the agent a well-known source of information for fel­low investigators, prosecutors, and journal­ists alike.

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Ford, in fact, believes that Giuliani him­self benefited from Lombardi’s network. “It was my perception, for what it’s worth, that Rudy took advantage, to be quite frank, of some of Tony’s contacts. Because Tony was, and is, friends with a lot of powerful people … ” Ford noted that because of Lombardi’s close relationship with former U.S. Attorney Andrew Maloney, Giuliani’s Brooklyn counterpart, Giuliani employed him as “sort of a mediator” in disputes between the two offices, using the IRS agent to take “messages back from one to the other, since they wouldn’t speak to one another.”

In addition to Maloney and Jerry Finkel­stein, Lombardi is close friends with insur­ance executive Neil Walsh — a former Roy Cohn crony — who has regularly accompa­nied Lombardi to prizefights, Yankee games, and entertained the former IRS agent in his luxury box at Giants Stadium. Walsh, one of the more shadowy members of the city’s Permanent Government, has been described by Department of Justice officials as having a “business relationship with the FBI. Disclosure of the nature and details of this relationship could cause seri­ous damage to the national security.”

Lombardi, Ford, and ex-prosecutor Da­vid Lawrence worked together on the Myer­son investigation, though it was Lombardi who played the central role in helping to orchestrate one of Giuliani’s major fiascos.

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Lombardi’s “wacky relationship” with Sukhreet — who would testify at the Myer­son trial that she “adored” Lombardi­ — worried many prosecutors in Giuliani’s of­fice, according to an ex-Giuliani assistant. “First of all, she was another one who was represented by counsel … he [Lombardi] came in and said, ‘You know, she wants to talk to us, she wants to rat out her mother. She’s disgusted by this, she feels used and abused and betrayed.’ ” The ex-prosecutor added that “there were a lot of assistants in the office who were very much afraid that Tony was approaching her and preying upon her psychological imbalances. And that this [Gabel’s story] wasn’t coming from her, that this was coming from him. Now this is obviously very serious stuff to (a) be talking to somebody who is repre­sented by counsel, but (b) to be talking, trying to talk a daughter into flipping against her mother.”

The Myerson case, with Gabel as the star witness, became “a disaster from the get­-go,” according to one former prosecutor who viewed Lombardi as a “zealot” who could not understand “why people would have reservations” about a witness taking the stand and mugging her mother for nine days.

What could have been the final piece in Giuliani’s anticorruption crusade — an ef­fort that helped cripple Ed Koch politically and set the stage for Giuliani’s mayoral bid — became an embarrassment. Instead of leaving office in January 1989 with the freshly mounted head of yet another Koch crony tucked under his arm, Giuliani de­parted Bess-less.

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While he was still working on the Myer­son case, during 1987-88, Lombardi told the Voice he conducted a number of other municipal-corruption investigations, though he declined to discuss the nature of these probes, which did not result in the development of criminal cases. It was during the time of these inquiries that three men were queried about their knowledge of details of Ed Koch’s love life.

Playwright and AIDS activist Larry Kra­mer told the Voice that he was first contact­ed by Lombardi in 1987 and asked to come into the U.S. Attorney’s office for an inter­view, which took place on September 25.

At the time Lombardi contacted him, Kramer was in the midst of trying to “out” Koch and was focusing on the politician’s late-’70s relationship with a health care consultant named Richard Nathan. The thrust of Kramer’s story was that Nathan had admitted to him and others that he had once been Koch’s lover. Kramer’s agitating, he said, was to call attention to what he believed was Koch’s delay in dealing with the epidemic.

Kramer said last week that he was also aware, at the time, that after Nathan had moved to Los Angeles in 1978, he had received a small city contract — totaling less than $13,000 — from the Health and Hospi­tals Corporation. Aware that his informa­tion consisted entirely of hearsay accounts of Koch’s private life, Kramer said he met Lombardi anyway because he believed it was “very much two guys trying to help each other.”

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Asked why he called in Kramer, Lombardi said it was not he who contacted the writer, but did assert that Kramer was a “witness” in a confidential investigation that the ex-agent could not discuss. When Lombardi was told that Kramer recalled speaking extensively about Koch’s love life, he responded, “that’s absolute bullshit. No­body called Larry Kramer in to provide any information about his love life or any of that crap. He was an important witness.”

Ford, though, also attended the Kramer interview and contradicts Lombardi, saying the activist described “in gross detail” what he claimed to be first- and second-hand accounts of “Ed Koch’s sex life.” Ford said that it had been his belief that Kramer had approached the U.S. Attorney’s office and requested the meeting. Kramer, however, was adamant that Lombardi initiated the contact and said he was never a witness in any investigation, as Lombardi claimed.

Nathan told the Voice that he, too, was contacted by Lombardi at his home in Los Angeles. Asked last week if Nathan — and his paltry HHC contract — were ever the subject of a criminal investigation, Lom­bardi said, “No, never.” As with Kramer, Lombardi said that Nathan was also a gov­ernment witness, but “I don’t believe I worked on the investigation.” Nathan has a markedly different recollection.

Contacted last week, he said that Lom­bardi telephoned him, apparently in late 1987, and “invited” him to come in for an interview. Nathan, who traveled to New York occasionally, readily agreed to meet with Lombardi when he was in town next, believing that otherwise he would be sub­poenaed to appear.

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Nathan said that his meeting with Lom­bardi had a “two-part agenda: there were the [HHC] contracts, which is the above­-the-ground agenda, and the private life, which is the below-the-ground agenda.” He added, “It was an open secret what he was chasing. You don’t get summoned to New York to discuss your love life. They don’t put that on a subpoena.”

Lombardi, said Nathan, was “a hired gun looking for dirt” and that “I never recall it being suggested that I violated anything. It was, rather, gathering information.” Na­than added that Lombardi “really wanted to probe into things that I told him were of a personal nature. My private life is pri­vate.” Nathan, who said he has not been in contact with Koch for years, said that he did not know “whether Koch was aware of Lombardi particularly, but he sure as hell must have been aware that people were out looking over his bedtime activities.”

Though he initially denied working on the “investigation” in which Nathan sup­posedly was a “witness,” Lombardi claimed that the consultant was the one who wanted to talk about sex. “The guy wanted to get on a soapbox. We had to restrain this guy. [He] talked about Mr. A, B, C, D, and E.”

The third person queried about Koch’s private life was former mayoral aide Herb Rickman, who was a government witness during the Myerson trial. In preparation for his testimony in that trial, according to sources, Rickman was questioned on five or six occasions, with lead prosecutor David Lawrence conducting the interview. Infor­mation about Koch’s sex life came up dur­ing these meetings, sources said, but always in the context of preparing Rickman for any possible cross-examination.

Lombardi attended the Rickman sessions, but said he did not recall anything about Koch’s per­sonal life being discussed, though Ford remem­bered the subject being brought up by the may­or’s former ally. Other source says Rickman was ‘bothered’ by how often open ended questions about Koch’s personal life were raised.

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Lombardi said that in the course of his corrup­tion investigations, “We called in a number of people … and we would do the best not even to talk about it. Who the hell cares what their sexu­al persuasion was?” However, one ex-prosecutor who worked with the farmer IRS agent said, “Tony is such a gossip. He used to tell stories about Koch and gay liaisons,” complete with details of “Westhampton trysts.”

A federal criminal trial in Trenton, New Jersey, just this summer offers another in­sight into Lombardi’s focus on Koch’s sex life — as well as his newfound disdain for the very people and institutions that were hallmarks of his career.

In the Trenton trial, Manhattan attorney Michael Pollack was accused of devising a scheme to help a client, businessman Arnold Herman, avoid paying federal income taxes. Both Pollack and Herman were the targets of a three-year IRS investigation, which was driven by the cooperation of a third man who secretly recorded meetings and telephone calls for investigators.

Presented with evidence of his role in the scheme, Herman pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate in the government’s case against Pollack, who was eventually con­victed on two felony counts. Herman, a friend of Lombardi’s for almost 20 years, was caught talking about his pal in a secret­ly recorded conversation on November 30, 1988.

