A little before 9 p.m. on Thursday, Pharrell Williams was standing in the street lamp light on the corner of Bank Street and Greenwich Avenue waiting for his car and talking into his iPhone headset.
A few doors down the block, Harvey Weinstein and Georgina Chapman had just held a $35,800-a-head fund-raiser dinner for President Barack Obama at their West Village townhouse, where Anna Wintour had been a co-host. Williams was one of about 50 guests in the crowd, which also counted New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Alicia Keys, Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin, Tory Burch and Lyor Cohen, Jimmy Fallon, Andrew Rosen and Kenneth Cole as members. The President’s motorcade had already left, and as local security began breaking down the steel gates on the sidewalks, curious neighbors were beginning to mix with the departing guests. Earlier, a twentysomething woman in black-frame glasses had asked Williams for a picture. A mustachioed police officer, who looked to be in his 50s, asked under his breath who Williams was.
“Babe, hold on,” the music producer, who wore a slim-fitting blazer over a wide-collared blue dress shirt open at the neck, said, putting his call on hold. “Hold on one second.”
Earlier that day, the Republican National Committee had put out a press release titled “The President Wears Prada II,” a reference to a similar fund-raiser Obama attended at Wintour’s house last summer. The release made reference to the stock market’s violent swings this week and the 9-plus percent national unemployment rate. Its sub-headline read, “As the Country Faces Fiscal Calamity, Obama’s Schedule Has Been Chock Full Of Intimate, Special Access Gatherings With Celebrities.”
“I don’t think he’s thinking about that,” Williams said of such sentiment. “I think at the end of the day he needs connectors. He needs trusted faces, trusted brands, those strategic alliances to help further disseminate his agenda and what it is he’s trying to do in terms of bringing people together.”
According to pool reports filed by White House correspondents, who were given some access to the dinner, the President had raised the subject himself in his remarks.
“This is a pretty good-looking crowd,” Obama quipped to guests, who were assembled around five tables in the Weinsteins’ basement, a low-ceilinged and carpeted room. Obama, the reports noted, stood at the bottom of the stairs and worked without notes or a microphone.
“We are a big diverse country,” he said. “Not everybody agrees with me, not everybody agrees with folks who live in Manhattan.”
After touching on policy points such as job creation and education reform, the President went on to riff on his own cult of celebrity and the state of his 2008 supporters.
“They have still got the Obama poster, it is all frayed,” he said. “Obama is gray haired, he doesn’t seem as cool….In some ways that is a healthy thing. Because in 2012…we realize it is about us....It is not about my election. One person.”
By 8:30 p.m., a profitable hour and half after he had arrived, the President was on his way back to Washington and the guests began to make their way into a pleasant Manhattan evening. Samantha Boardman showed off the Ziploc baggie dinner goers had been asked to place their cell phones in. Fallon and his party darted across the street into the Waverly Inn. Keys made use of the white tent in front of the building to shield herself from the crowd when she entered her black SUV. So did Paltrow and Martin.
A late twentysomething guy on the stoop next door, who was drinking a Coors tall boy, turned to his buddies on the steps.
“All right guys, what do you think?” he asked. “Paltrow? A little overrated.”
Gayle King exited in a tan summer dress and bright red high-heeled sandals. Walking down the street, she checked her BlackBerry for an e-mail from her driver.
“It was a really eclectic group,” she said. “Clearly those of us in the room believe in the President and just wanted to show that. You know it’s very different when you listen to all of the — what’s the right word? — all of the acrimony in Washington, D.C. When you get the President alone, he really talks about what they’ve accomplished and what they’ve done.”
As she reached the end of the block, King gave an appraisal of the anti-celebrity sentiment.
“But that’s so silly,” she said. “The fashion crowd, the entertainment crowd cares just as much about the country as everyone does. That’s sort of implying, ‘Why would you be with those people? They don’t care. They can’t relate.’ That’s not true! That’s just not true.”