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May 31, 1999

Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Hillary Clinton, Valerie Shakespeare, Sharon Stone, Jean Denoyer, Rudy Giuliani, and more . . .

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JEAN-GEORGES'S OWN TRUMP CARD

Guess who's opening a hotel now? Four-star chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten and partner Kerry Simon have been scouring the city for a space in which to open a 75-to-100-room boutique hotel. While it seems that opening a small, specialty hotel has become old hat among the city's entrepreneurs, Vongerichten and Simon feel they know the business from the inside out and have a particular statement to make. "We're excited about doing our own thing," says Simon. Real-estate insiders say Vongerichten realizes that his restaurants have been increasing room rates at the hotels where they're located, like the Mercer and Trump International in New York and the Berkley in London, so it makes sense for him to want to make that profit for himself. "We've been talking about doing a hotel for a while," says Vongerichten. "We've been searching, and now we're almost at the point where we have our first one." According to an insider, it's downtown, and, of course, there'll be a restaurant.

STUNG JURY

Talk about a police sting. Forty thousand bees, part of a so-called organic-art installation, were buzzing around SoHo last Monday, and several neighborhood residents turned critics called 911 to complain. According to Shakespeare's Fulcrum Gallery owner Valerie Shakespeare, who commissioned the annoying art piece, an officer from the 1st Precinct called to say, "You had better take care of this situation immediately, or we'll have to send in the SWAT team to exterminate the bees." Fearing a mass bee murder -- the ultimate bad review? -- Shakespeare rounded up her errant artists in residence (just wait for nightfall; they're back like homing pigeons) and returned them to the gallery's interior garden. "The bees are now under house arrest," she sighs.

MORTIMER'S WILL TO SURVIVE

Although Glenn Birnbaum's dying wish may have been that Mortimer's never exist without him, the Lexington Avenue location may be Mortimer's once again in all but the name. Jean Denoyer, whose La Goulue enjoys the same kind of Upper East Side devotion that made Birnbaum's spot a city legend, has placed a silent bid on the property, and insiders say he has the best shot at it. But the Mortimer's moniker will not be resurrected because of strict stipulations in Birnbaum's will. As to his chances of sealing the deal on the coveted locale, Denoyer, who is also opening a new restaurant in Greenwich, says, "It's very likely but not sure."

SPREADING RUMORS

Is Sharon Stone slacking on her fitness routine now that she's comfortably married? West Coast fashion sources wonder whether the onetime cinematic flasher is in fighting trim at this moment; during a poster shoot for her upcoming October Films release, The Muse, a body double was used. "Sharon gets total ad, image, and publicity control, and I haven't even seen sketches yet," protests Stone's spokeswoman, Cindy Berger. "This is completely taking me by surprise." October's marketing president, Dennis Rice, insists that even if there were a shoot done with a body double, it wouldn't be the one used in the final poster. "There may be times when for design purposes we shoot with a stand-in, but that doesn't mean that photograph goes into the actual poster. I can guarantee that when that poster comes out, it won't be anyone but Sharon. Why," muses Rice, "would we use a body double for Sharon Stone?" Okay, but then, why was everyone involved with the shoot -- including the double -- asked to sign confidentiality agreements? "It's standard practice," assures Rice.

CAN PHYSICIANS HEAL THEMSELVES?

The city's top plastic surgeons, ENT men, and ophthalmologists, including Drs. Sherrell Aston, Alan Matarasso, and Dan Baker, may soon lose the hospital they operate in, and they're not taking it lying down. A committee of surgeon directors is raising funds as well as searching for a financial partner to make a bid to the Manhattan Eye, Ear, and Throat Hospital's board of directors -- a bid they hope will nix a reported $41 million offer from Memorial Sloan-Kettering to purchase the complex on East 64th Street (two of the hospital buildings are said to be going to a group of residential developers who will likely tear them down to create luxury apartments). "The alternatives to the deal with Memorial are certainly viable,'' says Dr. Steven Fochios, who leads the group of concerned surgeons. "We want the board to entertain an offer from us,'' says Matarasso. "The medical staff has already raised tens of thousands of dollars." Both he and Fochios feel the board has stonewalled their committee, and indeed a spokesperson for the hospital's board doesn't see a happy prognosis for the institution. "The only way to continue to provide care is to liquidate the 64th Street building and redeploy those assets to the outer boroughs," he says. Fochios maintains a guarded optimism: "We hope that there will be enough community and public-official support to steer the board toward doing the right thing."

