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Public Service



    Lifetime Achievement
  Lifetime Achievement

This year we asked who you thought made their mark in the Big City — and you told us in force. See our 2002 Readers Picks.

The first time Eliot Spitzer ran for attorney general, in 1994, he finished fourth (out of, yep, four). Four years later, he won, defeating Republican incumbent Dennis Vacco by a mere 25,000 votes—“my great mandate,” he once joked. How things change. It may be an exaggeration to say that if you’ve heard of it, Spitzer did it. But it’s close enough to the truth so as to be a plausible exaggeration. The Merrill Lynch investigation. The Jack Grubman–Sandy Weill–92nd Street Y preschool thing. The less celebrated but no less important wage settlement for workers at Korean delis. In the process, Spitzer has cleared a path his party would do well to follow. While national Democrats employed end-of-days rhetoric to make corporate accountability a campaign issue and failed, Spitzer demonstrated that you win these fights with hard work, a zest for battle—and, most of all, with facts (and a great staff). Sure he gets headlines, but unlike a lot of people in public life, he does the work that earns them. What he gets is results. – MICHAEL TOMASKY

The truth, whether we admit it or not, is that we might all be coming a bit undone, what with terror alerts, schizophrenic market news, and Saddam playing hide-and-go-seek with weapons inspectors. Which is why Julianne Moore is an actress for our times. Even before our sense of domestic tranquillity began to evaporate, Moore was famous for etching nuanced cinematic portraits of women on the verge: the drugged-up den mom upholding porn-family values in Boogie Nights; the disaffected painter who retaliates (in a famously full-frontal monologue) against her distrustful husband in Short Cuts; the wealthy California housewife who becomes violently allergic to, well, life itself in Safe. Given her inspired performances in dozens of other fractured fairy tales (The Big Lebowski, Assassins, and Magnolia among them) and this season’s Oscar-beckoning Far From Heaven and The Hours, it’s clear that Moore has devoted herself to piercing the fog (and denial) of the American fever dream. A great actress is only as good as the choices she makes. Julianne Moore has chosen brilliantly. – SIMON DUMENCO

Herman Edwards has broken barriers—when the Jets hired him as head coach two years ago, he became the first black man to command a New York pro-football team—and he’s scaled them: In September, when his computer code failed to open the gate at the Jets’ offices, Edwards climbed an eight-foot fence and squeezed between coils of barbed wire. It was 4:30 a.m., and, as usual, Edwards was the first person at work. Jets fans love the 48-year-old coach for his dedication, but his real breakthrough this season was about inspiration. With the team 2-5 and bickering, a reporter asked if Edwards was worried that the Jets might quit. The coach’s body shook, his eyes teared, and his passionate, blistering answer invoked the memory of his late father, a former Army sergeant. The outburst put the fire back in the Jets. Herman Edwards already has the second-best winning percentage in Jets history. This season has shown that Edwards has what it takes to become the franchise’s second Super Bowl–winning coach. – CHRIS SMITH

Forget Brando’s “Stella!” or Mike Myers’s “Yeah, baby!” The catchphrase I can’t get out of my head is Drea de Matteo’s impatient whine “Christa-fuh!” whenever her boyfriend drives her to distraction on The Sopranos. She perfectly embodies that irresistible New York archetype: the tough-but-vulnerable city chick. She’s a mainstay of New York life, an essential component of the New York mix. She’s the forthright and flirty girl you meet in a bar—usually Italian or Jewish—whose nasty wit obliges you to think faster, do a little work for a change. She may not have an Ivy education, but she knows a lot of stuff that you don’t. She’s not the prettiest one there, but she’s sexy. Usually she’s got a reputation for being bitchy or difficult, but on the second date, she’s the one who jumps out of bed at 2 a.m. to make a perfect plate of spaghetti carbonara, because you said you were hungry. The other Sopranos women are great, but only Adriana reminds me of home. She’s the girl that dumb guys are afraid of, and smart guys marry. – MARK HOROWITZ

Twenty years ago, Harvey Fierstein made his Broadway debut wearing a tattered bathrobe and bunny slippers, and although his entrance in Hairspray is similarly schmattefied, by the time the curtain comes down he has been given some kind of redemption with an eye-popping, pre-psychedelic gown big enough to contain his ample bosom and the equally ample heart within. There’s a large guy in there with meatpacker hands, a defensive linesman’s shoulders, and, most famously, a voice that’s 95 parts kitchen disposal and 5 parts Yogi Berra. Having already won two Tonys, for Best Play and Best Actor, for his Torch Song Trilogy, and a third for his book for La Cage aux Folles, he’s back, making the world safe for fat girls, African-Americans, and top-40 rock and roll. And while the fat girl is the heroine, it’s Edna, her mom—that’d be Harvey—who is the indomitable soul of Hairspray. Which is to say, of course, the star. – JEREMY GERARD

It’s written in the airwaves:
Surrender, Dorothy Parker. Five blocks north of Parker’s beloved Algonquin, on a Rockefeller Center soundstage, a new queen of New York is consolidating her power. Parker had her round table; Tina Fey of Saturday Night Live has the “Weekend Update” desk. Parker had Benchley; Fey has Fallon. Like Parker, Fey invaded the misogynistic world of comedy—she was the first female head writer in Saturday Night Live’s history, whence she ascended to her on-air post. “Weekend Update” is a deadpan form, but unlike the classic “Weekend Update”s of Dan Aykroyd and Jane (“ignorant slut”) Curtin, Fey likes to let the audience in on the joke. Her mobile mouth curls on one side to show sarcasm, then smiles wider, in comic overdrive, showing that the sarcasm is itself a goof. Fey often seems both on the verge of laughter—and delighted to be funny, which is part of her charm. Humor that doesn’t come out of bitterness. Parker might have said: What’s that about? – JOHN HOMANS

