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June 29-July 6, 1998

Geraldine Ferraro, Trent Lott, Natasha Richardson, Stephen Hanson, Betty Williams, Norman Mailer, Ronnie Spector, Rick Rubin and more . . .

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A GLASS CEILING

Is Geraldine Ferraro living in a very well-insured glass house? She recently attacked Senator Alfonse D'Amato for serving "the interests of the insurance companies" with -- oddly enough -- his bill to ban "drive-through" mastectomies. The proposal hardly marks D'Amato as an insurance ally; but Ferraro argues that D'Amato proposed it to block rival legislation that would have been even tougher on insurance companies. She held a press conference and reported that D'Amato's campaign had collected $210,000 from the industry since 1993. But Ferraro didn't mention that the largest nonprofit insurer in New York State, Group Health Incorporated (GHI), paid her old law firm $279,442 to lobby Congress for a special tax break. In 1993, Ferraro told The American Lawyer that her lobbying for Group Health consisted of "providing my former colleagues in the House with a new source of information" and "helping a client have an input into legislation." But her campaign manager, David Eichenbaum, insists that Ferraro "was not a lobbyist" for the law firm, from which she resigned when they took on Libya as a client. "Gerry doesn't take stands on issues based on the position of former clients, and -- unlike Al D'Amato -- she is fighting for the passage of a patient bill of rights," he insists. Says a spokeswoman for D'Amato: "Al D'Amato was the first to sponsor one of the most comprehensive HMO-reform bills, and is championing the most important breast-cancer legislation in congress today."

A LOTT OF IRONY FOR TRENT INTERVIEWER

Does Trent Lott's interviewer have some issues of his own he needs to work through? Armstrong Williams, the conservative talk-show host who instigated a firestorm last week by asking the senator from Mississippi whether homosexuality is a sin, is being sued for sexual harassment by a former employee who happens to be male. Last year, Stephen Gregory -- the former YMCA personal trainer whom Williams promoted to executive producer of his show -- alleged in his suit that the boss grabbed his buttocks and penis, tried to kiss him, and climbed into his hotel-room bed asking for "affection" while they were traveling together. Williams immediately held a press conference to denounce Gregory's allegations as "false, baseless, and completely without merit." Gregory's attorney, Mickey Wheatley, who says the case will probably proceed to trial this fall, has spoken with Gregory since Williams's news-making interview with Lott. "He's not that political," says Wheatley, "but his reaction was, 'That sounds like Armstrong shooting his mouth off.' " Neither Williams nor his attorney could be reached on deadline.

LIFE IS A NIGHT-CLUB, OLD FRIEND

Is Cabaret getting too big for its thigh-highs? The play may be losing its star, Natasha Richardson, but it looks like it is about to gain a new venue. According to theater-industry sources, ever since the Weimar-era revival won four Tonys, tickets have been so in demand that the show's producers have been looking around for a bigger space. Now it seems their eyes have landed on the former Studio 54 locale. While the play's press reps did not return calls, a spokesman for the club concedes that representatives from the play have already taken measurements there, saying, "We haven't approached the table yet, but they've expressed interest and we're interested, too, at this point."

RIVER PLIGHT; TURNAROUND FLIGHT

NO RIV VU: Laura Pomerantz turned to real estate when she lost her high-powered V.P. job at Leslie Fay during the family business's bankruptcy reorganization. But whatever professional skills she's picked up in her new field couldn't get her into River House this year. Laura and John Pomerantz (who still runs Leslie Fay) sold their Park Avenue penthouse for just under $8 million, according to real-estate sources, then went to contract on a River House duplex for just under $3 million. But that deal recently fell apart. Says one real-estate insider, the board "didn't want anyone who'd had a bankrupt company." But another source insists that the couple chose to walk away from the deal themselves. The Pomerantzes are far from homeless: They recently bought an Upper East Side townhouse that had been on the market for $5.5 million.

MORE FISH TO FRY: Yet another restaurant for Stephen Hanson. The paint is hardly dry on Atlantic Grill, and Hanson has signed a lease on what will be his seventh Manhattan restaurant, a multilevel pan-Asian spot on the site of the former Mad Fish at 77th Street and Broadway. This one comes with a pedigree: The designer is David Rockwell, and the sushi expert on board is former Quilted Giraffe owner Barry Wine. The as-yet-unnamed restaurant is due to open October 1.

GET A PEACE OF THIS: She may have won the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to end the violence in Northern Ireland, but that doesn't mean Betty Williams shies away from a good fight. Williams was recently on board a Delta flight to Atlanta that was delayed for several hours on a runway due to inclement weather. As the other passengers, including noted hip-hop producer Benny Medina, fumed in their seats, Williams took matters into her own hands. With a battle cry of "We're not sheep!," she insisted that the plane return to the gate. To her fellow passengers' delight, the crew obeyed and directed the plane back to the gate -- at which point she remarked that it was the first time she'd been escorted off a plane. Williams did not return calls placed at deadline; a Delta spokesperson had no knowledge of the incident.

