Nikki Haley Has Guts
Nikki Haley arrived for her New York City presentation with open enthusiasm. She brought to the stage the confidence of a consistent winner, the inviting swagger of a knock-out model, and a story of proven strategies that have positioned her as a mover and shaker to watch closely. Even staunch critics are muttering about her chances to become the first woman president in this country!
In one of the smaller auditoriums in the Streicker Center, Haley was a large presence with a definite game plan to reach this predominantly liberal crowd. Among President Donald Trump’s Cabinet appointments, Haley, the former Ambassador to the United Nations left her post in a decidedly different way from most other high- level officials who have headed for the hills. She exited the President’s inner orbit unscathed. Here at the Streicker Center, she expressed gratitude for the opportunity to serve as a member of the Trump Cabinet–without all-around boos from the Democratic loyalists.
While she was in the administration, the President opted to avoid acting irascibly (at least in public). Haley chose her own timetable for departure and made her move on a high note. (Before he became president Haley made no bones about her tepid view of his candidacy. He brushed her off as an incidental player. But once Haley made friends with First Daughter, Ivanka Trump, Daddy Trump took another look and concluded Haley was no bimbo. It seems that Haley also took a harder look at the President at precisely the same time. A month later she was nominated to her Cabinet position and won Senate confirmation smoothly (96-4).
The former Governor of South Carolina knows how to size up her audience quickly and accurately, in South Carolina and Washington, and she made a sharp judgment call that New York’s Steiker Center was filled with attendees eager to hear what she had to say. Indeed, the crowd allowed ample latitude. Haley sang her former boss’s praises (in the few areas of his presidency that have been least controversial), without a single boo–from the down front VIP seats up to the rafters.
Nikki Haley may be the most respected non-contender (Republican or Democrat) for the US presidency in 2020. Thus far, President Trump has been helpful, if only by restraining his frequent impulse to diss anyone who abandons him–especially former Cabinet officials–as they take their leave for the door.
In recent years, Haley has been a supporter of Israel, so it was fitting that Israeli Ambassador Aharoni was her interviewer. He gave her plenty of room to rise or fall on the merit of her words. She gained traction, quickly, by suggesting that great politicians hold common sense in high esteem, and favor doing more homework than appears to be required. She says that being prepared for the unexpected helps her to keep cool when others are getting hot. Haley freely acknowledges that she has studied the playbooks of highly successful women and men.
The Ambassador’s presentation appealed to a broad mix of New Yorkers. It resonated with a cross-section of conservatives and independents in addition to the predominantly liberal crowd. She refused to be pushed into harsh political positions, making her case for her initiatives as Governor and thereafter as President of the UN Security Council. Point by point, she brought her understanding of the facts to the table. She often supported her position with empathy for people in the line of fire. And, she focused on one underpinning– an open mind for compelling solutions that make sense.
A confident executive, Haley has climbed up the totem pole with gambits that tilt skeptics on their collective heads, such as advancing to decision, removal of the Confederate flag while Governor of her home state of South Carolina, and pushing the position that United Nations must talk more and do more on the right side of an argument. Haley’s strong focus on reaching the finish line is her proven strategy to win,” she says. But more than that, her fans insist that she “makes you want to listen, even if you come to the table with an independent or diverging view.
In watching so many Democratic contenders of late, making their points in the debates to prop up their candidacies, women can be proud that so many women have been prompted to take the plunge. Each one has shown grit and a basic understanding that being prepared is one of the keys to getting respect, but Nikki Haley could teach a lot of lessons about how to apply gutsiness as the basic timber for glory- with a credible mix of moxie and mellifluent tones.
Her presentation was a stunning example of carefully honed political savvy, if only in the proof; her preparation provoked a long, standing ovation.
Frankly, she offered a slew of additional arguments for keeping tabs on her continuing steps to sculpt her positions as well as her image. There is little doubt that she is firmly engaged in the trek toward the 2024 election proceedings– no matter which way the 2020 election goes, Haley is paving the way not only for herself but also for the competition.
