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The 1999 New York Awards

At the apex of the longest boom in America's history, New York is overflowing with cultural confidence, creative energy, and, of course, cash (much of which, unfortunately, goes to paying your sky-high rent). Plus a championship baseball team (again), a new park on the Hudson (at last), a sumptuous buffet of new restaurants, and videos delivered to your door in an hour. With our fourth annual New York Awards, the magazine celebrates twelve people who've been among the brightest lights in the city's shimmering skyline. In this issue, you'll also find 50 other New Yorkers, in fields ranging from finance to flowers, who are inventing the world we'll be living in next millennium -- which, in case you've forgotten, starts in a couple of weeks.

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NEW YORK AWARD WINNER: LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT
Clive Davis

Greatest Hitmaker

At a time when soundtracks spawn stars and focus groups pick singles, Arista president Clive Davis is still a record man's record man -- the kind of executive who listens to demos with his eyes closed and knows a hit when he hears one. And at an age when most of his peers are boring subordinates with war stories about their good old days -- rock, punk, grunge, whatever -- Davis just steered Arista to its most successful fiscal year ever on the strength of hip-hop and modern R&B. Davis won his reputation for "having ears" in the late sixties and early seventies, when he transformed Columbia Records from a Broadway-based monolith into a rock-and-roll powerhouse by signing artists like Janis Joplin, Carlos Santana, and Billy Joel. That was only Act One: In 1974, Davis founded Arista Records, where he signed Patti Smith in the seventies, Whitney Houston in the eighties, and lucrative joint ventures with LaFace Records and Sean "Puffy" Combs's Bad Boy in the nineties. More recently, he signed Santana again, paired him with young stars like Everlast, Lauryn Hill, and Matchbox 20's Rob Thomas, and steered him to his first No. 1 album since the early seventies -- the last time he worked with Clive Davis. Rarely shy about taking credit when it's due, Davis might well be the last of the larger-than-life label chiefs, and when Arista's corporate parent, BMG Entertainment, announced last month that it planned to replace him, artists from Carly Simon to Whitney Houston publicly expressed their support. "Clive stands up for me -- even against his better judgment -- and lets me do my work the way I want," says Patti Smith. "He'll tell me exactly how he feels, and I can think about what we've talked about and make my own choices." Indeed, now that most major labels operate as units of multinational corporations, what sets Davis apart is his refusal to let himself or his artists make those decisions by committee. "You've got to do it on the basis of instinct," he says. "It's the key to the music business."
Robert Levine


NEW YORK AWARD WINNER: FASHION
Michael Kors

Rebirth of a Classic

The reign of fashion's European bad boys may well be over. Consider this year's star, Michael Kors: Born on Long Island, he has eighteen years as a designer under his tasteful, understated belt. "There's something to be said for not zigging and zagging -- I stayed my course for a very long time," says Kors. "This year, everyone came around to my way of thinking." In February, he showed a fall-1999 collection for his own line that offered up a delicious serving of casual, low-key luxe that was ecstatically received. A month later, he was in Paris, continuing to shake up the French house of Céline (to which he was appointed in 1997 by luxury conglomerate LVMH). Pre-Kors, it was a haven for Eurotrash pastel power dressing. Post-Kors, Céline carries all the hallmarks of a top luxury-goods house: desirable clothes, must-have accessories, heavily subscribed waiting lists. And then, to crown his achievements, May saw him scoop up the CFDA Award for Womenswear Designer of the Year, presented to him by Rene Russo, whom he dressed in this summer's hit remake of The Thomas Crown Affair. He has turned on a whole new generation of women to his American brand of luxury -- slick, sexy, and stripped of any stuffiness. "When you walk down the street in Paris and you see women who are really well groomed running out to dinner in a pair of flannel pants and a cashmere sweater, you know American style has become global style." And after years of dues-paying, Kors has become a global designer.
Mark Holgate