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Discussing Lombardi’s work on the Myerson case, which was then under way, Herman said, “There’s more to it than Bess Myerson. They’re trying to nail Koch.” Lat­er in the conversation, in an apparent refer­ence to Lombardi, Herman said, “So now they’re saying, ‘Well, he’s gay, he’s got a lover.’ Oh, so what? Who gives a shit?” Then, Herman added, “I say this very hon­estly, I say, ‘Lombardi, what’s the big deal?’ But 0n the other-hand, you kn0w he looks at it like, this is his job.” Herman conclud­ed by saying that “If they don’t want to let him [Koch] alone and go to work, they want to hock him to death so that they will find out that he was in the sack with some guy.”

In his initial Voice interview, Lombardi described Herman, 63, as “an incredible guy” who worked for years as an informant. “He never was paid, he never got anything of any consequence, he was never in trou­ble. This was a rare example of a guy who did it because I think there was a thrill involved.” However, in subsequent inter­views, as Lombardi learned that Herman’s testimony — and his tape-recorded com­ments — implicated Lombardi in the tax-­avoidance scheme, he excoriated his former friend — who he earlier said provided him with “pretty solid information” — as a “rat,” “squealer,” “liar,” “greedy felon,” “scuzzbag,” “shithead,” “scum,” and as­serted that his former associate “should have been crucified.” As he raged against Herman, Lombardi also revealed specific details of what he said was Herman’s coop­eration in investigations against two orga­nized crime figures and one New York­-based billionaire.

Lombardi also had some choice words for the prosecutor in the Trenton case, Mark Rufolo, who blasted Lombardi’s conduct, charging that his, behavior was clearly “improper … probably a lot more than im­proper.” Rufolo, Lombardi said, was a “piece of shit” who “should be hung.” He added that one IRS agent who participated in the agency’s internal probe of him was a “drunk” who “doesn’t remember one day from another.”

Lombardi claimed that the IRS investiga­tion did not turn up “a goddamned shred of evidence” against him, claiming that the probe was “an attempt, for some reason, to defame me, to hurt me and my family, to hurt my earning capacity.” He added, “If I did something that was illegal, they would have indicted me.”

Stung by having a prosecutor point the finger at him, Lombardi, who spent 25 years building cases with just such attor­neys, said, “You know how prosecutors are. They will do whatever they have to do in order to solidify their case.” Reminded that this was a U.S. Attorney who had accused him, not a “scuzzbag” informant, Lom­bardi answered, “And what does that mean? That everything he says … is factual?”

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Like most astute followers of mayoral politics, Tony Lombardi’s focus on Ed Koch ended the night David Dinkins was elected mayor. In interviews, Lombardi denied investi­gating Dinkins campaign officials, and claimed the only Dinkins-related matter he was ever involved in “was given to me to handle in a very, very, delicate way.” That probe of the new mayor, not surprisingly, involved an alleged “love liaison,” as Lom­bardi phrased it. In a new twist, this one involved a woman.

Lombardi’s memory was less clear about one figure involved with the ’89 Dinkins operation, Jim Bell, a late union official who was at Dinkins’s side throughout the campaign. The Voice asked Lombardi if he remembered Bell. “Never heard of him,” Lombardi said, apparently forgetting that he tried to smear Bell, Dinkins’s police liai­son, with the story about his 1971 arrest for slugging a cop.

Armed with Bell’s rap sheet, Lombardi peddled a nice, neat political hit. Because of the nature and dates of Bell’s arrests, a check of the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) computer — or New York State’s equivalent — would be the only way, according to knowledgeable law enforce­ment sources, to generate a comprehensive criminal history, as it were, on Bell.

WNBC-TV crime reporter John Miller broke the Bell story, citing law enforcement sources in his exclusive, which ran 10 days before the November 2 general election. The following morning’s New York News­day carried a similar story and cited “criminal records” as the source for its story. Lombardi said that he knows Miller, but denied a hand in leaking the Bell story.

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Bell, who died last year, also figured in another intrigue that Lombardi took credit for. Lynch told the Voice that on several occasions before the November election he and Bell believed they were being followed as they left the Dinkins campaign head­quarters on West 43rd Street.

“We’d leave anywhere from midnight to 2 a.m. and pick the car up in a parking lot on 44th Street,” Lynch recalled. “We had the same routine: drive up Eighth Avenue then over to Broadway and 72nd Street,” where the pair would buy newspapers and hot dogs at Gray’s Papaya. “We’d go north on Central Park West or Amsterdam Ave­nue. At some point, we both were sure that we were being tailed by the same car each night. I didn’t really think about it that much until it happens for like the fourth or fifth time. So, we pulled over one night at 105th Street and jumped out of the car and ran back towards the guy behind us. That’s when he backed up and cut out.” Lynch said the tails ended that evening.

One Voice source said that Lombardi matter-of-factly mentioned the Lynch tails to him. Lombardi denied the surveillance, saying, “I don’t recall anybody ever coming to me to say that Bill Lynch has done any­thing wrong. I heard a story about his son. I heard some matters that I would think he would be pained about as a father.” Lombardi added, “I only knew of what little rumors that one might want to have floated about the guy …” Lombardi also denied knowing about whether officials in the U.S. Attorney’s office ever discussed Lynch’s tax history.

The Voice has learned, however, that at least one top official in the U.S. Attorney’s office — which was then headed by Benito Romano — was aware of the Lynch inquiry and believed the mayor’s political operative had “a problem.” Lynch, who was subject­ed to a detailed Department of Investiga­tion background check following his ap­pointment as a deputy mayor, told the Voice that he had always filed his taxes and “if I hadn’t, I would’ve gotten it between the eyes from someone.”

Lynch told the Voice, though, that in August 1989, he was contacted by the IRS with regard to his 1985 tax return — which Lynch said he had filed on time more than three years earlier — and that he eventually underwent a two-day audit in early 1990. Lynch said that when he received notice of the examination — which he said resulted in no additional tax or penalties — he believed that his “number had just come up” for a routine audit.

Informed of the timing of Lynch’s audit, a retired IRS agent told the Voice that, if Lynch had submitted his ’85 tax return in a “timely fashion,” it would be “absolutely out of the ordinary” that an examination of the return would take place more than three years later. Lynch said that he filed his returns on time, which the Voice has confirmed.

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Even without Lombardi’s help, the Giu­liani campaign was capable of slinging its own mud. In what was perhaps the sleaziest dirty trick of all, the campaign brass fever­ishly tried in the final days of the ’89 cam­paign — unsuccessfully as it turned out  — to convince the Post to run a story about pur­ported “love letters” that had supposedly been sent to Dinkins by women other than his wife.

The Giuliani team, according to sources in both campaigns, had obtained the letters from a disgruntled former employee of the Manhattan borough president’s office who, Dinkins aides said, walked off with the correspondence as well as the politician’s Rolodex after her demand for a promotion and raise was denied. The ex-employee, whose relative worked for the Giuliani campaign, served on Dinkins’s staff while he was Manhattan borough president and also worked for him when he was the city clerk.

The “love letters” wound up in the hands of Post political reporter Fred Dicker, who confronted Lynch with the correspondence. Lynch tried to dismiss the matter, but the Post parry triggered a series of high-level negotiations, with then Dinkins adviser An­drew Cuomo playing a critical role in help­ing to snuff the smear.

Since most of the Giuliani campaign’s upper echelon were lawyers — and many were ex-prosecutors — they must have known that they were in the possession of what appeared to be stolen property. Peter Powers, Giuliani’s close friend and cam­paign manager, was in the middle of the “love letters” operation. according to one well-placed Giuliani campaign source.

At one point, Powers tried to justify the attempted smear, the source said, by com­plaining that the Dinkins forces were working to plant stories about the annulment of Giuliani’s first marriage.

As the Republican team attempted to detonate its last-minute bomb — while ex­pecting the story of Giuliani’s marriage to a cousin to explode as well — Powers offered a telling analogy, according to one source: “This is like the Cuban Missile Crisis.”