When, as, and if the former Ambassador/Governor chooses to step up to the plate, there will likely be a whole new crowd of women ready to make their mark. If Haley’s contribution were solely to set an example for how women (and men) can up their game with more guts than bluster and more common sense than bullying tactics, her contribution would be “huge.” It is time to become gender-neutral in presidential politics and to stop presuming in any line of endeavor that assertive women are automatically nuts.
Helen Mirren Mesmerizes
Triple crowned actor Helen Mirren has earned an Academy Award, a Tony and an Olivier. And, she dazzles the media as a stunning fashion icon at the glitziest red carpet events. But… she shines as an even brighter star in person.
Shortly after Dame Mirren graced the stage as a presenter at this year’s Hollywood Awards, the 2007 Oscar winner (best actress) shed her ethereal pink Schiaparelli gown for more comfortable airplane garb and then jetted off to New York for another presentation– to a smaller audience in a synagogue auditorium.
The Great Dame made her entrance at an educational forum hosted by Israeli Ambassador Ido Aharoni in a chic ensemble befitting a self-confident top executive with the guts to show plenty of leg and equal brainpower. She moved seamlessly into a cerebral discussion about her life, her work, and her high respect for professional excellence–no matter the endeavor.
The sailors in the musical South Pacific, who said there is nothing like a dame, might have in mind women like Helen Mirren and many of the unique characters she has played! Beyond her award-winning portrayals of Queen Elizabeth 2 in The Queen and The Audience, Dame Mirren’s entire body of work is quite remarkable.
She is beyond funny and active as Victoria Winslow in Red, doggedly determined as a Jewish refugee, Maria Altmann, who fought the Austrian government to retrieve a Gustav Klmpt painting of her aunt, in a Woman in Gold, and keenly resourceful as a criminal lawyer (Linda Kenney Baden) in the Phil Specter Story. Helen Mirren succeeds in being her best self, through full immersion into the mindset of the character she plays.
As the Dame acknowledges on stage, to a predominantly Jewish audience, the upcoming made for television mini-series, Catherine the Great will provide complicated challenges, requiring her to assume the role of a “woman who rewrote the rules of governance by a woman and succeeded to the extent of having the word “Great” attached to her name.”
Dame Mirren mentions, not as an afterthought, that Catherine the Great “was not very nice to the Jews,” but decides not to elaborate on her apparent real-life disdain for this Russian leader who was responsible for the creation of the “Pale of Settlement” that fostered anti-Semitism.
Tonight Dame Mirren draws an audience that revels as much in her unabashed candor as her panache. She brings us to our feet for a standing ovation after declaring bountiful love for Israel, while holding tightly her commitment to atheism. She embraces her beauty but is not owned by it. After all, she is known to be happiest on a beach–in the nude –with others of like mind. And, while she is full of talent, she is not full of herself. She is by all appearances thoroughly comfortable in her own skin.
A dominant presence in the branding of beauty products by L’Oreal, for years, Dame Mirren’s star power emanates from deep within. She tells us she breathes from the diaphragm and has perfected her posture. She walks with her spine is straight as an arrow. Her confidence is on autopilot. And, she pivots, seamlessly, from a starlet making small talk on a grand stage to a humble public speaker on a bare stage with a powerful voice in support of her craft and her belief systems.
Helen Mirren is known as a champ at carefully assessing her options on film roles, and for a personal temperament that allows for going with the flow. She causes giggles at home with do-it-herself haircuts and hair color, generally, but she prefers to take on these tasks out of the spotlight, most of the time. But make no mistake, Dame Mirren still makes the most of the power and perks that suit her fancy and or optimize safety in her highly elevated position. A fine looking bodyguard never strays far from her side.
Dame Mirren disarms with honesty. She also provokes much curiosity about what makes her tick. She is a striking presence. She radiates empathy, maturity, and passion rolled into one mesmerizing image. As the famous organizer and 2019 Oscar attendee, Marie Kondo might say, Dame Mirren’s talent “sparks joy.”The Interview with the Great Dame hit all of the high notes about her career.