NEW YORK AWARD WINNER: PERFORMANCE
Margaret Cho

Stand-Up Gal

"This has been a good year for me," says Margaret Cho. "I finally learned how to use my voice, forgive my parents, ride a mountain bike, become bi-coastal, make tofu pesto, write a book, and appreciate age for making all these things possible." To say nothing of the 31-year-old comedian's hit stand-up act, I'm the One That I Want, which ran for a full four months at the Westbeth Theatre this summer before Cho took it on a yearlong tour of cities from Honolulu to Minneapolis. Cho, who first performed as a 16-year-old in a tiny space above her parents' bookstore in San Francisco, had her initial encounter with fame four years ago, when she taped sixteen episodes of the first sitcom ever to star a Korean-American woman, All American Girl. But ABC abruptly canceled the show shortly after its debut, and Cho descended into a much-publicized bout of depression, weight gain, and alcoholism. It was, in one sense, the luckiest thing that ever happened to her; her struggles with her demons are the raw material from which she made I'm the One That I Want. As she roams the stage, playing out vignettes and offering up raunchy personal sex-and-showbiz anecdotes, the audience knows she isn't holding anything back. Cho will take a stab at making next year stellar as well, with a book and movie based on her stand-up act forthcoming. Fortunately for us, the Cho must go on.Vanessa Grigoriadis

NEW YORK AWARD WINNER: MUSIC
Jay-Z

Boomtown Rap

As the Dow rocketed past 11,000, the biggest music star in America was rapping his own Horatio Alger story about how he picked himself up out of a "Hard Knock Life" in Brooklyn's Marcy housing project. Born Shawn Carter, the six-foot-four 29-year-old Jay-Z led hip-hop's takeover of the pop charts by proving that a rapper could sell 5 million albums, sample a song from Annie, and still retain enough street cred to make the cover of The Source. With a musician's ear for flow and a reporter's eye for lyrical detail, Jay-Z proved that big business -- of any kind -- was just a hustle not so different from the one he learned growing up on the streets of Brooklyn. His Hard Knock Life, Volume 2 won a Grammy for best rap album, and the self-described "eight-figure nigga" even got into the spirit of the moment by renting one of the splashiest houses in the Hamptons and throwing the summer's most celebrated Fourth of July party. "Meeting new people is important to me," he said over the summer. "Maybe I can help you in my field; maybe you can help me in your field." Not that hip-hop isn't tougher than other businesses; Jay-Z now faces assault charges for allegedly slashing Untertainment executive Lance "Un" Rivera during a brawl at the Kit Kat Club on December 2; the gossip is that Jay-Z believed Rivera bootlegged his forthcoming fourth album. It's due out in time for the millennium -- as if Jay-Z didn't have enough zeroes after his name.

NEW YORK AWARD WINNER: MUSIC
Lil' Kim

Hip-Hop's Queen Bee

So stylistically forward that Alexander McQueen bowed to her at the VH1 Fashion Awards but so delightfully down-to-earth that she presented him with the "avant-garday" prize, Kim has redefined women's roles in rap and all but established a presence for hip-hop in haute couture. Just a few years back, she was a homeless teenager on the streets of Brooklyn, when the man she called "my brother, my mentor" -- the late Christopher Wallace, a.k.a. the Notorious B.I.G. -- told her that if he made it as a rapper, he'd come back for her. He kept his word. First as a member of the Junior M.A.F.I.A. crew and then as a solo artist on her album Hard Core, Lil' Kim pushed the limits of frank feminist expression at a time when there didn't seem to be any limits to push anymore. "It's a big-mama thing," the petite rapper explains. Meanwhile, Lil' Kim has become the indisputable siren of New York nightlife, as likely to be surrounded by Donna Karan and Donald Trump as by fellow hip-hop stars like Busta Rhymes and Sean "Puffy" Combs (on whose tour she arrived onstage in a red-velvet-covered bed). Always the most visible person in the room, despite her four-foot-eleven stature -- even Diana Ross couldn't restrain herself from tweaking her pastie-clad breast at this year's MTV Music Video Awards. The "Queen Bee," as Lil' Kim has dubbed herself, was said to be shocked, although that seems doubtful, considering her healthy self-esteem. "You wanna be the swing bee, but you can't be -- that's why you're mad at me," she cackles.