The Giuliani “love letters” operation was the denouement of the tawdry ’89 mayoral race. Like most of the sleaziest intrigues of that campaign, the letters materialized in the shadow of Election Day. As Dinkins­-Giuliani II enters its final weeks — with combat veteran Powers heading the Giu­liani brigade — history indicates that New York may be in store for a number of October surprises. ♦


An Open Letter to Dr. Anthony Fauci

The Press of Freedom: A Column Open to Our Readers

I have been screaming at the National Institutes of Health since I first visited your Animal House of Horrors in 1984. I called you monsters then and I called you idiots in my play, The Normal Heart, and now I call you murderers.

You are responsible for supervising all government-funded AIDS treatment research programs. In the name of right, you make decisions that cost the lives of others. I call that murder.

At hearings on April 29 before Representative Ted Weiss and his House Subcommittee on Human Resources, after almost eight years of the worst epidemic in modern history, perhaps to be the worst in all history, you were pummeled into admitting publicly what some of us have been claiming since you took over three years ago.

You admitted that you are an incompetent idiot.

Over the past four years, $374 million has been allocated for AIDS treatment research. You were in charge of spending much of that money.

It doesn’t take a genius to set up a nationwide network of testing sites, commence a small number of moderately sized treatment efficacy tests on a population desperate to participate in them, import any and all interesting drugs (now numbering approximately 110) from around the world for inclusion in these tests at these sites, and swiftly get into circulation anything that remotely passes muster. Yet, after three years, you have established only a system of waste, chaos, and uselessness.

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It doesn’t take a genius to announce that you have elected to personally supervise the study of a broad range of new drugs. Yet, two years later, you are forced to admit you’ve barely begun.

It doesn’t take a genius to request, as you did, 126 new staff persons, receive only 11, and then keep your mouth shut about it.

It takes an incompetent idiot.

To quote Representative Henry Waxman at the above hearings: “Dr. Fauci, your own drug selection committee has named 24 drugs as high priority for development and trials. As best as I can tell, 11 of these 24 are not in trials yet. Six of these drugs have been waiting for six months to more than a year. Why the delays? I understand the need to do what you call setting priorities but it appears even with your own scientists’ choices the trials are not going on.”

Your defense? “There are just confounding delays that no one can help… we are responsible as investigators to make sure that in our zeal to go quickly, that we do the clinical study correctly, that it’s planned correctly and executed correctly, rather than just having the drug distributed.”

Now you come bawling to Congress that you don’t have enough staff, office space, lab space, secretaries, computer operators, lab technicians, file clerks, janitors, toilet paper; and that’s why the drugs aren’t being tested and the network of treatment centers isn’t working and the drug protocols aren’t in place. You expect us to buy this bullshit and feel sorry for you. YOU FUCKING SON OF A BITCH OF A DUMB IDIOT, YOU HAVE HAD $374 MILLION AND YOU EXPECT US TO BUY THIS GARBAGE BAG OF EXCUSES!

The gay community has been on your ass for three years. For 36 agonizing months, you refused to go public with what was happening (correction: not happening), and because you wouldn’t speak up until you were asked pointedly by a congressional committee, we lie down and die and our bodies pile up higher and higher in hospitals and homes and hospices and streets and doorways.

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Meanwhile, drugs we have been begging that you test remain untested. The list of promising untested drugs is now so endless and the pipeline so clogged with NIH and FDA bureaucratic lies that there is no Roto-Rooter service in All God’s Christendom that will ever muck it out.

You whine to Congress that you are short of staff. You don’t need staff to set up hospital treatment centers around the country. The hospitals are already there. They hire their own staff. They only need money. You have money. YOU HAVE $374 MILION FUCKING DOLLARS, FOR CHRIST’S SAKE.

The gay community has, for five years, told the NIH which drugs to test because we know and hear first what is working on some of us somewhere. You couldn’t care less about what we say. You won’t answer our phone calls or letters, or listen to anyone in our stricken community. What tragic pomposity!

The gay community has consistently warned that unless you move quickly your studies will be worthless because we’re already taking drugs into our bodies that we desperately locate all over the world (who can wait for you?!!), and all your “scientific” protocols are stupidly based on utilizing guinea-pig bodies that are clean. You wouldn’t listen, and now you wonder why so few sign up for your meager assortment of “scientific” protocols that make such rigid demands for “purity” that no one can fulfill them, unless they lie. And why should those who can obtain the drugs themselves take the chance of receiving a placebo in one of your “scientific” studies?

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How many years ago did we tell you about aerosol pentamidine, Tony? This stuff saves lives. And we discovered it ourselves. We came to you, bearing this great news on a silver platter, begging you: can we get it officially tested; can we get it approved so insurance companies and Medicaid will pay for it (as well as other drugs we beg you to test) as a routine treatment, and our patients going broke paying for medicine can get it cheaper? You monster.

“Assume that you have AIDS, and that you’ve had pneumonia once,” Representative Nancy Pelosi said. “You know that aerosolized pentamidine was evaluated by NIH as highly promising… You know as of today that the delays in NIH trials… may not be solved this year… Would you wait for [an NIH] study?”

You replied: “I probably would go with what would be available to me, be it available in the street or what have you.”

We tell you what the good drugs are, you don’t test them, then YOU TELL US TO GET THEM ON THE STREETS. You continue to pass down word from On High that you don’t like this drug or that drug — when you haven’t even tested them. THERE ARE MORE AIDS VICTIMS DEAD BECAUSE YOU DIDN’T TEST DRUGS ON THEM THAN BECAUSE YOU DID.

You’ve yet to test imuthiol, AS101, dextran sulfate, DHEA, Imreg-1, Erythropoietin — all drugs Gay Men’s Health Crisis considers top priority. You do like AZT, which consumes 80 percent of your studies, even though Dr. Barry Gingell, GMHC’s medical director, now describes AZT as “a cumulative poison… foisted on the public.” Soon there will be more AIDS patients dead because you did test drugs on them — the wrong drugs.

ACT UP was formed over a year ago to get experimental drugs into the bodies of patients. For one year ACT UP has tried every kind of protest known to man (short of putting bombs in your toilet or flames up your institute) to get some movement in this area. One year later, ACT UP is still screaming for the same drugs they begged and implored you and your world to release. One year of screaming, protesting, crying, cajoling, lobbying, threatening, imprecating, marching, testifying, hoping, wishing, praying has brought nothing. You don’t listen. No one listens. No one has ears. Or hearts.

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Whose ass are you covering for, Tony? (Besides your own). Is it the head of your Animal House, the invisible Dr. James Wyngaarden, director of the National Institute of Health (and may a Democratic president get him out of office fast)? Is it Dr. Vincent DeVita, head of the National Cancer Institute, another invisible murderer who lets you be his fall guy? Or Dr. Otis Bowen, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, no doubt the biggest murderer on the list; Shultz and Weinberger would never take such constricting shit from the Office of Management and Budget. All the doctors have continuously told the world that All Is Being Done That Can Be Done. Now you admit that isn’t so.


I don’t know (though it wouldn’t surprise me) if you kept quiet intentionally. I don’t know (though it wouldn’t surprise me) if you were ordered to keep quiet by Higher Ups Somewhere. You are a good lieutenant, like Adolph Eichmann.

I do know that anyone who knows what you have known for three years — that, to quote Ted Weiss, “the dimension of the shortfall is such that you can’t possibly meet our needs,” and, to quote the New York Times and their grossly incompetent AIDS reporter, Philip Boffey (whose articles read like recycled NIH releases): “Officials Blame Shortage of Staff for Delay in Testing AIDS Drugs” — I repeat, anyone who has known all this and denied it for the past three years is a murderer, not dissimilar to the “good Germans” who claimed they didn’t know what was happening.

With each day I realize a little more that the gay community has lost the battle. And that we haven’t begun to experience the horrors that still await us —  horrors even worse than you now embryonically signify. We have lost. No one important enough has ears. Or hearts.

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You care, I’m told (although I no longer believe it). I’ve even heard you called a saint. You are in essence a scientist who’s expected to be Lee Iacocca. But saints, miracle workers, good administrators, brilliant scientists have imaginations vivid enough to know how to spend $374 million in a dire emergency. You have no imagination. You are banal (a word used so accurately to describe Eichmann).