Can you blame me for wanting to meet her–one-on-one? In passing, I whispered to my longtime acquaintance, the Good Israeli Ambassador, that I would like to chat with the Great Dame at the reception we were all scheduled to attend later in the evening. He demurred, ever so politely, as only an exprienced ambassador could. So, I quickly gave up any hope of a private tete a tete. I would settle for a handshake–I suggested.
And then it seemed that serendipity intervened. The gracious Dame began walking in my direction. She strolled over to the chair where I was parked–with my ankle encased in an icepack–propped up on another chair. Suddenly, people emerged out of the woodwork. They were clearly frustrated that they had missed Dame Mirren while she was holding court at a nearby table. She had been stationed midway between the chocolate-covered strawberries on one side and the miniature lemon meringue tarts on the other.
The Great Dame approached me, directly. She caught my eye and smiled broadly as if she was honored to make my acquaintance. It was at this moment that Helen Mirren leaned in and insisted she needed a short rest from the crowd. She suggested that I allow her to tend to the ice pack and offered to take a video and photographs of our spontaneous duet. Instead, I insisted on rising from my perch to shake her hand. I then leaned against the wall and paid rapt attention.
We engaged in one of the fastest-paced 10- minute chats I’ve ever had. It covered the world of government, business, the arts, healthcare, the Holocaust, her upcoming projects and our respective medical nuisances. And we laughed. I thanked her for her compassion and she clapped with approval as I walked, on my own, back to the chair and the tepid ice pack.
Ambassador Aharoni came over to say, “Good night,” and thanked me for helping him to give the Great Dame Helen Mirren a short respite before making her way back to another world of fans. So much for my reliance on serendipity!
Mar-a-Lago WAS So Exciting
As one of a handful of well-known women poker players in the 90’s (and the only one with a full-time day job, unrelated to gambling), I was often introduced to casino executives by their poker room personnel. Donald Trump was among them, but the king of Atlantic City had already made my acquaintance. With a trail of controversial business moves in his resume, years earlier the Trump Organization had asked one of its lawyers to hire EOLIS –for a small project before he ran up huge debt on the Jersey shore.
WHAT’S MY LINE?
The deal was proposed as a no fee opportunity with a top-shelf carrot–a big recommendation by The Man –if EOLIS performed up to expectations. EOLIS passed up the first opportunity but got more than one-second chance–and was among the few service providers fully paid–with or without a fight. I figured to rank right up there with his favorite flesh peddlers! The truth was a bit different The Donald made no connection between the poker player, the legal headhunter and the budding politico. He had no clue that his company was an occasional client or that I was the leading activist to stamp out smoking in his card room. And, he had no clue about my advisory role to Mayor Rudy Giuliani nor of my frequent presence at the Mayor’s office. It wasn’t until he was seated beside me at a dinner, in Palm Beach that he began to see the light.
As Donald pulled out from the starting gate, with the development of the United States Open Poker Championship, at his Atlantic City flagship, the Taj Mahal Casino, he invited a group of us from the card room’s most notorious games to join him for a short chat about a “fantastic” poker tournament in the works. He stopped traffic as he pranced through the high energy poker parlor, knowingly, with his entourage and a beautiful woman on his arm. Donald took in a boatload of suggestions from our group-which consisted mostly of males, and all of us among the highest stakes poker players on the east coast. And then, he went on his merry way with a smiling Marla Maples and a troupe of fearsome bodyguards in tow.
Donald Trump remained intrigued with women poker players –reportedly bedding the cutest local pro and casting another on his Celebrity Apprentice show. As he is today, with Supreme Court candidates, so he was then, most impressed by academic credentials and negotiating skills. The poker player he chose for the Apprentice was a smart, defiant, highly publicized pro with a BA from Columbia with additional studies in cognitive psychology at Mr. Trumps’ alma mater–U Penn. (but not Wharton). The poker “Dutchess” he selected, was not a personal friend of his, nor was she a household name nor was she quite as well-schooled as he had first heard, but she could hold her own–up to a point. In the end, Joan Rivers– a loyal friend of Mr. Trump was “hired.” The “Dutchess” was a runner-up who basked in the glory of her Celebrity Apprentice gig for years but leaves it invisible on her website, now that Mr. Trump is president.
