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Weather-permitting, One World Trade Center today officially becomes the western hemisphere's tallest building, as the final pieces of the tower's mast are put in place to top the building out at a symbolic 1,776 feet tall.
But it's not about being the tallest. Asia has taller buildings now.
It's about rising from the ashes of terror nearly twelve years ago, in what was surely New York's darkest day and also our nation's worst time. The new building marks a new start for the downtown area, and an affirmation of what makes New York such a great city. Even the most horrific act can't stop us. We may be a bit more cautious these days, but we continue to live and work and play and enjoy life in this wonderful place that's drawn people of all kinds to become New Yorkers.
People are coming to New York. Tourists continue to arrive in record numbers, but it's not the travelers who are making news
now. Instead, it's those who stay... which apparently is happening more frequently.
The latest numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau, reported in today's papers, shows more people are moving to New York City than leaving -- a first in more than 60 years.
The City's population has continued to swell, but over the last few decades that's come more from new births that offset the people who leave. And for years, there's been flight to the suburbs or away from the New York area altogether. But that's changing.
There are now a record-setting 8.3 million New Yorkers -- up by 161,000 from two years ago. As the Wall Street Journal story points out, that two-year increase is more than the entire population of Hartford.
The census numbers show New York has been losing fewer residents -- an estimated 140,000 people move away every year. But more and more are coming here and staying -- 150,000 last year. For young people, the lure is jobs and the excitement and energy of life here. Many neighborhoods that had been quietly dying are now coming back to life as young people discover them -- at first for the lower rents, and then for the local nightlife scene, which often follows.
So, as the inscription on the Statue of Liberty says, give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses. And give us your young people looking to build a career, a family, a life. We're New York, and we have room for you all.
One hundred years ago today, Grand Central Terminal opened to the public.
Over the past century, Grand Central has gone through ups and downs, but it's always been an iconic symbol of this great city.
When it opened in 1913, railroads were the major form of intercity transportation, and train stations became symbolic welcome signs that represented the unofficial entrance to a city. The grander the city, the grander the station had to be. Grand Central Terminal, just as the name suggests, was the grandest of them all, even outshining other beautifully imposing places like Washington's Union Station and Kansas City's Union Station.
Grand Central fell on hard times in the 1960s, as air travel replaced trains and city finances and rail lines were struggling. It became a place you would avoid or hurry through to get to or from your train. It wasn't a place to linger, and if you had to use a bathroom... forget it. They were seedy, smelly and dangerous.
New York lost another iconic train station when Penn Station was demolished in 1965 to make way for the new Madison Square Garden and an ugly, congested mess of corridors that became the current Penn Station.
Grand Central almost met the same fate in the 1965, until a group of citizens led by high-profile people like Jacqueline Kennedy Onnasis, fought to preserve and renew the station.
New Yorkers owe them a huge debt of gratitude, because Grand Central has not only regained its lustre, but it's become a fantastic people space in midtown -- a place where people can meet, star gaze at the restored ceiling with the constellations, grab a quick
bite or have a fine, leisurely lunch or dinner, shop or visit a museum. On top of that, it's a place where some 750,000 people pass through every day on their way to and from work.
I'm one of those 750,000 and even after 40 years of commuting through Grand Central, I still get a rush when I walk through the main hall. It's a beautiful space, and we're fortunate to be able to enjoy it after 100 years.
Another New York icon is in the news today. Former Mayor Ed Koch, a man who truly and clearly loved the city he served, died
this morning at age 88.
I met the Mayor many times, while he was in office and afterwards. The first time was when I helped organize an Easter egg hunt for kids in Central Park for client L'eggs. The eggs were actually the egg-shaped containers that the pantyhose used to come in. The Mayor attended and officially started the egg hunt. He looked for a couple of little kids to take by the hand to lead the crowd of hundreds into the area where the eggs were hidden. I pushed my 3-year old daughter Jennifer to his side, and he grabbed her hand and, with a huge smile, said "Let's find some eggs." A photo of the Mayor and Jennifer appeared on the front page of The Daily News the next morning.
Mayor Koch was real and genuine. For an event we did at City Hall honoring youngsters who had won a traffic safety poster contest, he asked us to bring the kids into his office before the formal news conference. It was obvious how much he enjoyed talking with the kids, asking each winner, one-to-one, about his or her poster.
The last time I saw him was briefly at a Christmas party three years ago. He had clearly aged, but he still had that big wide smile. He was standing in the doorway as I was getting ready to leave, and I had to pass between him and the man he was talking with -- another former mayor, David Dinkins. As I excused my self to pass through, I nodded to each and said, twice, good evening Mr. Mayor. Koch laughed and said, "How often can you say that twice in the same breath."
Ed Koch, like Grand Central, symbolizes what makes New York great.
LaGuardia High School, originally called the High School of Music & Art, is New York City's public school for young people gifted in the arts. It was the inspiration for the 1980 hit movie "Fame."
I was at the school last night as they celebrated the 40th anniversary of the school's jazz education program, which when it began in the early 1970s, was the first accredited program of its kind in any secondary school in the U.S. My friend Justin DiCioccio was the teacher who began that program, and he was honored at last night's gala celebration.
Note: The New York Times has a nice profile in the Jan. 30 issue. Click here to see it.
