A trial of two cities

Postcard from new york

WHATEVER reputation New Yorkers may have for sangfroid, urbanity and ambition, they nonetheless possess the gamut of finer emotions, just like other people. And last month New Yorkers added a new emotion to their hard drives, with links to the traditional sensations of humiliation, disbelief, anxiety, rage and vexed resignation. They acquired that most embarrassing of psychological torments, Washington envy.

Not so long ago, it was Washington DC that had Manhattan envy, an arrangement that New Yorkers found altogether more natural. When President Clinton and his wife or daughter wished to kick up their heels and wave their big wad of cultural currency in the nation's face, they would swing into town and hit Radio Music Hall, 21, Broadway, and Katz's Delicatessen. Like the First Family, most other Washingtonians knew that living in the bland sprawl of suburban Washington, with its boojy commuting populace and its endless nexuses of strip malls, was one of those victimless crimes that goes unreported to spare the reputation of the injured party.

But three weeks into the Clinton-Lewinsky brouhaha, New Yorkers can no longer twit Washington in good faith. Every time they turn on the television or log on to the Internet, they are met with a raft of new interviews, analyses and breaking headlines about the "White House in Crisis", or are treated to infotainment exposes on how Hollywood directors are voluntarily snipping loops of celluloid out of steamy political thrillers to accommodate the interests of the Beltway.

As the presidential crisis has taken over the airwaves, Manhattan has begun to get a V-chip on its shoulder; it is now incapable of generating enough crime or scandal to keep the rest of the country from changing the channel. Worst of all, we have only ourselves to blame. Last year, this city had its chance at seizing the imagination of the country when a rumour went around that Mayor Rudy Giuliani was conducting an affair with his director of communications, Cristyne Lategano. Sadly, both parties firmly denied the accusations, and local leaders made the tactical error of trying to suppress, rather than heighten, the crisis. With misplaced modesty, they preserved the fortunes of two people at the expense of ten million. New Yorkers who could have profited richly from a DC-style innuendo fiesta have been left poor indeed.

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