TRUMP GETS AROUND
By the time the US Poker Championship got underway, I had put in a full year as a special advisor in Mayor Giuliani’s City Hall–long enough to develop and voice some political differences with the feisty, self-confident Mayor. I left the fading embrace of the Mayor’s Office to accept appointment as the first woman to hold the post of 1st Assistant and Senior Advisor to the Governor (in New York State). The title was far more distinguished than the portfolio, with a catch-all mix of responsibilities including responses to special requests by corporate and civic bigwigs.
When Mr. Trump wanted a favor from the City but failed to connect, the Governor’s office was often the next call. As the Governor’s supposed right hand, I was invariably on the receiving end of all requests for favors. For many months, Mr. Trump never realized I was one of the poker players he met with, or that I was a political appointee, or that I was the person who dodged his requests for landing rights for his private plane on Staten Island–until we met up in Florida as he breezed into the home of a true real estate mogul, the late Lew Rudin–recognized in his world as Mr. New York.
RUDIN SHANGRILA SHINES
Lew was adored in the real estate community, up and down the east coast, so Mr. Trump toed the line, attending the invitation to dinner at the Rudin Shangri-La, in honor of the Governor. Once he pegged me as the Governor’s tippy top “secretarial assistant,” and chief gopher, he took no chances. He was charming. Before dinner was over, Donald insisted on introducing me to his entourage, ordering that I be chauffeured to Mar-a-Lago for the evening entertainment. Wayne Newton – Mr. Las Vegas – was in town.
I accepted the invitation. I couldn’t wait to establish my credentials for once and for all! Wayne Newton was a client and “Mr. Las Vegas” was a longtime friend, to boot. On arrival at the Mar-a-Lago poolside party, Mr. Trump hastened to impress me with HIS good friend Wayne, until Mr. Newton’s eye suddenly caught my presence as he walked toward us. Mr. Las Vegas turned the tables on the Donald, introducing me as if I was his very best friend.
TRUMP PUTS ME IN MY PLACE
We all chatted amiably. Mr. Trump finally opened his hand–connecting an odd bunch of dots; his company’s relationship with EOLIS International Group, his meeting with poker players, his request for airplane landing rights and my position in the Governor’s Office. No sooner than I thought that I made the grade, however, I ran into The Donald, again, walking solo on a reception line. There was not the slightest acknowledgment of prior close encounters. Today, President Trump the most powerful man in the free world, Trump remains on my radar screen, even though I do not occupy an iota of space on his busy canvas. But, you can bet your bottom dollar that the smarter- than- you think-he-is President will take the time to tip his hat if he has reason to believe such a gesture will be personally useful to him.
Journalists Scramble to Understand Giuliani
Shortly after Rudy Giuliani was appointed to President’s Trump personal legal team, journalists from all over the country began to analyze his selection by the President and Rudy’s decision to come on board.
EOLIS was one of the hundreds, or more likely thousands of calls, on their list. While I have pondered these issues as well as many of Rudy’s comments since joining the team, I elected to participate in just one interview and very limited comments for The Washington Post (‘Nowhere near close’: The bond between Trump and Giuliani is less than it appears). For more than 15 years, I was a confidante, career advisor, and a consultant who served as a special advisor on City Hall operations during Rudy’s first year in office as the Mayor of NYC. Above all, he was a friend who paved the way for important new relationships that have significantly impacted my biography far more than I could have ever impacted his life.
Our paths took different directions once I had accepted a role as First Assistant to Governor Pataki (after I failed as a go-between in an effort to unite them).
My recent comments made in The Washington Post were based mostly on solid recollections from more than 20 years ago. But, I believe his recent (albeit delayed) decision to join the team could have been predicted. Whatever observations others have made, I can assure you Rudy prizes loyalty fiercely, and you can count on him to show that trait during his representation of the President.