Do I want you to leave? (Yes.) Could you’re replacement possibly be more pea-brained than you? (Yes, it is possible.) Will this raving do any good at all? Will it make Congress shape you up? Will it make my own communities bureaucratically mired AIDS organizations finally ask the right questions? (Judy Peabody of GNHC please take note.) Will Dr. Mathilde Krim ever — as she indicated she would — get the American Foundation for AIDS Research to fund the desperately needed and desperately needy Community Research Initiative, which is valiantly attempting to do what you should be doing, so tired we are of waiting for you to do it? (Leonard Bernstein and Harry Kraut please take note.)

I have no answers to most of these questions. You may (God help us all) be the best that will be given us. You may, like John Ehrlichman, once accused, seek redemption and forgiveness by rethinking, retooling, and, like Avis, trying harder. Even more miraculous, those Supreme Murderers in the White House might tomorrow acknowledge that families simply everywhere have gay sons and daughters.

But I fear these are only pipe dreams and you’ll continue to carry on with your spare equipment. The cries of genocide from this Cassandra will continue to remain unheard. And my noble but enfeebled community of the weak, and dying, and the dead will continue to grow and grow — until we are diminished.


AIDS Activism: More Than a Walk in the Park

On a beautiful Sunday in May, Chris de la Torre, 31, a comedian wearing a “Kool AIDS” T-shirt, and his partner, dancer Edwin Figueroa, 30, his tee proudly proclaiming “POZ LOVER,” marched through Central Park with 45,000 others in the Gay Men’s Health Crisis’s main fundraiser, the annual AIDS Walk. Although Figueroa is HIV-negative, de la Torre was infected at age 19 as a recent graduate of a New York City high school (where, he said, he never received the mandated AIDS education).

De la Torre began his first HIV drug “cocktail” five years ago; he’s now on his third regimen. “On the first, I felt sick. On the second, I got jaundiced all the time,” he says. “Now I’m on one pill a day, and I get a little nauseous.” Although like so many since the advent of protease inhibitors in 1995, he has managed to keep the virus from exploding into full-blown AIDS, dealing with HIV is a lot more fraught than those smiling Big Pharma ads would have you believe. The fit, handsome couple is unique in their openness about their serostatus. They raise money through the AIDS Walk because “people are complacent, and there is still stigma,” de la Torre says.

Today, 31 years into dealing with AIDS, 50,000 Americans a year manage to become infected with HIV. In the ’80s, a diagnosis was so terrifying that many committed suicide rather than face a rapid decline and early death. In 1987, with 40,000 dead, Larry Kramer, who had co-founded GMHC and left the group in a wave of recriminations because he saw the AIDS service organization as only a caretaker of the sick, gave a speech that became the spark that ignited ACT UP. These in-your-face protesters pushed for—and helped win—expedited approval of treatment drugs. Their struggles with government agencies became a template for other patient-driven movements—as well as rights groups in places including Ramala and Moscow.

ACT UP, however, eventually became a victim of its own success. Those who were saved by its efforts quit protesting to savor their reprieve from illness and early death. Here in New York, the disease becomes ever more marginalized, with people of color—straight and gay, male and female—making up most of the recent infections. As John Hellman, director of advocacy for the Latino Commission on AIDS, notes, many Latinos are “late testers”: 42 percent develop full-blown AIDS within 12 months of testing positive.

“What is needed is a public-health advocacy that takes into account the challenges around health disparities,” says Marjorie Hill, the head of GMHC. “But that’s not sexy.”

Many of those who were on the barricades are now sitting at desks heading the patchwork of AIDS-service organizations or deciding U.S. AIDS policy. For Kramer, “advocacy isn’t activism. It is at best education. It is not out to change the power structure.”

Today’s much more muted response reflects the unique place AIDS activism holds as the first widespread response to a major public-health crisis that was created, formulated, and executed by those with the disease. As waves of protesters succumbed, the newly infected rose to take their place. But when the drug cocktail took away a sense of urgency, many began to reflect the attitude of a middle-age man infected 10 years ago who told me, “This disease is not going to be what my life is about.” Instead of street activism, he prefers to work behind the scenes. He believes using his access to the powerful is a better way to influence public policy. On a personal level, he’s educating younger gay men, like the trick who, knowing his partner was positive, nevertheless wanted to fuck bareback. He ended up being on the receiving end all right—of an hour-long lecture about safer sex.

You’re more likely to witness public AIDS activism these days on a stage or movie screen. Last year, Kramer’s angry polemic The Normal Heart won a Tony and is finally, after decades of delays, in early production as a feature film. Sarah Schulman, who co-founded the ACT UP Oral History Project with Jim Hubbard, hopes their new documentary, United in Anger, “shows people how to make change regardless of what movement you’re in.” She adds: “AIDS activism in itself has very little future until it takes on the prevention crisis, Global Pharma, and its hold on medications.” David France sees his Sundance documentary hit How To Survive a Plague as a tribute to “the triumph of AIDS activism, something we haven’t celebrated before this.”

Such nostalgia tinged April’s ACT UP 25th anniversary Wall Street protest to press for a Financial Speculation Tax to pay for AIDS treatment and prevention. But the general feeling among the thousand or so protesters was more Old Home Week than the start of a new initiative. ACT UP veteran Tony Arena, 46, once “lived, breathed, and slept ACT UP.” The April demonstration, he says, was probably “not the kind of elegant action everyone could understand and get behind.”

Perhaps such a falloff is inevitable. Every movement, from the French Revolution to Occupy Wall Street, eventually peters out or exhausts its forces. “I’ve never seen any hyperactive activism in any movement sustained for more than seven to 10 years,” says Bill Bahlman, 60, an early gay rights and AIDS activist.

Terri Smith-Caronia is employed at Housing Works, an offshoot of ACT UP that agitates for improved housing for people with AIDS. In her 18 years there, she notes, “the ones we can get out on the frontlines and go yell with me are the ones who are hungriest and the homeless. Clients we help to a more comfortable life want to live that comfortable life. Isn’t that what we fought for?”

In a telling symbol of the way memories of the Plague Years have faded, the former St. Vincent’s Hospital in Greenwich Village, the epicenter of early treatment of AIDS patients, is going under the wrecker’s ball. Across the street, an AIDS memorial park will arise. The biggest enduring public show of concern about AIDS these days is GMHC’s celebrity-studded mass walk in the park.

Young people today grew up with AIDS as a given in their lives. Maybe that explains the rate of new infections among U.S. men ages 13 to 29 who have sex with men increasing by 34 percent and a staggering 48 percent among young black men having sex with men. If those numbers don’t shock us into more radical action, we are writing off a generation.


Ellen Barkin On Hollywood, AIDS, and The Normal Heart

Ellen Barkin is riveting audiences as the doctor with polio who politicizes the Larry Kramer character about AIDS in the acclaimed Broadway revival of Kramer’s The Normal Heart. The other day, the Hollywood humdinger and Tony nominee talked to me about this eye-opening career twist—a really memorable Broadway debut.

Me: Hi, Ellen. This show [which originated as a reading, with a mostly different cast] was put together very quickly, yes?

Barkin: We started rehearsal April 10, and we opened April 27. So I don’t think any of us felt that pressure of mounting a Broadway play because we were just working too furiously to get there. We all fell into the arms of [co-director] George Wolfe and trusted him. Once we gave ourselves over to him, there was no time to feel each other out. That man is so creative and big with his vision and generous with his actors, and he’s still there!

Me: Did you feel awkward rehearsing your big monologue with the Times‘ Alex Witchel sitting there doing a piece on you?

Barkin: Not really. If you can act in front of a crew of 75, you can act in front of a very intelligent journalist, who also has a job to do. I didn’t feel like Alex was judging me.

Me: Well, I am. You’re sensational! But how do you modulate that monologue—railing at the system for ignoring the mounting ghastliness of AIDS—so you don’t peak too soon?

Barkin: You keep it together for as long as you can, you listen to your director, and you find the one word that tips you over the edge. Some nights I get angrier sooner. It works differently on different nights.

Me: Larry’s writing turns out to be more impressive than we’d realized, no?

Barkin: When it first came out in 1985, it was like, “This is Larry Kramer’s polemic against this horrible catastrophe that we just now called AIDS.” Now, it’s “Larry wrote a beautiful, profound, witty, and emotionally devastating play that is way bigger and better a play than the polemic it was seen to be.” A lot of that has to do with George. He said, “This is a horror movie. The only one that knows those people are zombies at the door is her.” The stakes are high, and there’s a world around it. People fall in love; people get in bad moods. A grind goes on while you’re fighting a war. That’s the beauty of what Larry wrote. During wartime, people create bonds, have fights, come together, and pull apart. It’s not just war.