Justin loves jazz and he loves teaching young people. He still teaches -- now at Manhattan School of Music, where he is the Associate Dean and Director of Jazz Studies. And he travels literally around the world teaching and giving clinics. His excellence as a teacher has been recognized many times, including being inducted into the Jazz Educators Hall of Fame in 2001. His love of jazz is so infectious that he was named last year as the Cultural Jazz Ambassador to Tbilisi, Georgia. The jazz ambassador program, from the U.S. Dept. of State, uses the arts as a way to bridge gaps and establish connections with other countries. Georgia, a part of the old Iron Curtain, was one of those places where jazz had been banned under the old regime.
I met Justin back in 1987, when I was hired by a major PR agency to run the McDonald's business. One of the programs McDonald's sponsored was the high school jazz competition and Justin, working as a consultant, directed the program. I must admit it was my favorite project for two reasons -- I love jazz, and Justin was such a pleasure to work with. He brought in name musicians to work with the kids -- Branford Marsalis, Steve Turre, Dave Valentin, Red Rodney and others. And he gave so much of himself to the program and to the kids. Much more than he was being paid to do. I was able to convince the McDonald's people to support and expand the program.
When I left that job to start my own agency, the person who took over for me didn't have the passion for the music, and she let McDonald's drop the program within two years. I tried to help Justin find a new sponsor, but I just couldn't get it done. But Justin eventually got the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences -- the Grammy people -- to do a similar program, which to this day is run by Justin.
I'm far from the only person who admires Justin for his lifetime of dedication to jazz. At last night's celebration, 30 of the top names in jazz came together to perform in honor of my friend. Names like LaGuardia H.S. alumni (and former students of Justin's) Marcus Miller, Kenny Washington, Arturo O'Farrill, Don Byron and others who may not be as well known, but whose names can be seen on countless recordings. And others who weren't taught by Justin, but have worked with him -- Latin jazz master Paquito D'Rivera, guitarist John Pizzarelli and trumpeter Jimmy Owens, who graduated LaGuardia before Justin had arrived.
It was a great night and a fitting way to salute THE jazz teacher, with so many of his students and friends playing for him. I'm proud to call Justin my friend and I was thrilled to be part of the crowd gathered in his honor. And I'll see him again tonight, as he goes back to his role as teacher, conducting the Manhattan School of Music big band as they debut student compositions.
Justin with former student, drummer Kenny Washington
New York City is known as the nation's business hub, but business here is not just about finance, media and corporate headquarters.
Tourism is very big business for the City, and New York remains the #1 destination for international tourists. A third of all foreigners visiting the U.S. included a New York City stop. Los Angeles comes in a distant second, drawing 13 percent of international tourists.
Total tourism figures (both international and domestic) just released by NYC & Company, the City's tourism bureau, hit a new record of 52 million visitors in 2012. Mayor Bloomberg is still hoping to hit 55 million within two years.
Even the winter chill can't dampen tourism. Walking through midtown with my grandsons on New Year's Eve day, the place was packed with people taking in the sights of Grand Central, Park Avenue and Rockefeller Center. We heard many foreign accents throughout our walk. By 2 p.m., as we approached Times Square, the area was already jammed with tourists waiting for the midnight ball drop. Despite the cold, I'm sure most of them would tell you they love New York.
Keep visiting. The City's arms and hearts are open wide.
My friend Robin, a Brooklyn girl through and through, called me today from her home in L.A. to see how I had weathered the storm. Thank goodness, we had no damage and only suffered through the relative inconvenience of having no power for four days. Compared to what some in Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and New Jersey lost, I'm one of the lucky ones.
Robin said she wonders why some New York and New Jersey-born
celebs haven't stepped up to make major donations to help feed and shelter the 40,000 or so newly-homeless.
I reminded her that Springsteen, Bon Jovi and Billy Joel headlined the fundraiser on NBC. Others have, I'm sure, offered financial help, even if they haven't publicized it. And some, like Barbara Walters, George Stephanapolous and Diane Sawyer did publicize their donations -- which I feel diminishes the act of giving -- but they gave, nonetheless. (Perhaps ABC pushed the word out, so their stars would look good after NBC hosted the on-air fundraiser.)
But Robin reminded me that one prominent New Yorker -- who NEVER forgets to publicize anything he does -- was silent and invisible after our ordeal here. Where, she asked, was Donald Trump, who has made his riches from real estate in New York and also in Atlantic City. His wealth, in fact, came largely from his father, who owned many apartment buildings in Queens -- one of the harder-hit boroughs. We haven't heard a word about any money from Trump to help his fellow New Yorkers.
Instead, it seems, he's been busy touting his friendship with Mitt Romney and then, following the election, crying like a spoiled baby who didn't get his way. For a man who had been considering a run for the nation's top office, he has not acted Presidential or even like a responsible leader by making crazy statements like "the election is a sham and a travesty" or calling for "a revolution in this country."
He took his crazy tweets down after there was a public outrage, but still... he made these and other divisive statements publicly.
When NBC's Brian Williams called him out for this, he started name-calling and compared the ratings for his "Apprentice" show to Williams' newscast, saying, "Wouldn't you love to have my ratings?"
Trump would better serve his own reputation and his brand if he reached out to help the get the city that made him rich through the aftermath of the hurricane. I've heard from many people who would never choose to live in a building bearing his name, because he has done such damage to his name. To many, rather than representing luxury and elegance, Trump represents tackiness and hucksterism.
By the way, I do agree that the Electoral College system is antiquated and needs to be replaced by a simple popular vote. But calling for a revolution is not the way for a supposed leader to try to bring about change.