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.