Time has allowed us to see AIDS as something bigger. It’s a plague that’s never been defined as a plague. What happens when you have a plague for 30 years? This is very profound, and not like anything I’ve done in movies

Me: Oh, come on. Switch didn’t have this kind of magnitude? God, I’m such a bitch.

Barkin: [Laughs.] I’ve never made a movie like this that speaks to such profound issues. I’ve never done anything this political. It feels really good.

Me: Do you end each performance in a daze?

Barkin: We’re all wiped out. But any time any of us feel tired, we look at Joe Mantello [who plays Ned, the Kramer stand-in] and say, “What the fuck are we complaining about?” I have four scenes where I’m sitting in a wheelchair—that’s not so hard compared to what he’s done.

Me: Did you have any trepidation about not having done stage for a while?

Barkin: No. It’s not a different kind of acting. That’s where theater gets dicey, when actors feel they have to act differently on stage because they’re playing to the balcony. I saw The Merchant of Venice, and it didn’t look like Al Pacino was doing anything different from when he has a camera in his face. If you saw Liev Schreiber do A View From the Bridge, you felt like you were in his house with him. Stephen Dillane, my ex-husband Gabriel Byrne . . . these people aren’t tweaking. When actors do that, there’s a distancing!

Me: Speaking of screen acting, didn’t you grow in stature as a movie star rather than explode all at once?

Barkin: I was never a big, giant movie star. I was an actor who occasionally was in a glamorous movie that made a lot of money.

Me: I wasn’t saying you’re not a big movie star . . .

Barkin: I am. I got out there little by little. There are different points where things started to change. For me, it happened with The Big Easy, and then in a big way with Sea of Love. I was what they liked to call “the girl,” and that was great for me at that time, but also, that coincided with me starting a family [with Byrne in 1988. In 2000, Barkin married Revlon tycoon Ron Perelman, whom she isn’t allowed to talk about. I guess it is just war].

Me: Are you still in the film game?

Barkin: I have a movie coming out in the fall that I produced and starred in called Another Happy Day, and I’m very proud of it. But I would like to do this again. I’d been trying to do a play for three years, so I’m happy where I am.

Me: Yay! Before I leave you: says you’re “unconventionally pretty.” Your thoughts?

Barkin: I’ll go along with the unconventional part. [Pause.] It’s like a Jewish mother. They can never give you a compliment! [Laughs.]


The Normal Heart Beats Still

In 1985, Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart challenged America—no, humanity—to save the lives of “his friends”—gay men dying of a nameless disease. In 2011, at least 25 million people, many strangers to Kramer, have died. Now, in the play’s Broadway debut, Kramer’s alter ego, activist Ned Weeks (Joe Mantello), seems like a tragic Cassandra as he lambastes institutions like the New York Times and the U.S government for their inaction. “We’re not yelling loud enough!” he cries.

We know Kramer wasn’t wrong about AIDS, but also that yelling can’t be one’s only strategy, in art or politics. Kramer wasn’t prioritizing art then, and still isn’t—he stood outside the preview distributing leaflets declaring that “everything in The Normal Heart happened.” But the passing years have made it easier to admire his confrontational style, brush off the play’s contempt for sexual pleasure, and credit Kramer with the invention of, among others, Tony Kushner.

The quasi-operatic monologues of the second act feel less manipulative than they must have in 1985, and truly tragic given the consequences of all that inaction. These roles are intensely attacked by the excellent cast, especially Mantello and Ellen Barkin, who plays Dr. Emma Brookner, an early AIDS doctor, whose spectacular meltdown captures the frustration and terror of those times.


President Rejects Gay Hustler!

Joan Rivers just had a party for her TV Land series, How’d You Get So Rich?, at her sumptuous East Side triplex, the one she recently put on the market. “Make your bid!” Joan chirped, giddily pretending it was an open house, too.

But why try to unload her place now, of all times? “When I buy, that means ‘Don’t,’ ” the fresh-roasted comic admitted, “and when I sell, that means ‘How stupid are you?’ I’m the only one that lost money on Fabergé. People say, ‘How much money did you make on the czar’s personal watches?’ I say, ‘Nothing! I lost a fortune!’ I’m like the Top Shop of Fabergé!” I guess the watches laid a big Fabergé egg.

Speaking of collectible food items, Julie & Julia is highlighted by Meryl Streep‘s culinary cutie Julia Child practically orgasming when eating a piece of buttery fish and gleefully comparing cannelloni to “stiff cocks.” By the time Child is boning a duck, you’re surprised she hasn’t strapped on her “dill dough.” . . . An aroused source who saw Quentin Tarantino‘s re-cut version of Inglourious Basterds says it’s more glorious than it was. . . . Speaking of revamped careers, they are really pushing the shit out of Whitney Houston‘s intended comeback. Press releases are sent out every two seconds about all aspects of the new record, her image, and her rising from the ashes (though you can’t discuss just what ashes those are). Clive Davis must be holding a guillotine over peoples’ heads, saying, “Make her hot again or die!” As well he should! . . . Transsexual icon Amanda Lepore is certainly on fire again. She just told me, “My career is doing much better with the recession. It’s because I’m fantasy!”

Reality surfaced after last Monday’s performance of The Temperamentals—the Off-Broadway play about gay pioneer Harry Hay—when there was a “Militant Mondays” talkback featuring lovable curmudgeon Larry Kramer, who’s pretty much the Hay of today. Larry said he was fascinated by the Bob Herbert editorial in the Times about the Henry Gates incident (a/k/a Gatesgate): “Herbert was basically telling black people to go out there and be Act-Up!” Kramer said, admiringly.

Meanwhile, Kramer’s acting up again, this time about making the White House way more rainbow-colored. He’s writing a sweeping book called The American People: A History, which will report that George Washington was gay (and mad for Alexander Hamilton) and that John Wilkes Booth was a hustler hired by Abe Lincoln’s love object, shopkeeper Joshua Speed, for Abie baby’s personal use. But supposedly, the Prez wasn’t interested in freeing his snake for that bit of business, and, as Kramer told me, “Hell hath no fury like a hustler spurned.” That’s so true—look at Ashley Dupré!

I hung with the ‘hos at Beige, but I also got to meet one of TV’s Real Housewives, who was slumming there, so I asked her how New York is different from New Jersey. She gave me a long, involved answer—”New York doesn’t have small towns like New Jersey does,” etc.—but then I found out she was NeNe Leakes from Real Housewives of Atlanta! Oh, well. “So you love the gays?” I asked, gracefully switching gears. “Love them? This is my gay husband,” she exclaimed, introducing me to a fey creature. “So you’re married to him?” “Twice!” she joked.

Just then, I found the real Real Housewife of New Jersey, Danielle Staub, in another corner of the club. So you love the gays? “I love my gays!” she exulted, as the twinks developed stiff cannellonis from the echo effect. “I just came from Barracuda. They said we had to sing karaoke, so we said, ‘Oops, gotta go.’ Then we went to Citrine, and now we’re here. I love New York! It’s so accepting. You can be a model or a homeless person.” “And in the case of the Olsen twins,” I wittily interjected, “you can be both!”

There was one more reality star by the bar: Ra’mon from the new Project Runway season, who sported a mohawk the size of NeNe’s five-inch heels. “It was God-given,” he swore to me. And a well-coiffed Frances Bean Cobain, aged 16, was there, too—with another rocker spawn, Zowie Bowie—but not drinking, I’m sure! Or mainlining, either!

Also in the crowd—God, what a night—photographer Patrick McMullan told me he ran into original Supreme Mary Wilson at the Box and asked her if Joe Jackson ever came on to her, back when she was in her 20s. “I was too old for him,” cooed Mary, frankly.

