Cristina Cuomo and Fern Mallis Lunch Among The Stylistas Plus Cindy McCain Slips By

1003_mockup.gifSometimes the most interesting lunchtime encounters at Michael’s happen before the crowd rushes in. Today was one of those days. When I arrived before noon, there were a handful of people already sitting in the lounge. One woman stuck out, because she was dressed in an oh-s0-tasteful head to toe Pepto Bismol-colored sweater ensemble (cashmere from St. John, I’m guessing) on such a warm day. She kept her head down when the rest of us got to chatting. I knew I knew her, but I couldn’t catch her eye. Imagine my surprise when she stood up to go to her table, and I realized it was Cindy McCain. In my defense, a tan, well-dressed blonde woman is hardly an oddity at Michael’s, and her black ‘scrunchie’ threw me. The funny thing is  no one seemed to notice when she walked back to her table in the Garden Room, proving that, in New York  when your 15 minutes are up, they’re up.

I was joined today by producer Joan Gelman and public relations and marketing executive Robert Zimmerman, who is also a political analyst for CNN and Fox News. I’ve gotten to know both of them over the years through my Wednesdays at Michael’s, and I can tell you they are really solid citizens. When we meet for lunch every so often, I know the conversation is going to be lively. These two passionate democrats can talk politics like nobody’s business, and there was plenty of dish to go around today.

Robert is headed to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina in September as the democratic national committee man from New York. “Conventions play a huge role in the campaign. They are defining moments,” he told me. “They make people stop, watch and listen to what they parties are saying.” No matter which devices voters plan to watch on, says Robert, they can’t help but note the obvious difference between the two parties. “At the convention, the republicans stay in their seats and are wearing ties and dresses. Our party is a little more eclectic — there’s yoga mats in the corner. We have Jon Bon Jovi, they have Ted Nugent.”

Robert Zimmerman, Diane Clehane and Joan Gelman
Robert Zimmerman, Diane Clehane and Joan Gelman

On a more serious note, Robert said key differences between the parties for this election couldn’t be more obvious. “This is the first democratic convention where marriage equality will be part of the democratic platform. Our party represents the future and that’s very significant.” But, Robert explained, it’s critical that President Barack Obama communicate the achievements of his administration, because “the administration fell short in outlining a clear agenda” despite its accomplishments in the past. “2008 was about hope and change; 2012 has to be about progress and results,” he told me. The other important objective: remind voters that many of republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney‘s positions are a “retake of George Bush‘s policies.” In the end, predicts Robert, “The election is going to be about the economy.” Isn’t it always?

The issue that got Robert and Joan really going is voter supression, which, they both say, is wreaking havoc on our political system. “What Citizens United is doing makes you cry,” says Joan, who is known for the smart campaign slogan buttons she loves to give out to her pals. “It’s positively venial.” Joan has been a campaign volunteer in Youngstown, Ohio since the 2002 presidential election, and she says she has witnessed stunning instances of voter intimidation and corruption in communities largely populated by minorities. Robert agrees the situation is dire. “This is not a democratic or republican issue; it goes beyond politics. It’s about preserving our democracy. It’s the new version of the Jim Crow laws and is institutionalizing fraud in our system.” Here’s one disturbing fact I learned from Robert at lunch today: In Texas, a student ID is not an acceptable form of indentification at the polls, but a gun permit is.

The other topic of conversation that had everyone talking was the shocking news that Nora Ephron had died of leukemia. When she made the occasional Wednesday appearance in the dining room, she was always warmly received by one and all and returned the sentiment in equal measure. Robert told me a lovely story about an evening when he was at the same party as Nora at the Hamptons home of Judy Licht and Jerry Della Femina. The guests were engaged in a lively game of charades and Nora, recalls Robert, was “fiercely competitive” about the festivities. Still, he says, while they were on different teams, she could see he was a novice and needed some coaching. “She gave me some tips and was really supportive. I found her to be incredibly warm.” For Joan, the Oscar nominated screenwriter set the bar incredibly high with her razor sharp wit and brilliant insight into modern life and love. “She was the gold standard for humor writing.” Our sincere condolences to her family.

Here’s the rundown on today’s crowd:

1.’s Bonnie Fuller and Gerry Byrne, vice chairman of Penske Media Corporation, presiding over their monthly lunch with the site’s publisher and EVP Carlos Lamadrid. It was jam packed in that corner of the room. In attendance: stylist Phillip Bloch; Tammy Brook, president of FYI Public Relations; Kay Koplovitz, founder of USA Networks; Ad Age EIC and president of Crain Communications, Rance Crain; Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project; Fran Pennella, president of Benali Consulting; Vicki Ziegler, divorce attorney and author of The Pre-Marital Planner and nutritionist Joy Bauer.

2. The Pilot Group’s Marshall Cohen with wife Ellen Brooks and son Rob Cohen, who were celebrating some big news. Rob’s screenplay, “The Bystander,” about the infamous Kitty Genovese murder, has been optioned by Serafini Pictures. Congrats!

3. Hudson News’ James Cohen

4. Peter Brown with a blonde gal we didn’t get to meet

5.  PR scion Steve Rubenstein

6. Discovery ID’s main man, Henry Schleiff, with, we think, Wendy Diamond

7. Joan Gelman, Robert Zimmerman and yours truly

8. New York Social Diary‘s David Patrick Columbia, resplendent in seersucker, with Chris Clarens

9. Fern Mallis and Jennifer Hyman, founder of Rent the Runway. Fern tells me she’s just about to announce a stellar line-up of guests for her interview series at the 92 Street Y. The first sit-down is scheduled for September 12. Keep us posted, please.

11. PR princess Simone Levinson and fashionista Stefani Greenfield, both sporting some serious bling

12.  David Lipman

14. Steven Swid

15. Money man Pete Peterson

16. The Early Show: Estee Lauder’s Alexandra Trower with an equally well-dressed pal. Second seating: Cristina Cuomo, the new editor of Manhattan. Congrats!

18. Erik Gordon

20.  PR maven Elizabeth Musmanno

21. Scottie Walden

22. Dial Global’s David Landau

23. Stephens’ Bob Tobin

24. AP’s John Keitt

25. Super spinmeister Tom Goodman with Jon Elsen of Kekst. Fun fact: Both guys are Scarsdale High School alums!

27. Reese Schonfeld. No word on what the co-founder of CNN thinks about the network’s rating woes. We’re guessing it can’t be good.

28. Access Hollywood producer Rob Silverstein

29. The Wall Street Journal‘s David Sanford and Lewis Stein. I always enjoy catching up with my two favorite early birds before the afternoon gets underway. Usually, we talk television, but today David gave me his picks on the two must-see Broadway shows of the season. He told me run, don’t walk to get your tickets to “Harvey” starring The Big Bang Theory’s terrific Jim Parsons. David also said “Newsies” is not to be missed — “I’d see it every two weeks if I could.” Alrighty then.

Faces in the crowd: Kira Semler and Vi Huse at the bar chatting with designer David Biscaye just back from his latest trip to Italy where he bought a lot of “beautiful things.” Ciao bella!

We’re off next week. Hope your Fourth of July is full of fireworks! See you in two weeks.

Please send comments and corrections to LUNCH at MEDIABISTRO dot COM.