Tom Brokaw and the Inside Track From New York’s Democratic National Committeeman

Lunch At Michaels

LunchAtMichaelsIt was business as usual at Michael’s today as the regulars (Jerry Inzerillo, William Lauder) packed the dining room before the summer vacation season kicks off next week. Plenty of heads swiveled in his direction as Tom Brokaw took his seat at Table Three, but mostly today’s crowd consisted of the usual suspects who were there to see and be seen between bites of their Cobb salads.

Today I was joined by two of my favorite regulars, marketing/PR man and political commentator Robert Zimmerman and producer Joan Gelman for our semi-annual Michael’s lunch, where there’s always a lot of laughs and plenty of juicy dish on the menu. (Sorry, but most of the good stuff is OTR.) Today, the two passionate democrats who first met 15 years ago in East Hampton at the home of a mutual friend, wanted to talk politics and there was plenty of fodder for us to chew on. Robert was fresh off  last night’s appearances on Lou Dobbs Tonight and The Kelly File on Fox News where, he said, he engaged in a “fiery debate” with Peter Hegseth on Iraq. “He was fantastic!” enthused Joan. Robert’s take on the issue: “The Iraqi government doesn’t deserve a second chance.” And, he said, he’s clearly not alone in believing that. Despite the contentiousness of his conversation with Hegseth as Megan Kelly played referee, Robert said with every passing day, “the consensus that opposes going back into Iraq cuts across party lines.”

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

After the segment aired, Robert told me he discovered that polarizing and profane points of view are alive and well on Twitter. A relative newcomer to the social media site (“My account got a baptism by fire!”), he was floored by the venomous comments lobbed at him by some “followers.”  “The kindest ones wanted to save my soul. There were people speculating on my sex life,” he said with a laugh. “I’m glad anyone is interested.” As for the haters, he still sounded a bit shocked, they were “so vulgar I couldn’t believe the language.”

That led us to debate the finer points of spending time on Twitter and Facebook. Robert told me he leaves the tweeting and posting for his firm to “the younger, hipper people on our staff,” but conceded: “Social media is an important communications tool for our business. Still, whatever we are doing now will be out of date quickly and replaced by something else.” The downside, he said, is that you can’t stop the chatter. “You can turn Rush Limbaugh off on the radio, but you can’t turn off his followers.” As for Joan: “I don’t twit and I don’t tweet. I’m still using a dictaphone. It’s a total accident that I wound up on Facebook, but now I know when all my friends are having a tuna fish sandwich.”

I wanted to talk to both of them about Hillary Clinton and their take on the torrent of stories about her since she kicked off her book tour and infamously told Diane Sawyer she and husband Bill Clinton were “dead broke” when they left the White House. When I characterized her comments as a colossal PR blunder, Robert countered by saying, “It was 100 percent accurate. They were more than broke — they were in debt.” And then added: “I find it remarkable that the media isn’t focused on the enormous grassroots support she is getting everywhere she goes; the number of people that are coming out to see her and meet her. I’m amazed by what fascinated the media. The bigger issue is that [the ‘dead broke’ story] has no relevance for people with real lives.” Robert believes that Hillary’s supporters are “immune” to the attacks in the media by the opposition. Joan believes the stories are “sexist and ageist,” adding: “Someone should go after the Koch brothers. They are vile people!”

Despite Hillary’s status as a front-runner, Robert believes “2016 is going to be a very competitive race. No one gets handed the keys to the White House.” And what’s the buzz from the Republicans? “My Republican friends say that Jeb Bush is gearing up to run.” Regardless of last night’s election results, said Robert, “This idea that the Tea Party has had a setback is an illuson. Mainstream Republicans have adopted their agenda and positions on all of the critical issues.”

There is a real opportunity to connect with voters that both parties are overlooking, said Robert: “I’m in my 14th year as Democratic Committeeman from New York and today there is broader national consensus on climate change, immigration reform, raising the minimum wage and, as I said, Iraq, where the country is truly united. Neither party is building on that consensus to get the job done.”

Joan waxed nostaglic for the days when “we used to have people that we loved” in office, to which Robert replied that in today’s political climate: “Barry Goldwater would be considered too moderate and Ronald Reagan would have been drummed out of the GOP today.”