Once upon a time, there existed a consensus on what modernism was. It was form. Or rather, those examples of painting, sculpture, and architecture that inverted the old idea that form served content, and insisted instead that form was content. Comparatively few artists believe this now, but one who does is Richard Serra. In his case, form is not the perfection of some preconceived ideal but a result of the decisive physical manipulation of materials. The “figure” so many people claim they miss in Serra’s abstract sculpture is the viewer; the human form they struggle to find is their own presence. Thus intending to reveal them to themselves, Serra has, over the years, confronted the public with huge propped panels and elegantly curved but utterly opaque rusted walls. Lately, by contrast, he has embraced viewers in towering corridors and sweeping spirals that majestically make room for reflection in the tumult of the city. But whether Serra’s sculptural gesture is challenging or welcoming, his work uncompromisingly affirms the principle that form speaks. He is our master space-carver. – ROBERT STORR

With his debut collection of short stories, You Are Not a Stranger Here, Adam Haslett arrives from out of nowhere sounding like a master. The opening tour de force, “Notes to My Biographer,” is a first-person riff from a bipolar narrator in full manic mode, showing all the flash and energy we demand of a brilliant new voice. Yup, you say—BNV. But what’s more surprising is the subtlety with which successive stories probe the psychological mysteries and relationships of an astonishingly diverse array of characters—gay and straight, children and senior citizens, Americans and Brits, institutionalized and free-range. How many lives has this guy led? Is he the love child of William Trevor and Eudora Welty? Every one of these stories feels like an original; each takes us to a surprising destination. A writer this good should be given the last word. Here are some of Haslett’s own, ripped out of context, which to me are evocative of the role of fiction in our lives: “Ted doesn’t see this familiar landscape as a present fact, but already as a memory, a scene he will one day recall. It’s strange and exciting to perceive things from such a distance. He glimpses how beautiful even this world can be if you aren’t actually in it.” – JAY MCINERNEY

Cassandra Wilson can feel the past and see the future. She also has the voice and the intelligence to carry listeners along her eclectic journey from the Delta blues, through Abbey Lincoln and the Monkees, and up into some distant sci-fi galaxy. This year’s Wilson album, Belly of the Sun, was characteristically seductive and expansive, including tunes from Dylan, Jobim, and Robert Johnson and backing that ranged from bouzouki to a Manhattan children’s choir. Critics complain that Wilson is more jazzy than jazz, but the 47-year-old thankfully isn’t listening. Raised in Jackson, Mississippi, Wilson moved to Harlem in the early eighties and now lives with her 13-year-old son in Tribeca. “Harlem is the center of the black universe,” she says. “And my music is based on doing justice to what I came from, keeping the ancestors always in mind, but also remembering that jazz has to be a current music for its survival. It has to be grounded in our lives as they are today. Living in New York, you’re surrounded by the history and by the now.” – CHRIS SMITH

Billy Joel has always been a punk rocker. A ridiculous claim for the most successful American songwriter since Irving Berlin, but since his 1971 debut, the bard of Bay Shore has written more than the romantic ballads to future ex-wives, notably the Valentine’s Day standard “Just the Way You Are,” that put him on the radio. His fist-shaking albums were full of urban apocalypse and a mistrust of love, family, the media, nostalgia, and religion—all later embraced by the Sex Pistols and the Clash. William Martin Joel, 53—Yankees fan, Hamptons fixture, indignant multimillionaire—could not have come from anywhere but here. He talks with a Long Island bray that makes artsy-fartsy rhyme with hotsy-totsy. Since he merges Beatles with Broadway, Twyla Tharp’s idea to stage a baby-boomer musical from his songs makes perfect sense. Typically, Joel’s first response was a suspicious Get lost. Now he loves Movin’ Out so much he sometimes joins the cast onstage. Shameless, sentimental, combative, and durable, Billy Joel is a punk the way that every New Yorker is a punk. – ROB TANNENBAUM

She’s always been an uptown girl. Back when the avant-garde prized stark, cerebral evenings of unadorned choreography, and bleak was a term of praise, Twyla Tharp and her dancers were tearing into Mozart, Torelli, Jelly Roll Morton, and Bix Beiderbecke with the supremely casual virtuosity that would become her trademark. She wasn’t the first modern dancer to explore ballet, but she was the first crossover artist to stop crossing over and simply unite the two camps in her choreography. So what if ballet and modern had been at war for decades? Tharp wanted access to everything. She also wanted jazz, soft-shoe, tap, rock, hip-hop, boxing, and baton-twirling, not to mention tight-rope walking; and she’s deployed all of them over nearly four decades of peerless dance-making. Movin’ Out, with Billy Joel’s songs and Tharp’s choreography, started as the kind of challenge she likes best: huge, uncharted, probably doomed. By opening night, she had redefined the Broadway musical, slathering the stage with rigorous, ravishing dance that tells a story while burning deep into the imagination. Next comes—whatever comes next. We’ll be there. – LAURA SHAPIRO

New York Awards 2002