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The Connection Man


"I couldn't believe what I was watching," says a friend of Weymouth's. "The ex-wife is trying to quietly just blend in, the girlfriend is down in the front in tears, and in the meantime, Lally's playing what they call in Mexico la viuda oficiale, the official widow."

And so, by the time the two-and-a-half-hour service was over and everyone was filing out onto 87th Street -- as the police academy's bagpipe corps stood in the rain playing "America the Beautiful" -- everyone knew this event would be talked about for years. "It was," says Pete Hamill, "one of the most astonishing New York funerals I've ever been to."

Breindel's canonization did not stop with the funeral. Both the New York City Council and the State Legislature passed formal resolutions honoring him. Murdoch's News Corp. has established the Eric Breindel Memorial Foundation, with an initial grant of $250,000. The foundation will give out an annual $10,000 journalism prize, called -- what else? -- the Eric Breindel Award for Excellence in Opinion Journalism. And HarperCollins (Murdoch's publishing house) has just released A Passion for Truth, a collection of Breindel's columns with a foreword by Senator Moynihan.

"Conservatism in America over the past twenty years has been a holy war," says Peter Kaplan, editor of the New York Observer and a close Breindel friend since college. "And just like it was with the old left, these people are very passionate; they're all true believers, in each other and in their ideas. I'm sure New York Times editorial-page editor Howell Raines will have a perfectly nice funeral, but it won't be like that. Eric stood for something."

But ideological camaraderie explains only part of Breindel's unique status. The Eric Breindel who was eulogized as a statesman last March was a New York phenomenon, a product of the alchemy between the city's political and social worlds. He was, in his way, a prince of the city, an extraordinarily gifted New York operator; a kind of Roy Cohn figure without the meanness.

It's true that Breindel was among the brightest in a class of extremely bright stars at Harvard; that many of his classmates believed he would one day be secretary of State; and that, because of his obsession with communism and the Holocaust, he was a source of great satisfaction to his political and intellectual elders. But it was his skill at maneuvering among New York's powerful that elevated him beyond the level of columnist and editorial writer. It was the Post's role in city politics, along with his uninhibited willingness to become friends with the people he wrote about, that enabled Breindel to become an impact player.

New York was the perfect place for Breindel to indulge his two passions: influencing public policy and getting close to powerful people. "Look," says Norman Podhoretz, whose new book, ironically, is titled Ex-Friends, "he liked having influence, and he liked knowing people. He had a taste for that and a talent for satisfying it in a way I never did. There were many places I was not welcome because my views were unpopular. But the sort of people who held it violently against me did not hold it against him."

As a writer, Breindel was unexceptional, producing mostly the joyless prose of an ideologue. And as an ideologue, he was more effective working the back channels than he was at publicly taking issues and ideas into new territory. But Breindel understood power in a way few people do. He recognized early in his life that personality is more important than ideology. It's all about proximity and access. If you have someone's ear, you can make things happen.

Breindel began his lifelong courtship of the powerful at Harvard. Developing relationships with professors like Moynihan and Peretz or intellectuals like Podhoretz was no accident. Nor were his friendships with kids of famous people like the Kennedys. He was drawn to people who could teach him, help get him published, or advance his career.

The turning point in his effort to gain entrance to the city's rarefied social world was his relationship with Lally Weymouth. She provided the boost that got him up and over the wall. Once they became a couple, he would have intimate contact not only with local pols but with national and international leaders as well. The lines between his work and his social life didn't blur; they disappeared. A small dinner party at their East Side apartment might include Shimon Peres, Ariel Sharon, Yitzhak Rabin, or Benjamin Netanyahu.

"And of course, we were all friendly with the Kissingers," says Podhoretz, "and no statesman would come through New York without seeing the Kissingers. And Eric was always invited."

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