NEW YORK AWARD WINNER: CIVICS
Floyd Abrams

First for the First

It was going to be just another year at Cahill Gordon & Reindel for lawyer Floyd Abrams -- which is to say, a typically very good year, his thirty-sixth spent fighting the unending battle of the First Amendment. Then a certain mayor, unfavorably disposed toward a certain piece of art, threatened a certain museum with a funding cut that could have forced said museum to close or move. Suddenly Abrams was -- yet again -- at the center of the most controversial First Amendment case of its time. Even if the Brooklyn Museum's "Sensation" exhibit may have lacked some of the drama of the Pentagon Papers (on which Abrams served as the Times's co-counsel), in a city that lives on its culture there was more at stake than the right to fling elephant dung. "I was delighted to take the case on," Abrams says. "I was astonished when I read that the mayor was threatening to close the museum down. The thing about it was, it was all so unnecessary." Abrams beat the city in court, and though the mayor is appealing, he may think twice about his next venture into art criticism.
Michael Tomasky

NEW YORK AWARD WINNER: COMEDY
Chris Rock

Rock of Our Age

It's all well and good to get discovered at 18 by your hero (Eddie Murphy), move on to Saturday Night Live and Politically Incorrect, star in $100 million-grossing films, write best-sellers, record CDs, and host everything, but let's face it, having an Emmy-winning show with your name in the title is really where it's at. "I can pretty much do whatever I want," says Rock happily. "I don't know if it's exciting; it's more that it's gratifying. Exciting almost has to be a new experience, so that would be like when I started having sex. That was exciting. Now it's either good or bad." While he's over the initial thrills of being both sexually active and in showbiz, there's still something in his wide-eyed, many-toothed happy face that suggests he's sometimes thinking, Can you believe I'm so damn famous? We can, because Rock takes something like hosting the 1999 MTV Video Music Awards ("that was like a performance-art piece," he says) that you expect will be predictable at best and uses it as a forum to bash about half the A-list before they can get off the stage. He isn't afraid to make you laugh at anything -- least of all race -- because he knows that the only jokes that are really in bad taste are the ones that aren't funny.
Ariel Levy

NEW YORK AWARD WINNER: FICTION
Allegra Goodman

Chosen Writer

In the latest incarnation of multicultural Manhattan, nothing may seem more familiar than a Jewish writer. But Allegra Goodman has brought a fresh perspective to the novel set in a Jewish milieu. Born in Brooklyn, she left New York at age 2 to settle with her family in Hawaii. But Goodman spent her summers visiting a upstate community populated by Orthodox Jews, similar to the one she brilliantly creates in Kaaterskill Falls. The novel, her first after two much-praised short-story collections, traces the story of the emotional awakenings of several members of an Orthodox congregation who have traveled up from Washington Heights for their summer retreats in the Catskills. "I'm extremely interested in writing about Jewish Americans," says the 32-year-old mother of three. "But on a broader level, I'm interested in writing about what tradition means in the modern world." Kaaterskill Falls raised her from the level of promising writer to accomplished peer. Last year, she gained a National Book Award nomination; this year, she was a judge. But assuming such august roles won't prevent her from exploring new ones. "I'm like an actor," she says. "I play the parts in my books."
Luisa Colon

NEW YORK AWARD WINNER: TELEVISION
Judge Judy

Justice, no peace.

Her mother, legend has it, wanted her to marry well and took the family on holidays in the Borscht Belt so she could meet someone nice. But Judith Sheindlin has never been one to settle. Judge Judy, as we know from her daily appearances presiding over real-life legal disputes on her television show, is a case study in the art of the second act. Now in her second marriage (to Judge Jerry Sheindlin, who recently replaced Ed Koch as the centerpiece of The People's Court), she is a long way from her previous jobs settling cases for a cosmetics concern and prosecuting juvenile delinquents in Bronx Family Court. Wearing a lace collar and the demeanor of someone who perhaps drinks lemon juice by the glass, Judge Judy handles her litigants with skepticism and impatience. "My sense is," she warns a man whose wife had previously been involved with his brother, "that your wife is still flaky." She's the cold and rational mother we never had. And that is what lifts Judge Judy miles above the rest of daytime television's bottom-scrapers: Where Messrs. Jerry and Montel permit their guests the verbal space to make fools of themselves, Judge Judy cuts them off and spares them (and us) the embarrassment. So it's no surprise that Judge Judy, currently in its fourth season, is the highest-rated show in daytime syndication. (Them's the breaks, Oprah.) Only Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! can boast of higher day or night syndication ratings -- but if they did, Judge Judy would just tell them to shut up.
Eric Konigsberg

