Land of the Free, Home of the Stupid

RICHARD REEVES

August 24, 1993|By RICHARD REEVES

New York. -- "Hugs Finest, Thanks God, Loves N.Y.'' was one of the orgy of headlines -- this one in the Daily News -- that celebrated the homecoming of Harvey Weinstein. He is the city's greatest hero because he did what most of us hope to do these days: He survived.

And, in case anyone missed the point of why we cheer the kidnapped tuxedo maven imprisoned in a pit along the West Side Highway, we saw the alternate ending along Interstate 95 in North Carolina. James Jordan, the father of the most famous athlete in the country, was shot to death in cold blood because he happened to stop at the wrong spot along the main street of the eastern United States.

There seem to be a million guys like Harvey Weinstein in New York, a 68-year-old Jewish businessman pouring cranberry juice, for God's sake, over raisin bran in a diner run by the Greeks in Queens.

Who knew this one was doing better than most -- and was so tough?

He walks to his car in broad daylight and two guys grab him. It could happen to anybody, which tells you something about New York -- and about most of the country. He turned out to be braver than most and we love him for it, because there but for the grace of God go all of us these days.

''I can't permit fear to govern my life,'' he said when the city's finest, the New York Police Department, pulled him out of the pit after 13 days. ''I will walk proudly in the streets of New York. . . . I will not be looking over my shoulder every 30 seconds to see who is behind me. I can't live that way and I won't.''

He will be one of the few -- perhaps because he has already seen the worst. On the day he emerged, I happened to be talking to Ken Auletta, who is New York's biggest political commentator. We were talking about daughters and dogs. We both have the former -- Kate Auletta, 11, and Fiona Reeves, 8 -- and he has two of the latter, Daisy and Scooter.

I mentioned getting a dog, too, and he said that was great except for walking them morning and night. Well, said I, Kate can do that. ''What, are you crazy?'' he said. ''You can't let a kid walk alone on the street.''

This was a pretty tough guy who lives within shouting distance of Gracie Mansion, the mayor's house guarded by the New York's finest. Right. I had forgotten for a moment the times in which we all live.

It also happened that on the day Mr. Weinstein was freed, the Daily News and WNBC released a Harris Poll on the mayoralty election here in November. Answering the question, ''What issues are most important to you in determining whom you will support for mayor?'' 13 percent of the respondents said education, 12 percent said jobs, 11 percent said race relations and 6 percent said city taxes.

Forty-seven percent said crime.

So, we honor Harvey Weinstein for surviving out there in our Mad Max wasteland. Maybe we'll all even be a little less scared for a few days.

Maybe not. I got lost the other day at 2 a.m. driving from Newark Airport to Trenton. I was tired after flying in from Kansas City, and I thought about pulling over and grabbing a little sleep before going on. Instead, I cruised some pretty mean streets in the capital of New Jersey before getting out of there as fast as I could. I finally found a Red Roof Inn in Lawrenceville as my safe haven for the night.

The night clerk was as friendly as he could be inside his little bulletproof booth. I found myself wondering whether my little room would be bulletproof too. We are all Harvey Weinstein these days. And we are all James Jordan. Welcome to the land of the free and the home of the brave -- and the stupid for allowing ourselves to be imprisoned this way.

Richard Reeves is a syndicated columnist.

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