We’d spent almost our entire lunch talking politics before I got a chance to ask Joan and Robert about what’s going on in their own lives. Prolific Joan, who once toiled as a segment producer for David Letterman‘s morning show (Yes, he used to be on in the morning!) and was a longtime producer at CBS News, is hard at work on two top secret projects: a new “humor book” about encountering the absurdities of life as a woman of a certain age and a new show in Toronto (“It’s too early to talk about it”). Robert is as busy as ever with his incredibly successful Long-Island-based marketing firm, which represents an impressive roster of clients, including Verizon, T-Mobile and Hofstra University.

When we said our goodbyes, Robert was off to Bloomberg’s newsroom to do a segment on the GDP economic numbers. How does he keep all the balls in the air? “The key to me having the freedom to pursue my other passions is in having a very smart and talented partner in Ron Edelson,” he said. He added that they’d also taken David Chauvin as a new partner two years ago, who is bringing in “a whole new generation” at the firm. That, folks, is how it’s done.

Here’s the rundown on today’s crowd:

1.’s monthly confab with EIC Bonnie Fuller, account director Carolyn Fanning and Penske Media Vice Chair Gerry Byrne, presiding over a table that included: Allyn Seidman, CEO of Bratskeir & Company; The Redwood Initative’s Abby Raphael (who was rocking the best short ‘do I’ve seen in ages — Jennifer Lawrence has nothing on her!); Dean Henley of Global Business Intelligence Starcom MediaVest Group; Lia Spohia’s creative director Elena Kim; Cache’s Jay Margolis; Grab Media’s Justin Fadgen; Edelman’s Kimberly Berhardt and Smita Reddy; and WPIX morning news anchor Sukanya Krishnan.

2. Journo Betsy Perry, who tells me she’s off to France on assignment for AARP. Bon voyage!

3. The always-dapper Tom Brokaw, sporting a summery sport coat, white T-shirt and loafers with two young gals we didn’t get to meet. Tom had a long, friendly chat with Ron Insana on the way out the door.

4. Allen & Co.’s Stan Shuman

5. A very tan Frank Gifford and Stanley Mohr

6. PR princess Elizabeth Harrison and two well-dressed gals

7. Birthday girl Jill Brooke, celebrating with fellow scribe Roger Friedman and a dark-haired gal pal.

8. New York Social Diary‘s David Patrick Columbia, looking cool in seersucker with an earnest young fellow we didn’t recognize

9. Allure‘s plastic surgery guru Joan Kron with, so we’re told, a fellow who represents a true “miracle product.” We’ll follow up and let you know…

10. CNBC’s Ron Insana

11. Casting director extraordinaire Bonnie Timmerman with a blonde whose face looked so familiar but whose name escapes us. Anyone?

12. Robert Zimmerman, Joan Gelman and yours truly

14. Simon & Schuster’s Alice Mayhew with a very smartly dressed fellow who seemed immune to the sweltering heat outside

15. Travel agent to the famous and fabulous Alexandre Chemla

16. United Stations Radio’s Nick Verbitsky

17.  Forbes Travel Guide‘s Jerry Inzerillo

18. Act One: Jim Abernathy; Second seating: William Lauder with his daughter Danielle Lauder

20. Former New York City Council president Andrew Stein, who passed the time waiting for his date to arrive by checking his flip phone!

21. Digital Place Based Advertising CEO Barry Frey with Corbellus Capital’s co-founder Adam Platzner

23. Fragrance executive Marc Rosenthal

24. Steven Stolman, who recently departed his perch at Scalamandre to spend more time with his family and write more books. Steven told me he is working on a slew of projects and is currently serving as chief marketing officer of Gil Walsh Interiors. Today, he was holding court with a table of “designing women.” In attendance: interior designer Gil Walsh, whose handiwork can be seen all over Palm Beach and Martha’s Vineyard (think Mellon family houses) and who will be making her Hamptons debut at the upcoming Hampton Designer Showhouse; PR and marketing mavens Janice Langrall and Carolyn Sollis; and pillow designer (trust me, they’re fabulous) Rebecca Vizard.

26. Martha Kramer

27. Author (Jackie as Editor) Greg Lawrence

29. The Wall Street Journal‘s David Sanford and Lewis Stein

81. PR maven Lisa Linden and Peter C. Neger of Bingham McCutchen LLP

Faces in the crowd: Kira Semler and Vi Huse, in from New Jersey for their monthly champagne lunch at the bar. Cheers!

We’ll be off next week. Here’s hoping your Fourth will be full of fireworks! See you back in the dining room on July 9th.

Diane Clehane is a contributor to FishbowlNY. Follow her on Twitter @DianeClehane. Please send comments and corrections on this column to LUNCH at MEDIABISTRO dot COM.


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