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Power Outage

A couple of decades ago, gay power was a political slogan and a dream. Now it's become one of the central threads of the city's fabric.


In Angels in America, playwright Tony Kushner served up a telling portrayal of the legendary and ruthless New York lawyer Roy Cohn, chief counsel to the late Sen. Joe McCarthy during his anticommunist and antigay purges of the fifties. Cohn was intoxicated by his own raw power -- by his ability to pick up the phone and get people like Nancy Reagan or Donald Trump to move mountains for him. In the play, Cohn, dying of AIDS in 1986, explains his refusal to admit to others -- or even to himself -- that he is gay. "Homosexuals are men who know nobody and who nobody knows," he notes, bitterly.

While Kushner wrote these words largely to reflect Cohn's self-loathing, they also reflected, at the time, a larger truth. Prior to the nineties, the number of openly gay New Yorkers in positions of power was almost nil. Certainly, there have long been people in fashion, the arts, and literature known to be homosexual, and they have exerted unquestionable cultural impact. But that's different from raw power, at least in Cohn's understanding of the word. Sixteen years ago, there were no openly gay politicians in New York. No open gays on Wall Street. No openly gay advertising executives. No openly gay editors-in-chief. Today, openly gay men and women are prominent in the upper echelons of every profession in the city, helping to run the world's nerve center.

As a voting bloc, with neighborhoods that stretch across Manhattan and into the outer boroughs, gays are also a group that politicians, from Rudy Giuliani to Mark Green to Hillary Clinton to George Pataki, now court both for votes and for money.

How did gays and lesbians accrue so much power in so short a time? Unlike many other minority groups, gays have never been absent from the city's hierarchy. They simply have been hidden. Thus, theirs has been less a movement about getting people into positions of power as it has been about allowing people already in power to come out of the closet, paving the way for those in the next generation to advance while being out themselves.

On the following pages, New York's editors present 101 such New Yorkers, all of them openly gay. And though the closet clearly remains an issue in fields such as finance and sports, their difficulty in narrowing the list down that far is a sign of how far gays have come. But making the cut wasn't simply about having power in one professional sphere: They also factored in their impact on New York's gay community, and on the city at large. And if a few familiar names are conspicuously absent, it might be because they're still not out.

Edward ALBEE The Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? became an immediate classic, and is still considered one of the most chill-inducing renderings of a dysfunctional marriage around. Other hits include The Zoo Story, The Death of Bessie Smith, and Three Tall Women. His latest, The Play About the Baby, opened Off Broadway to mixed reviews.

Alan BALL The onetime playwright and successful screenwriter won the Oscar last year for American Beauty.

Deborah BATTS A federal District Court judge for the Southern District of New York, the Philadelphia-born African-American is the highest-ranking openly gay judge in the country.

Andrew BEAVER The former executive vice-president at Deutsch Advertising is now client-services director and managing partner at the New York office of TBWA/Chiat/Day, overseeing such mega-accounts as Kmart, Revlon, Circuit City, and Samsonite.

Sandra BERNHARD The part-time novelist and cabaret performer (I'm Still Here . . . Damn It!) and acerbic fashionista made her terrific debut in Scorsese's King of Comedy, following that up with a brilliant one-woman show, Without You I'm Nothing, and an entertaining feud with Madonna over Ingrid Casares. Recently put down roots in West Chelsea with her daughter.

Scott BESSENT A former top executive for George Soros, he now runs his own hedge fund, which with $1 billion in assets is among the largest in the world.

Roger BLACK As art director of the Times and Rolling Stone, Black secured his legacy as the world's most prolific and oft-imitated print-design guru. A pioneer in desktop publishing, he redesigned Newsweek, Esquire, and Ad Age. Now his Interactive Bureau design firm is just as influential online.

Ross BLECKNER Artist who played a major role in the revival of American painting in the eighties. A 1995 Guggenheim retrospective of the work of this art-scene fixture, philanthropist, and relentless socialite helped cement his reputation as a world-class artist.

Stefania BORTOLAMI Seems like everyone struts around Chelsea in Prada or Jil Sander, but few can call them clients. Two years ago, Bortolami's wheeling and dealing caught the attention of superdealer Larry Gagosian, who snatched her up for himself. Now, as gallery director, she represents such artists as Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst.

Laura BROWN Recently appointed president of Oxford University Press the world's largest university press after more than twenty years with the company. In the past two years, Oxford has nabbed two Pulitzers, for David M. Kennedy's Freedom From Fear and Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898, by Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace.

Peter BROWN The international P.R. guru got his start managing the Beatles and opened his firm in 1983. Clients include Paine Webber, Ralph Lauren, Disney, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and the prince of Wales. His July 4 fireworks party is one of the highlights of the Hamptons social season.

Robby BROWNE Senior vice-president at Douglas Elliman and the top-producing broker there for nine out of twelve years, he's known for his very high-profile clients, including Whoopi Goldberg, Mariah Carey, and Ian Schrager.

Jonathan CAPEHART The former Daily News editorial writer won the Pulitzer for taking on the Harlem power Establishment to save the Apollo Theater. He's now national-affairs columnist at Bloomberg.

Donald CAPOCCIA A Republican real-estate developer with close ties to both Rudy and Pataki, he was one of the few openly gay people on George W. Bush's advisory transition team. Capoccia helped spur the Tompkins Square riots when he tried to evict squatters from his buildings. These days, he's building middle-income housing in Harlem.

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