Nostalgia was on the menu again when I dined at Employees Only with owner Billy Gilroy, who reminisced about being the manager of Nell’s, the snooty yet mildly decadent Victorian lounge that opened in ’86. The wildest night there? “[Disco singer/space alien] Grace Jones and her gal pal were humping the pillars, and the owner, Keith McNally, was loving it,” Gilroy remembered. “But then we heard loud crashing noises. Grace had started taking bottles from the bar and furiously throwing them. Me and three other guys had to grab her by the limbs and remove her as she kicked and screamed, ‘You bastards!’ ” Gilroy said he can still hear the karate kicks that Jones aimed at the door for hours once she was on the street! I guess he’s a slave to the rhythm.

One more festive flashback came with the Andy Warhol birthday party at the Gershwin Hotel, where I stayed much longer than 15 minutes. There, I told performance artist Penny Arcade that in the otherwise enjoyable An Englishman in New York, Cynthia Nixon isn’t quite abrasive enough as her. “You could also use the word ‘charisma,’ ” she said. “Why would you have someone non-charismatic as me? But I hear she was not allowed to see any footage of me and Quentin Crisp. The only one the director wanted to meet was Sting! And what about the clothes? They used those ugly-assed clothes that nobody in the East Village wore in the ’80s!” Make your bid!

Meanwhile, Ann Coulter‘s been accessorized against her will over at Air America’s offices. While visiting there, I noticed that someone had generously put a Hitler mustache on a poster of the blonde motormouth. Heil, honey!

A tyrannical baby demands blood in the new genre film Grace, which is sort of like Rosemary’s Baby meets Little Shop of Horrors, with eggs more cracked than Fabergés.

Playing the mama with bloody nipples is Jordan Ladd, who talked to me last week about the maternity mania that has rocked our patriarchal society.

“I don’t know what this obsession with baby-making is,” said Ladd. “I was born in the mid ’70s. When we went out to the yard and fell and broke our arms, it was a badge of honor, a rite of passage. Society is far too concerned with overparenting now, and with when you should have babies and how many you should have. Being a divorced 34-year-old woman, I can’t say I’m immune to that pressure. I’m reminded of it every time I pick up a tabloid: ‘Oh shit, I’d better start now!’ “

Jordan knows from scrutinized parenting—she happens to be the daughter of Cheryl Ladd from TV’s Charlie’s Angels—but she was protected from cameras as a child and was so young that she didn’t understand that she’d landed in a showbiz dynasty. “But,” she added, “I did have a moment when my mom was on The Muppet Show, and that was pretty exciting to me. Everyone knew Miss Piggy!”

Jordan, alas, never got to know Miss Farrah, but she’s fully aware that “it’s an awful story.” So’s the one about Ryan O’Neal unwittingly hitting on daughter Tatum at the funeral. “I’d hit on Tatum,” said Jordan, laughing. “Are you kidding?”


A Four Letter Word

In praise of Larry Kramer’s Faggots, specifically its forked satire, author Reynolds Price wrote: “It offers us oddly entertaining, generally exaggerated copies of foolish or evil behavior in order to provoke our ridicule.” As a litmus test, Casper Andreas’s A Four Letter Word is equally useful, proving that the line between Kramer’s prickly tragicomedy and the gay minstrelsy of Showtime’s Queer as Folk may only be a matter of taste. Shot in and around New York City’s queer hot spots (I see Vlada! I see Boys Room—the new one!), and brought to you in part by Manhunt, Andreas’s pun-choked rom-com asks only for our passive identification, preening on the same wavelength as Jesse Archer’s Luke, who sets out to prove that he is neither exception nor stereotype, only exceptional, after Stephen (Charlie David)—a hustler, professed top, and Luke’s future boy toy—calls him “a gay cliché.” “All our world sees of our community is you,” says Stephen, almost as if he were describing the film. Shrill to a most obnoxious extreme (“Let’s blow this joint,” says Stephen, to which Luke naturally responds, “I already have!”), the film’s sitcomish purview uncritically embraces the insularity of the queer community that it depicts, denying seriousness and replacing Kramer’s healthy self-deprecation with vulgar self-satisfaction.


‘You Can Never Not Fight Back!’

In a blistering speech at Cooper Union on November 7, his first in over a decade, author and activist Larry Kramer told a packed crowd that “as of November 2, gay rights are officially dead.”

The founder of Gay Men’s Health Crisis and of ACT UP, Kramer, 69, is an Oscar-nominated screenwriter, bestselling novelist, and author of the plays The Normal Heart and The Destiny of Me and of a collection of essays, Reports From the Holocaust. He spoke with Alisa Solomon about the current state of the gay movement.

Alisa Solomon: Since the election, the national lesbian-gay-bi-trans groups have been regrouping and asking what went wrong. All 11 state ballot initiatives defining marriage as between a man and a woman passed—and some of them even deny civil-union protections for gay and lesbian couples. Last week, people in the country’s biggest gay lobbying group, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), reportedly said they thought the movement needs to temper its demands and slow down. They even said they’d consider supporting Bush’s plans to privatize Social Security if it would help advance LGBT rights. What do you make of the suggestion that we need to be more moderate?

Larry Kramer: It’s a disaster! You can never not fight back. You can’t give them an inch. So what if they’re attacking us? You don’t run back into the closet. I was appalled when I heard the idea dribbling out that we should pull back instead of carrying on or pressing even more. My favorite expression is: You do not get more with honey than with vinegar! What I’m hoping—and it looks like this may be developing—is that this may finally be, if not the downfall of the HRC, at least putting them in their place. I never saw an organization exist so long, raise so much money, and do so little. Their annual budget is $25 million! I think they get a lot of money from rich people in the heartland. I want to ask those people: What are you getting for it? This election is a real slap in the face to HRC and their complete ineptitude. And now they want to make deals!

   “I don’t know how to say
this without sounding
like a shit: It’s about
money, pure and

Solomon: But isn’t making deals what all lobbying groups do? Can we really expect this type of bureaucratic institution to do the kind of on-the-ground organizing it takes to defeat local ballot initiatives? In one of your essays years ago, you noted that the automobile industry had more lobbyists than the gay rights movement, and you called for our building a Washington-based lobby. Is this a case of needing to be careful what we wish for?

Kramer: There’s lobbyists, and then there’s lobbyists. A good lobbyist is not an ass kisser. HRC seems to be more and more devoted to ass kissing. That way lies disaster. We’ve got to teach them: You don’t suck up. There’s a great deal of feeling that all they do is pay to go to parties in Washington, to be on the circuit, to be seen, as if that amounts to much.

Solomon: I wonder if there might not be a problem built into the very structure of this kind of lobbying model. If your whole orbit is the offices and the parties of the Hill, and your work is to go bargain with them and be cozy with them in the same social circles, then you speak their language, share their perspectives—

Kramer: If that’s what lobbyists across-the-board do, then we’re in trouble. It seems to me lobbyists are there to represent the people, not sell out the people. “Bargain” is the wrong word. If you have power, you go in and say what you want. They listen to you or not. You go in and be angry. If they don’t like it, tough. What are they going to do to you? They can’t do anything worse than what they’re already doing. But if you represent as many people as they say they do—500,000 or 600,000 people—that’s a lot of votes.

Solomon: Well, they do claim some achievements, don’t they?

Kramer: HRC takes credit for keeping the marriage amendment from getting anywhere in Congress. Yet it is generally agreed that it would never have gotten anywhere anyway, with or without them. Still, I don’t know why everyone is so intent on pouring cold water on the notion that it was gay marriage that lost the election, which I firmly believe. I have no doubt that if not the major, it was one of the major reasons that we got dumped on.

Solomon: Don’t you think it’s more complicated? The war, fear of terrorism . . . ?

Kramer: I do and I don’t. I think when it comes right down to it, there is a lot of hate out there that we refuse to face up to. It sometimes reflects itself in subtle ways. Talking to straight people about gay marriage, you can just hear the anger that comes into their voice. That’s something deeper than just being against gay marriage.

Solomon: True. But where I don’t completely agree is that the Right has been putting forth anti-gay ballot initiatives of one kind or another for a couple of decades now. They can whip up anger and motivate people around homophobia no matter what we do or don’t do, no matter what we demand or don’t demand.

Kramer: Yes. I should have said not just marriage, but gay issues generally. They’re surfacing under gay marriage now. We are now much more visible in many ways, and they’re thinking we’ve got to be put back in our place.