Yankees Boss Levine Huddles with Wendeen
Wendeen says, “Randy Levine minds his business by speaking his mind–with equal parts knowledge and passion.”
Best known as President of the New York Yankees, except to the lawyers on the other side of his fierce end game in the crunch of a tough labor negotiation, Randy Levine is a man who speaks his mind, but he is a teddy bear at heart.
Some forty years ago, I hunted Randy’s head as a legal recruiter–to no avail. He had worked closely with Associate Attorney General, Arnold Burns at the Justice Department. They moved as a team into private practice. Arnie then led the effort to find a more ideal Firm to serve their big-ticket clients. His colleague Rudy Giuliani recommended that he consult with me. Randy visited me and then Big Gun Arnie stopped by to chat. In the end, Arnie and Randy joined an EOLIS client–the fancy Proskauer law firm–without an ounce of my help. But they graciously tipped their hats in the press release, that trumpeted their arrival. They thanked me for my advice in their consideration of multiple offers.
Randy and I have been friends ever since, as each of us wended our way in the private and public sector and back to business. Our paths intersected as senior advisors to Mayor Rudy Giuliani in his first term. Randy moved up the ladder to become Deputy Mayor. I left the City Hall corridors for a stint in the Governor’s office. Randy went to the Yankees. I returned home to EOLIS International Group, the legal search and consulting business I founded. Our friendship has continued through the years.
Randy has made quite a name for himself, but he is at ease with success and enjoys making more of others’ accomplishments. When I seek out his counsel or call to kibbitz, I know I’ll find him–wherever he is. If you know Randy you know he returns his phone calls–fast. Have I mentioned that Randy also has grace? He has never asked me to explain how the heck it came about that I brought A-Rod to a poker game that landed up as a story in the New York tabloids?
At the end of lunch, I didn’t have to propose a next date. He did. I have a choice of any of the 81 Yankee games he will be watching, intently, in his buzzing president’s suite at Yankee Stadium. I’m on my way!
Thank You, President Hamilton
It is reaffirming, uplifting and with extreme gratitude, I start the year by recognizing NYU President Andrew Hamilton who greeted me this past fall, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary my graduation from the University. Andrew now fills the shoes of those who preceded him, including my favorite professor and advisor L. Jay Oliva who pushed me to push the envelope—to achieve.
And, Andrew is already filling the soul of the University, its students, teachers and alumni with limitless enthusiasm for the process of learning inside classrooms and beyond them. Thank you, Andrew, for your time, at the podium, on the floor, and during our brief tete a tete at a very special event—that reminds me to count my blessings for the opportunity of an education that sent me on my way.
Facts about Legal Recruiting Fees
(NEW YORK, NEW YORK) The matter of legal recruiting fees has become thornier than ever, as law firms, increasingly, seek to renegotiate placement fees—shortly before (and sometimes after) an offer has been made and accepted by a high- powered rainmaker. Recruiters are well advised, as are law firms, to ensure clarity in their arrangements–at the beginning of the process–to mutual satisfaction. Gone are the days when a handshake will do.
While most law firms put their own drafted fee schedule in front of the recruiter, with a demand to sign or scram, exceptional recruiters escape from this potential rigidity, at least enough to modify terms. And the most accomplished recruiters set their fees and terms with clients, just as the best law firms do—by presenting their own agreements and allowing their clients to negotiate reasonable changes —not the other way around.
Many recruiting fee disputes evolve because of bad practices on the part of both the law firms and the recruiters with whom they work; the notion of a resume’s shelf life is chief among them. If both, the employer and the recruiter recognize that the recruiter must be responsible for the placement, and mean by that phrase, that the recruiter’s referral efforts must rise to the level of substantial cause of the placement —life would be so much easier. The “but for” rule, meaning but for whose efforts did the placement occur, has become a much murkier two edged sword and often leads to far more debate. Let’s get out of conjecture and rely on facts!
