Wall Street Halloweenies, old and new
True, it was last year's Halloween party, and maybe they've learned better since.
But someone who used to work at a big New York state law firm often referred to as a "foreclosure mill," representing major banks and mortgage companies foreclosing on homeowners, sent the New York Times some snapshots from the company's Halloween 2010 fete, and they are not pretty.
There's no way to know how many employees of the Steven J. Baum firm entered into the mean-spirited spirit, but the images show one employee wearing a mocking sign reading "3rd party squatter. I lost my home and I was NEVER served" -- meaning never received foreclosure documents, something many homeowners say happened to them.
She and the woman next to her, who's holding what looks to be a booze bottle in a paper sack, are artfully begrimed and dressed down to look homeless. There are more images here.
In another photograph, an arrow points the way to "Baum Estates" (perhaps the home of all those so-called zombie mortgages.) Other pictures show mock-ups of foreclosed homes. One young woman appears with a shopping cart and a sign, "WILL WORKE [FOR] FOOD." That one made me wonder, was she mocking the orthographic skills of the homeless or did she not know how to spell "work"?
The firm is under investigation by New York state. Under the circumstances of the last few years, you would expect a bit of chagrin -- at least some grudging apology for the low Halloween hijinks of 2010.
Perhaps it'd be one of those passive-aggressive non-apologies for some outrageous behavior, invariably couched as, "if anyone was offended," thus implicitly blaming anyone who was offended as a humorless PC bore who refuses to get the joke.
Instead, the firm told the New York Times that suggestions that some employees dressed in costume that "mocks or attempts to belittle the plight of those who have lost their homes" could not be "further from the truth."
In September, Occupy Wall Street protesters marched below the former home of the New York Stock Exchange, 55 Wall Street, now a luxury apartment building. Guests on the balcony of the building's restaurant sipped cocktails and laughed and snapped photos of the demonstrators below.
These contrasts reminded me of another big party nearly 115 years ago, at the Waldorf-Astoria. A pair of Gilded Age one-percenters, Mr. and Mrs. Bradley-Martin, threw a costume ball where the guests showed up in extravagant ensembles of silk and gold and jewels.
The Bradley-Martins were the original trickle-down believers; their idea of doing their fair share and helping the economy still ravaged by the crash of 1893 was giving a grand ball and sending out the party invitations so late that the guests would have to Buy American rather than order their costumes from Europe.
Martin's brother, who was "indignant" about the public indignation, later wrote that a clergyman denounced the hosts and the guests: "Yes, you rich people put next to nothing in the collection plate, and yet you'll spend thousands of dollars on Mrs. Bradley-Martin's ball." By one estimate the whole shebang cost $10 million in today's dollars.
By comparison, the 2001 birthday party that Tyco CEO Dennis Kozlowski threw for his wife in Sardinia -- with an ice sculpture of Michelangelo's "David" peeing Stoli, I kid you not -- cost $2 million. Half of it was paid for by the company on the the excuse that it was a shareholders' meeting. Kozlowski is now doing his partying in a New York prison.
In 1897, Mrs. Bradley-Martin, untroubled by historical accuracy, wore Marie Antoinette's ruby necklace as she dressed as Mary, Queen of Scots; what those two queens had in common is that they were both beheaded.
It turned out to be a poor costuming choice all around. The public uproar didn't relent after the party mess, including the detritus of 6,000 orchids, was swept away, and Mr. and Mrs. Bradley-Martin -- the missus had reportedly hyphenated her husband's name and surname to sound more aristocratic -- soon decamped for England, where their daughter had married an earl and become a countess.
Emphasis ''count.'' The American women in these transatlantic free-trade agreements were called "Dollar Duchesses." They brought their daddies' dollar dowries in exchange for the exalted titles of impecunious noblemen. One of them, Jennie Jerome, became Lady Randolph Churchill, and Winston Churchill's mother.
The Bradley-Martins' departure wasn't entirely because the party was over, in more ways than one. New York City sued the couple, alleging they'd skimped on their taxes.
The city's suit was dropped because the couple lived a good part of the year in England. Thus, the Bradley-Martins set another precedent, this one by outsourcing themselves overseas and avoiding taxes.
Happy Halloween to Wall Street. That's one neighborhood where no one has to ask "Trick or treat." We all know the answer to that one.
-- Patt Morrison
Photo: An Occupy Wall Street protestor marched around Zuccotti Park in his zombie Halloween costume on Sunday in New York. Credit: John Minchillo / Associated Press