Solomon: The marriage issue stirs people—both those among us who long for it, and among those who hate us and rail against it—not so much because of the benefits—

Kramer: That’s why I want it. There are over 1,000 economic benefits the government passes out to married couples. I want ’em.

Solomon: —but more around the symbolic power of the state recognizing our relationships.

Kramer: I’m hoping that the symbolic stuff is beginning to fade. I think it’s sentimental. I have nothing against that, but I don’t think we should hold out for sentiment if we can get cold hard cash. I think we were on our way to getting the more easily obtainable civil union when the Massachusetts thing passed and marriage took its course. Then we had no choice but to fight for it, when a lot of us would have been happy to have the civil union. So when at the last minute Bush seemed to offer civil union, we weren’t in a negotiating position to say, OK, we’ll take that instead.

Solomon: With that possibility on the back burner, what do you make of HRC’s willingness to consider supporting Bush’s plans to privatize Social Security?

Kramer: Can you believe it? I can’t see why people think Social Security needs to be repaired. Read Paul Krugman! Social Security is not broke. Why are they trying to fix it? It seems to be another Bush con to line the pockets of the rich.

Solomon: Yes. But isn’t that exactly the problem? If HRC has a board of directors and an agenda that is being driven by people who give them a lot of money—which is to say the rich—why are we surprised when they support plans that line the pockets of the rich?

Kramer: I guess I’m naive enough to find it difficult to believe that this would be done at the expense of the rest of the gay population to such a degree. That’s rabid right-wing philosophy.

Solomon: Indeed! I’d like to pursue that because, arguably, a certain kind of identity politics separates what’s construed as “our interests” from a larger understanding of social and economic justice.

Kramer: What do you mean by “identity politics”? Fighting just for gay things?

“I have no idea why there hasn’t been more civil disobedience, guerrilla tactics. ACT UP changed the world: The drugs are now out there because kids, most of whom are now dead, went out and put their bodies on the line and changed history. Why can’t we continue to do it?”

Solomon: Yes. In your speech at Cooper Union, for example, you quoted some grim statistics from a talk by Bill Moyers about poverty in the U.S. and the ever widening income gap. I can imagine that HRC might say in response, “What’s that got to do with us? That’s not a gay issue.”

Kramer: The people behind these policies are the same people who are crucifying us! If they’re capable of that, they’re certainly capable of destroying us, which they’re attempting to do! Why do people like HRC separate it? HRC exists without any community oversight. They’re not elected. We have no input into what they do. And they go and convince Congress that they represent the gay world.

Solomon: Why do we let them?

Kramer: Because, quite frankly, it’s better than nothing. And nothing was what we had for so long. It’s what every single speech I’ve ever made comes down to: Where are we? Where is everybody? Everyone is invisible. Even though so many of us are out of the closet, we’re still invisible. Don’t people know how to speak up?

Solomon: The whole culture has gone this way, hasn’t it?

Kramer: The whole culture isn’t being led to the gas chambers! And I use that analogy with full knowledge of what I’m saying. I really think they are out to completely eliminate us and to destroy us. It’s becoming clearer and clearer. I finally got scientists and bureaucrats at the NIH to admit their intentionality in not doing anything about AIDS. Between 1981 and 1985, nothing was done. Every gay man who had sex without a condom got exposed. They knew it. That’s hate. That’s people who want to get rid of us. And we refuse to see that.

Solomon: People point to a lot of progress at the same time, to many gains on the AIDS front, for gay rights—they think you’re crazy.

Kramer: I know. I’m always called crazy. And now it’s “Larry’s conspiracy theory.”

Solomon: So what should we be doing about it?

Kramer: I really am tired of that question. Everybody’s got to do what they can do. The amazing thing about ACT UP and GMHC is that they made themselves. People showed up and said, “I can do this, I’m gonna do that.” GMHC came along when everything was really desperate. Lawyers said, “Let me help legally.” Doctors said, “We’re being screwed on the epidemiology. Let me investigate that.” How we got drugs is an amazing story. A straight woman showed up at a meeting who nobody had ever seen before—Iris Long—who is a scientist, and she said, “You people don’t know squat about any of this. You don’t know how the government works, you don’t know how science is done, you don’t understand how it’s researched, you don’t know how to get grants, you don’t know how drugs get approved, you don’t know the chemistry of all of these drugs.” And she started a group with three or four people, the Treatment and Data Committee. They all taught themselves everything. They became smarter than the scientists.

It was the same thing with ACT UP. It wasn’t me making up all those demonstrations that were so effective. It was very imaginative people who sat around in a room with a couple hundred other people and brainstormed. I didn’t know what we were going to do when I said we’ve got to do something. You can’t know in advance. You have to get together and talk. You have to find out: What do you want to do? What are you capable of? What do you dream of doing? It’s all about dreams. We have to stop making it sound so clinical.

Solomon: I wonder if that is harder for the current generation than it was for yours or mine. I mean, we’re talking about people born after Reagan. They didn’t grow up with an idea that the state has obligations to its citizens, that they could be part of a meaningful collective effort rather than just strive as individuals, that some kind of safety net isn’t a Communist plot—

Kramer: It’s true. But I grew up nonpolitical. I was out on Fire Island laughing at the Gay Pride marches on TV. What politicized me was a couple of friends dying real fast.

Solomon: Yes. But also you were politicized into an atmosphere that still had some live radical spores.

Kramer: I agree. Those ideas are out of currency. But it’s no excuse. You can list all kinds of reasons for why it’s not easy, but you gotta wake up and smell the coffee. They’re coming after us. Big time. Even if they’re doing it under the guise of Mr. and Mrs. Nice Guy with God on Their Side. And a lot of people don’t want to see it. Andrew Sullivan just wrote an article saying everything is going to be wonderful. Makes you want to puke!

Solomon: Why do you suppose he sees what you consider so dire in a more optimistic way?

Kramer: One thing I learned in GMHC and ACT UP is that after a while it’s pointless to ask the question “why?” There are a million whys. You just gotta take each day and react to the pile of shit they dish you out that day. You go after it. You cope with today’s emergency. That’s why you can’t be too much of a bureaucracy. You’ve got to be able to be loose and deal with the issues on a daily basis.

Solomon: But even as you’re doing that, don’t you also need a long-range vision—those dreams you were talking about before?

Kramer: Honey, to be free and have equal rights. You don’t need any more long-range vision than that.

Solomon: That sounds good. But what about the difference between equality and justice?

Kramer: They should be the same thing.

Solomon: But are they? Take health care. One of the great contributions of ACT UP was articulating demands for universal health coverage. But as the gay movement has focused in on marriage equality, all we seem to say about health care now is that we want to be able to access our partners’ health benefits—assuming we have a partner—and that she or he has a job that provides decent benefits, which is less and less the case as unions get busted and corporations get stingier and stingier.

Kramer: I agree. It’s not doing us any good to make this a one-issue fight about gay marriage. That’s what the Right is forcing us to do.

Solomon: It seems to me the gay movement would have a lot more allies if we were working for genuine universal health care. Is there a family in this country that isn’t affected by the disaster of our system, that hasn’t been gouged by health costs? I sometimes wonder why people all over America aren’t rioting in the streets over this issue.

Kramer: There’s my favorite line, I use over and over, from a Brazilian reporter who saw one of our more feeble ACT UP demonstrations outside City Hall, and she said, “You call that a demonstration? In my country, when they raise the bus fare we burn the buses!” I have no idea why there hasn’t been more civil disobedience, guerrilla tactics. The Right uses guerrilla tactics all over the place in the guise of think tanks. What I’m slowly beginning to sniff and to encourage is that some of the richer gays with their foundations are beginning to talk among themselves about what they can do with their money. They’re generous, but they’re safe-generous, and it’s time not to play everything so safe.

Solomon: Even as you look for more civil disobedience and local organizing, do you really think we have to rely on the millionaires?

Kramer: Right now, yes. It shouldn’t be either-or. But there isn’t any issue out there of major import that accretes less money to itself than we do—and this is a rich population. People get mad when I say that because of course there are a lot of us who aren’t. But for those who are—we are letting them off the hook. It’s shocking.