MOVERS AND SHAKERS AT ABC

People who work at ABC's corporate offices on West 66th Street should get in touch with Realtors in Los Angeles. Five huge cranes are already in place on the Disney lot in Burbank -- right next to the feature-animation department (the building shaped like the Sorcerer's Apprentice's hat from Fantasia). The cranes are evidence of the ten-story office tower designed by the late prize-winning Italian architect Aldo Rossi that in some two and a half or three years will be ABC's new home base, according to a Hollywood insider. "ABC will become an on-the-lot subsidiary of Disney," the source says, adding that the network will be structured along the lines of NBC, which is run out of Los Angeles (except for some divisions, like advertising and news). The new building will have ABC's logo on top and will be the tallest structure on the Disney lot, a distinction now held by the six-story building that houses Michael Eisner's offices. A Disney spokesman confirms that a ten-story office tower is being erected on the Burbank lot but won't comment on "speculation" about ABC. "We bought ABC three years ago, and this building was approved in 1992," explains the spokesman.

NORMAN MAILER'S GUT REACTION

Norman Mailer's pen is mightier than his left hook. Just ask New Republic owner Marty Peretz, who has experienced both. Peretz was going into a restaurant in Provincetown last summer when he ran into Mailer, whose last novel had just been panned in The New Republic. "He came up and smiled at me, so I punched him in the stomach," the irascible Mailer told the Los Angeles Times last month while flogging his latest book, The Time of Our Time. Mailer claimed that "Marty Peretsky sic . . . told everyone in the restaurant he went into that I punched him, so I guess it was kind of a badge of honor." But Peretz says that in fact he hadn't spoken about the incident until Mailer's recent interview "because I didn't want to embarrass the man. . . . His punches were so flabby." Peretz's version: He was just saying hello when Mailer attacked him. "He said, 'I'll show you,' and I thought he was about to show me some writing, right there on the street. But he punched me in the stomach twice." Retorts Mailer, "Actually, I didn't hit him that hard purposely, because he's not a fighter."

SPECTOR: ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE

Some bridges are really hard to burn. Last year, sixties songbird Darlene Love won a lawsuit filed against the legendary record producer Phil Spector for back royalties owed her since 1987, a sum totaling more than a quarter-million dollars. Spector is in the process of appealing that victory, but apparently his loss hasn't soured him on Love. While in the middle of his current court battle with ex-wife Ronnie Spector and her fellow Ronettes, who are also suing Spector for $12 million in royalties dating back to 1963, Phil Spector has subpoenaed Love and asked her to testify on his behalf. "I could not believe it," says Love. "I sued him for exactly the same thing! I certainly won't do him any good -- I'll bring new meaning to the term hostile witness." Love hasn't responded to the subpoena and hasn't received a court date. "I have nothing to say to that insane man," says Love, who is forthcoming about her opinion of Spector in her upcoming autobiography My Name Is Love, due out this fall (she refers to him simply as "Crazy Phil"). Phil Spector's attorney, Andrew Bart, explains: "We aren't thinking of her as a character witness. We're interested in her work as a backup singer on several of the Ronettes albums, and that's the only thing that's relevant here."

ALL'S FAIR IN LOVE AND ROCKETS

Talk about ungracious houseguests. American Recordings president Rick Rubin -- co-founder of Def Jam records and a producer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers -- now owes $1.8 million to an East Village musician who tumbled out the window of Rubin's home. While the band Love & Rockets was using the recording studio in Rubin's Laurel Canyon house, they invited the musician Genesis P-Orridge (founder of the band Throbbing Gristle) to visit as their guest. When an accidental fire erupted from the studio's temporary wiring, the Love & Rockets crew managed to exit the house unscathed, but their invite wasn't as lucky. Trapped upstairs, he tried to jump safely from the second floor but slipped and hurt himself. P-Orridge -- who suffered a pulmonary embolism, injured his guitar arm, and landed in the intensive-care unit of Cedars-Sinai -- later sued Rubin for injuries he incurred escaping the fire; and this week, a jury in L.A. awarded him the handsome settlement. Says a source close to the case, "Poor Rick. Genesis was an uninvited guest as far as he's concerned." For P-Orridge, winning the case took on a higher level of importance: "It seemed the jury were being told to suspend judgment in my particular case, just because my life has been unorthodox and colorful." Rubin refused to comment on the situation.

Additional reporting by Kate Coyne.


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