Summer smothered New York for the
past week. Heat and humidity hit unbearable levels as urban temperatures peaked
over 100 degrees. For some relief, New York City’s billionaire mayor Mike
Bloomberg championed the reopening of a public swimming pool in Brooklyn that
had been closed since 1984 after vandalism, drug use, and violence among
patrons got out of hand.
With that Brooklyn neighbourhood undergoing a type of gentrification, the pool was reopened after a $65 million facelift. Within days, lifeguards had been attacked and beaten up by gangs and police injured in skirmishes by thugs. It’s fair to say that swimming at a New York City swimming pool isn’t for everyone.
Rather than mix with the masses at a public pool, some New Yorkers head east, out to the far reaches of Long Island to an almost mythical place called the Hamptons, a group of small beach towns about two to three hours from Manhattan, depending on how your Mercedes handles traffic.
The summer haven holds some of the most expensive real estate in America. With cocktail parties on mansion lawns, it’s a world away from the public pool scene most New Yorkers have to be content with. The odd thing is that the Long Island water is too cold for most people to swim at this time of year (the temperature warms slightly later in summer) so you don’t visit the Hamptons for the snorkeling.
Which brings us to a recent Hamptons visitor, Presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Romney spent the past weekend in the area raising money for his election campaign, estimated to have hauled in $4 million from resort regulars from just three fund-raising events on Saturday.
Hosting were billionaire Ron Perelman in his 40 room summer home, former US ambassador to Brazil Clifford Sobel, and another billionaire - avowed anti-Obamaist David Koch, who charged $50,000 a ticket to his party.
“Is there a V.I.P. entrance? We are V.I.P.” asked one woman, according to a New York Times report of the day’s events, subtlety underlining the privilege in the air. There was no V.I.P. entrance but everyone felt they were V.I.P. as they complained that President Obama was not “good for Israel”, had to lead America in a more “enterprise-driven way”, and was a “socialist”.
Inside the event, Mitt Romney told the crowd that if they were in the room listening to him that they were “by and large, doing just fine”. Romney said he was not worrying about his immediate audience. He was worried about the poor and middle class. Those people, though, were miles from the Hamptons (unless they were working at the events) and could not afford to hear him speak. Those people, among millions, were lining up to get free entry to New York City’s public pools.
While President Obama is very popular among Hollywood’s moneyed elite, Romney’s fundraising played well into the hands of Democrats wanting to portray Romney as an out-of-touch millionaire who has avoided paying tax with offshore investments.
“He’s the first and only candidate for the president of the United States with a Swiss bank account, with tax shelters, with tax avoidance schemes that involve so many foreign countries,” said Democrat senator Dick Durbin in a TV interview on the weekend hitting on what is to become an election theme.
This Presidential election was supposed to be hung on the economy and who is best placed to fix it. It may be about to be redrawn as being about where you spend the summer.