Solomon: Maybe you’re thinking of some well-funded think tanks like those the Olin and Bradley foundations supported on the Right for so many years as they built their power. But that’s so much easier on the Right—there’s no contradiction between their ideology and their pocketbooks. Look at neoliberal policy around marriage, for instance, and its social engineering. From this perspective, we’d make the best common cause with women on welfare, who are being told they have to get married in order to qualify for assistance. Or one could make a similar point about immigration—that to win rights to bring noncitizen partners here, we should understand that issue within the full picture of assaults on immigrants more generally. But rich gays aren’t likely to ally themselves with women on welfare or undocumented workers—some of whom, in both categories, of course, are also LGBT.

Kramer: I don’t know how to say this without sounding like a shit: It’s about money, pure and simple. That’s the reality of it all. We’re not going to change the world by asking everybody to think of poor people. It’s never worked that way, even though that’s the way it should work. And it’s quite right to say all of these things because they are, indeed, true. But when it comes right down to it, it’s about power, and power is money. Money buys you the power, and power gets you the rights. The hope is that will include poor people. You’ve got to keep your eye on the prize.

“I really think they are out to completely eliminate us and to destroy us.”

Solomon: Which is?

Kramer: Which is becoming powerful. Coalition is the best idea in the world—and I’ve never seen it work, except maybe around the Vietnam War. It certainly didn’t work with AIDS, and it’s not going to work with gay marriage.

Solomon: But even without necessarily saying we have to work in coalition, couldn’t we at least strive for a broader, more contextual way of thinking? Couldn’t we encompass it in our vision, even if not in our meetings?

Kramer: Of course, you can do whatever you want. But I saw in ACT UP how we ended up with so many issues to attend to. It’s not that you’re denying the existence and relevance and importance of other issues, but you can’t water down your power by having everybody fighting for their own separate interests.

Solomon: So what do we do now?

Kramer: [Long pause. Big sigh.] I don’t want to start another organization as long as I live. But I say to people, you have to plug in. Somehow. In an essay I wrote in 1982 or ’83 that’s in Reports From the Holocaust, I talked about getting mobilized: It’s really a group of people getting together and discussing an issue and then going out and doing something about it.

ACT UP changed the world: The drugs are now out there because kids, most of whom are now dead, went out and put their bodies on the line and changed history. Why can’t we continue to do it?

Solomon: If you were handed the directorship of HRC or some other major gay organization, what’s the first thing you’d do?

Kramer: Fire everybody.

Solomon: And then?

Kramer: Call some friends and sit down and talk. I come from the movie business. You start by pitching ideas.


AIDS Is Not Over: A Pioneering Gay Rights Activist Speaks Out

Playwright, activist, and troublemaker Larry Kramer founded ACT UP in 1987, the same year Ronald Reagan first acknowledged AIDS in public. And though the demographics of the pandemic have shifted since then (now ravaging Africa and the world’s poorest), the politicians haven’t changed much (still evading debate questions about it). Just a fact-check: AIDS killed 3 million in 2003, 5 million more contracted HIV, and almost 40 million people are living with the disease, according to the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS. Those with access to the latest antiretroviral drugs can thank, in part, Kramer, his heart-wrenching play The Normal Heart, and the legions of whistle-blowing, shouting, and yes, stripping ACT UP protesters, 11 of whom infiltrated Madison Square Garden during the RNC—the world watched on live TV as Bush’s youth brigade went berserk on them. Kramer bowed out of the spotlight years ago, but returns tonight for a major public address, followed by a 60-minute Q&A. Actor John Cameron Mitchell introduces the veteran agitator, whose sudden reappearance should remind everyone that the old ACT UP slogan “Silence = Death” remains as relevant as ever. Maybe more.


Second Shots

Thirteen years later, Assassins is still a puzzle to me, a musical without discernible purpose, like a concept album someone’s decided to stage, for no good reason except that some of the songs are extremely well written. The idea that scrutinizing the lives of our presidents’ killers and would-be killers might teach us something about America seems to lurk behind the show, never really becoming part of its substance. The script reiterates the notion that chief-stalkers do it to become famous, which gives ample opportunity for the showbiz flamboyance of Sondheim’s snazzier numbers, but this premise is contradicted by Weidman’s version of these historical figures: They did it out of resentment at not getting a job, or to dramatize the plight of the workingman, or because they had stomach pains. Along with the showbiz motive, we get a standard showbiz gesture in the work’s implication that pre-Oswald assassins somehow had more class, while those who came after (Hinckley, Samuel Byck, Squeaky Fromme) were merely inept buffoons. (Though Byck’s dream of crashing a 747 into the Nixon White House resonates interestingly against the current administration’s insistence, before the 9-11 Commission, that no one could have anticipated such a thing.) The image of America’s quality of life in decline matches that in other Sondheim works dedicated to bemoaning the tarnish on our glamorous past—”Liaisons,” Follies, even Pacific Overtures. But would turning out classier assassins really improve American life?

There are of course ways to improve life in a democracy—voting, organizing, educating—but Sondheim and Weidman provide only the briefest glimpse of the far vaster number of Americans who don’t assassinate anybody, but who do collect signatures on petitions, flood the streets at protest demonstrations, and go to the polls. The Roundabout’s new production, Assassins‘ Broadway premiere, offers a new song (written for a 1992 London production), “Something Just Broke,” that purports to convey the public reaction to JFK’s assassination. Not up to the better items in Sondheim’s score, it oddly weakens both the show’s forward drive and such point of view as the work supplies. If we’re to have any sympathy for these devils, it’s wiser not to show us how their victims feel. And when a president’s assassinated, the public is the victim: The figure lying dead is a vital organ of the body politic as well as a person.

So why, given what a problematic work Assassins is, has it now found the approbation it didn’t get in 1991? The cause can’t be Joe Mantello’s production, which is far from an improvement over the original. Gaudy, flat, and tinny-sounding, it tends to shove the material at you without much regard for tone, conveying a constant, frenetic undercurrent of anxiety about the show’s ability to go over in the cold, lofty, unwelcoming space of Studio 54. The cast ranges from mediocre to pretty good, well below the original in almost every role, with two exceptions: Denis O’Hare, with a cheerfully delusional swagger, makes the preposterous Guiteau humanly believable, while James Barbour endows Czolgosz with both pathos and vocal beauty. Mantello does use the endless steps of Robert Brill’s mountainous set effectively to solve the one scene that fell flat originally, Guiteau’s dance to the gallows. But this is his sole victory.

What’s changed that now helps validate Assassins isn’t art but our national political climate. The grievance-nursing mentality of psychopaths who shoot presidents now belongs to the party that runs the country; the assassins have, so to speak, moved into the White House. Only today’s unforgiving bullies, far from the have-nots and failures who make up Assassins‘ character list, are the haves, the people who’ve benefited most from the opportunities America offered, and are now busily hauling the economic ladder up behind them to keep others down. They’ve shaped this world, yet they’re as angry and unhappy about it as any ranting Byck or ulcerated Zangara; their misguided solution is to stand behind a fraudulent president and take aim directly at the body politic, wounding in the process even the fabric of life itself. Today the Republican Party is nothing but a worthless collection of Dylan Klebolds, and some good therapist should take them in hand before it’s too late for the rest of us here at Columbine High. Their temporary dominance clarifies both Assassins‘ current success and its perturbing hollowness: The real convocation of America-killers will not be at a shooting gallery, but this coming August when the GOP meets in Madison Square Garden.

Homosexuals are among the Republicans’ targeted enemies, the protestations of our Log Cabin judenrat notwithstanding, so a revival of Larry Kramer’s 1987 AIDS melodrama, The Normal Heart, comes at a good time. I use the word melodrama in its best sense: This is a play in which all the emotions are broadly signaled, in order to rouse passions over a clearly defined issue. If the script has both a self-serving side and a fondness for oversimplification (plus an excessive reliance on tantrummy prop-throwing), it’s already done noble service, both against AIDS and on behalf of the First Amendment—regional and college productions have sparked unending censorship battles—for which Kramer deserves full credit. Some of the revival’s acting is slightly below par, but David Esbjornson’s direction eschews all overindulgence, while Raúl Esparza finds both nuance and wistfulness inside the hero’s marathon rants.