Wendeen puts Mayor on Spot
In a meeting, by invitation of the Association for a Better New York ABNY), the Mayor schooled business and civic leaders and a sprinkling of politicos in the crowd, on his determined vision for Equity and Excellence in NYC public schools—for all children. But, he was pointedly mum about public schools that are currently accessible only to specially “gifted children. “
As a graduate of one of those schools, and having been motivated to do the necessary to qualify for admission, I was beginning to lament the prospect of a school system void of special opportunities for those who earn them. I questioned the Mayor as noted in the corrected City Hall transcript:*
Wendeen’s Question: Mr. Mayor thank you very much for the report. It’s exciting, I think for everybody in the room to know the emphasis that is placed on “Equity and Excellence for All.” I am interested in knowing the extent to which we’re going to be rolling out this concept in all of those schools – how will that affect your view of the special schools we currently have in New York, and will we need more of them? Will we need to expand them or will we have lesser need for those few schools that have typically attracted people who are highly talented, as proven through the testing process primarily?
The Mayor’s Answer in pertinent part: “A fantastic question, (Wendeen). Can I give you a gold star for the question? If we were in the classroom, I’d be giving you a gold star right now. This is the kind of thing I think we need to talk a lot about – much more about in this city. Specialized schools are extraordinary. They have turned out a generation of leaders in all fields. You know, we just – an easy example in the national dynamics in just the last few years – Eric Holder one of the most prominent leaders of the Obama administrations, David Axelrod who helped bring you the Obama administration both from Stuyvesant. So, pretty amazing people, congratulations to Stuyvesant. I would make a speech about Brooklyn Tech – great graduates like Len Riggeo and Dante de Blasio.
So they play a very, very crucial role, and they will certainly continue to. And I think there’s absolutely an open door – there’s certainly the potential of more specialized schools, but even more clearly there’s the potential to take models that work and expand them out. For example, where my daughter went – Beacon High School – tremendously successful, was used to create another great high school. That model and that approach was literally transported to another site on the Upper West Side and the new Frank McCord high school has started. So you can take a model and kind of replicate it in many ways, so yes we will continue to take great models and build them out and add new versions of them.
But at the same time – because your question is wonderfully precise about is there a contradiction with this theme – no, I don’t believe there is. The goal is to say, you can take any school and give it the kinds of things it never had, and the world will start to change. That is not a lack of acknowledgement of other realities as to the previous question.”
On the way out the door of the meeting, the Chairman of ABNY, Bill Rudin caught my eye to say, “Great question.” New Yorkers need to keep their foot on the pedal to develop Equity and Excellence without sacrificing the incentive of special schools for parents who succeed in teaching their children the merits and the benefits of accountability, at a young age.
Forever Indebted to the Late Dr. L. Jay Oliva
Like all who had the good fortune to cross paths with Jay Oliva throughout his illustrious career as a pre-eminent educator, and quintessential steward of NYU, I mourned his passing April 17th, very personally.
It was Jay who insisted that I trot into my history class with infants in tow, rather than cut his class at the lofty NYU University Heights campus. .
Jay was a cheering fan and forceful motivator for kids like me, who had no parents presiding over their educations. And Jay was a strong voice who taught me the value of the NYU credo–perstare y prestare. He was an unwavering supporter of my decision to found a business with $1,800 in savings and a freshly minted Bachelor’s Degree as capital. His lessons never faded though our contact was scarce during the next two decades.
Some 25 years later, while president of the university, Jay tracked me down and invited me to lunch. He told me many important things about the ever-blossoming university in which I could take pride. And he said he was proud of my business success and would be even prouder, if I would choose to give back to the University. And so I have, but the size of the debt to Jay for his sage advice can never be repaid.
From the beginning to the end of this uniquely interesting acquaintanceship, Jay Oliva lit a fire to raise my own standards.
Marcel is a Man with Big Ideas
For more than 10 years Marcel Luske and I have met often as clients, as friends with a shared passion for fair play, out paths crossing in business, exotic travel and poker room combat.
Marcel, the entertainer, the story teller and the advocate is now holding court in the Bahamas, as I leave to return to the grindstone of recruiting big ticket Latin American law firm partners closer to home.