HILLARY'S PRIVATE CONVERSATIONS

If Hillary Clinton is really serious about running for the Senate, there's one important lesson she'd better learn: New Yorkers love to gossip. Mrs. Clinton thought she was headed to Jacksonville, Florida, this coming Saturday for a private, invitation-only political conference. But in fact, the event is all-too-public, thanks to some talkative New Yorkers. Hillary, for the first time, will be joining her husband and -- not coincidentally -- a small group of influential New York Democratic party bigwigs for the Progressive Foundation's annual Howard Gilman Symposium at the White Oak Plantation. But the real reason for Mrs. Clinton's appearance at the three-day think tank, some attendees say, is to buttonhole prominent New York businesspeople about her chances of winning Pat Moynihan's seat. Far from the glare of Manhattan's media spotlight, Mrs. Clinton will get to schmooze with the likes of Bernard Bergreen, president of the Gilman Investment Company; Bernard Schwartz, CEO of Loral Space & Communications Ltd.; and Peter Mathias, a banking and finance consultant.

UNIONS TURNING (AWAY) GREEN?

Public advocate Mark Green seems to be having some labor pains. Of the four elected officials most likely to run for mayor in the next election, only Green was not invited to attend the massive rally of the city's labor unions held near City Hall on May 12. He did show up, but unlike Fernando Ferrer, Alan Hevesi, and Peter Vallone, he hadn't been asked to by rally organizers. A spokesperson for the New York City Central Labor Council admits that Green's attendance was not formally requested, but adds that council president Brian McLaughlin did go out of his way to "acknowledge him from the podium" when Green's presence was pointed out. Of course, the other three actually got a chance to speak. Green's mouthpiece says he doesn't know why the public advocate wasn't invited, and that once he showed up, the organizers did in fact ask him to make a statement, but "scheduling conflicts" got in the way. One seasoned political insider muses, "My hunch is that one of the other three asked that he not be invited. And it may have been a message that Green needs to repair any damage he's done to his relationship with labor." The Labor Council rep stresses, "The union has not announced its support of anyone yet," and adds that they've just invited Green to speak at the council's next executive-board meeting. Sounds huge.

COOL MOVE BY REVEREND FLAKE

If he doesn't already, LL Cool J ought to start going to church. Thanks to a big assist from the Reverend Floyd Flake, the former congressman and possible mayoral candidate, the rapper's cousin Cynthia Cooper was arrested recently for stealing $6,250 intended for what she claimed was "the Camp Cool J Foundation." Much of that money came from parishioners of Flake's Allen A.M.E. Church in Jamaica, Queens. "When the reverend heard that some of his congregants had been scammed, he made a public plea during his Sunday service for them to come forward and assist the police in their investigation," reports a member of Flake's flock. Three days later, the police arrested Cooper. She is charged with ripping off the families of 125 Queens children by falsely claiming that if the parents registered their kids (for a $50 fee), the rap star would send them to camp this summer. Unbeknownst to the kids and their parents, LL Cool J had decided to discontinue his recreational-sleep-away-camp sponsorship this year and instead has implemented a scholarship program. Rest easy, LL. The camp-scam caper looks to be rapped up.

RUDY GIULIANI'S SHELF LIFE

Watch out, Rudy . . . here comes Wayne Barrett. The Village Voice's star investigative reporter has just signed a contract with Basic Books to do a warts-and-all biography of the mayor. Barrett, a self-professed fan of Giuliani's when he was a crime-busting U.S. attorney, has done a 180-degree turn. "I broke with him over his welfare policies, the way he treats the minority community -- particularly blacks -- and how he handles race relations," says Barrett. Ed Koch, who is working on his own book about the mayor (Giuliani: Nasty Man), knows what it's like to be on the receiving end of Barrett's pen (see his City for Sale). "Wayne is a superb researcher, but he always takes the most negative conclusion possible," says Koch. And New York 1 political reporter Andrew Kirtzman is preparing a tome focusing on the Giuliani mayoralty. But things could be worse for Giuliani: Published reports of a book about the mayor by Peter Vallone's former chief-of-staff, Kevin McCabe, are unfounded. "If I do write a book," says McCabe, "it'll be a docu-novel about life in City Hall, not about Giuliani." The mayor, according to a spokeswoman, applauds all the attention. "He's always been a big supporter of literacy," she says.

With Ken Frydman. Deborah Mitchell is on vacation.

Additional reporting by Ian Spiegelman.


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