In the mid-1990s, Judge Richard Posner admitted that he hadn't thought much of Tom Wolfe's 1987 novel The Bonfire of the Vanities. But, then, he changed his mind:
"The book was written before Michael Milken was convicted and Clark Clifford indicted; before investment bankers and securities brokers were dragged, crying, in handcuffs from their offices on charges of criminal fraud that often turned out to be unsubstantiated; before courthouses became scenes of violence; before the Tawana Brawley fraud; before the trials of the police who beat up Rodney King; before the Los Angeles riots that followed the acquittal in the first of those trials; before the trial of the rioters; before the indictment of O.J. Simpson. American legal justice today seems often to be found at a bizarre intersection of race, money, and violence, an intersection nowhere better depicted than in The Bonfire of the Vanities even thought the book was written before the intersection had come into view."
Twenty-three years later, Bonfire is the gift that keeps giving. When I read august commentators assert:
"Of course the Mayor of New York couldn't possibly interfere in a religious construction project. That's unthinkable. That would be a violation of Church and State!"
I open up my copy of Bonfire to Chapter 27, which is about, mutatis mutandis, the Mayor of New York, a religious group, and whether or not a downtown building would receive landmark status.
The Episcopal bishop of New York, who is black, wants the mayor to keep the Landmarks Commission from landmarking a church in a neighborhood with no Episcopalians left, which would keep the Episcopalian Diocese from having it torn down and replaced with an office tower. The Mayor immediately agrees and has a phone call placed to the Landmarks Commissioner:
"Mort? ... You know St. Timothy's Church? ... Right. Exactly ... Mort — LAY OFF!"
The Mayor then asks the Bishop for a little quid pro quo: serve on a special blue-ribbon commission to investigate crime in New York. But as a Rising Black Leader, the bishop can't afford to be associated with the Jewish Mayor, so he demurs. The mayor politely ushers the bishop out, then calls Mort again:
"Mort? You know that church, St. Timothy's? ... Right ... LANDMARK THE SON OF A BITCH!"