NEW YORK AWARD WINNER: BUSINESS
Fernando Espuelas

Latin King

The Brazilian press calls it "The Espuelas Effect." As Latin-language Internet portals proliferate across the Americas, they are all -- whether they admit it or not -- copying the astoundingly successful business model of StarMedia and its 33-year-old CEO and founder, Fernando Espuelas. "We sold StarMedia to shareholders by selling Latin America," explains Espuelas, whose company IPO'd at more than $2.5 billion in May and now reaches more than 600 million Latins worldwide. Espuelas believes that "to the extent that the Internet represents a 100 percent improvement in communications for the U.S., it represents a 300 percent, or 400 or 500 percent, improvement for Latins, who historically haven't had a forum for their voices." And he's setting about making sure those voices get heard. In November 9, the Uruguay-born entrepreneur launched www.latinvote.org, an ambitious site that will provide extensive profiles of the next election's political candidates and issues in Spanish. With sites like Yupi, Yahoo! en Espanol, and QuePasa spreading like kudzu, Espuelas jokes, "I think my mother is going to launch a competitive site next."
Logan Hill

NEW YORK AWARD WINNER: THEATER
Susan Stroman

Contact High

Everything Susan Stroman does all but screams Break the rules! -- the battle cry of the great American choreographer, from Agnes DeMille to Michael Kidd, Gower Champion and Bob Fosse to Michael Bennett and Tommy Tune. Like Tune, Stroman is a genius of the quotidian gesture, setting dances in ordinary places (a barn in the career-making Crazy for You, a mall in Big) and having her hoofers spin lust and humor and wonderment out of ordinary situations (as when she set giant fruits and pies and holiday gifts high-stepping across the stage of the Theatre at Madison Square Garden in the unexpectedly touching A Christmas Carol). But nothing quite prepared us for this season's Contact, a groundbreaking tryptich in which Stroman not only declares her dance-maker's manifesto (movement equals foreplay) but invents a new subgenre -- call it the sort-of-musical -- in which the spirits of Fosse and Bennett (innuendo and sex) fool around with literary convention. The result may be a hybrid, but it's original and completely exhilarating. And while collecting the season's best reviews on this side of the Atlantic for Contact, she set London abuzz with an equally sensational production of Oklahoma! -- the show, not coincidentally, that had been the career-maker for DeMille, the very model of a modern choreographer. Stroman had come full circle.
Jeremy Gerard

NEW YORK AWARD WINNER: SPORTS
Marcus Camby

Hoop Dreamer

At this time last year, Marcus Camby was a former college star from the University of Massachusetts who had turned into an NBA disappointment with the dreary Toronto Raptors. His trade to the Knicks didn't seem auspicious: Fans were angry that the Knicks gave up the beloved Charles Oakley to get the bony 25-year-old. Oak was Oak; he couldn't be pushed around, whereas Camby, despite his undergraduate greatness and gaudy shot-blocking numbers, was thought to be a beanstalk with a bad attitude. Coach Jeff Van Gundy seemed to buy into the thinking, too, gluing Camby to the bench. But the mellow Camby wisely never complained. Gradually, Camby's gifts -- startling quickness for a man six feet eleven, as well as a slithery, Dennis Rodman-like knack for getting to the ball -- transformed the team and helped save a season that looked lost when Patrick Ewing ripped his Achilles tendon. In May, Camby leaped once and for all into the hearts of Knicks fans with a gravity-busting dunk over Dikembe Mutombo. Camby didn't just drive the Knicks to the verge of an NBA championship; he pumped youthful electricity into the Knicks and the city, and inspired a thousand bad-pun headlines playing off his last name. Along with Latrell Sprewell and Allan Houston, he's the soul of the new Knicks. Charles who?
Chris Smith


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