In the Wee Hours in Albany, the Talk Turns to Kumquats

ALBANY — The great kumquat debate began around 1 a.m. on Wednesday, when State Senator George S. Latimer, a Westchester County Democrat, likened a voluminous budget bill to a Christmas gift basket that contained some items that were desirable, but others that were not.

“You like the shortbread cookies, but you don’t like the kumquats,” Mr. Latimer said. “But you have to either take the whole basket or send it back to your aunt and say, ‘Sorry, I didn’t really like this basket.’”

The kumquat in the budget basket, for Senator Latimer, was a proposal to raise the minimum wage, but to do it gradually and not tie it to inflation.

That was just the beginning. In one of the stranger rhetorical runs recently in Albany, more than a half-dozen senators turned to kumquats in their wee-hours musings about various aspects of the state’s $141 billion spending plan, which they ultimately approved around 4:15 a.m. (The Assembly plans to vote Thursday on the budget, which is for the fiscal year that begins on Monday.)

Some lawmakers acknowledged they were not prepared for the fruity furor.

Senator Michael N. Gianaris, a Queens Democrat, said he did not quite know what a kumquat was before the subject arose. “I looked it up; apparently it’s a citrus fruit,” he explained. “I don’t know why there’s so much hostility against it, but nonetheless, there is.”

But even kumquat know-nothings seized on citrus, at least for debating purposes.

“If we’re going to go with the assumption that a kumquat is a bad thing, this is one big kumquat in this revenue bill that we’re dealing with,” Mr. Gianaris said.

The fruit proved irresistible for senators of all persuasions. Senator Kathleen A. Marchione, a Republican from Saratoga County and an outspoken advocate of gun rights, said the state’s new gun law was her kumquat.

And Senator Gustavo Rivera, a Bronx Democrat, noting that he did not like kumquats, described one budget bill as “a bag full of kumquats.” He said the deal to raise the minimum wage was “the biggest kumquat of all”; two hours later, he compared it to “slipping on a kumquat and falling in a hole, or something.”

Mr. Latimer later seemed to feel some remorse for besmirching an innocent fruit (the kumquat is not mentioned in the state budget, nor in any legislation introduced this year). Speaking shortly before the Senate adjourned, he pulled his cellphone out of his breast pocket and joked that he had received a text message from the New York State Association of Kumquat Growers.

“Apparently they’re not coming to my next fund-raiser,” Mr. Latimer said, drawing laughter from his weary colleagues and their aides. “My apologies to anybody else who I’ve dragged into the Kumquat-gate of tonight.”

The discussion of kumquats added some levity to an overnight session that was otherwise filled with grumbling among Democrats about why they were there in the first place, since the budget was not due for several days. One alluded wistfully to a piece of legislation he sponsored, called the Vampire Voting Act, that would forbid such overnight sessions. The senator, Terry W. Gipson, a Hudson Valley Democrat, acknowledged the kumquat chatter but said he preferred to discuss vampires.

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Flags’ Waving Doesn’t Come Cheap

Nobody can accuse New Yorkers’ patriotism of flagging, not when the city’s parks department alone spends about $160,000 a year keeping its over 1,000 flagpoles in shape.

New York by the Numbers

Mining public data.

If you wonder how New York City’s budget tops $66 billion, more than all but a few states’, it’s not just because of the big-ticket items like education, social services and public safety. The tiny ones add up, too.

The parks department recently awarded a two-year, $320,060 contract to a Westchester County company for the painting and repairing of its 1,112 flagpoles (that’s about one for every 7,500 New Yorkers, not counting the poles on schools and other public buildings).

Last year, 57 poles were repainted or repaired as needed, which would mean an average of nearly $3,000 each. Sounds high.

“Flagpoles can be as high as 80 feet or even over 100 feet tall, requiring skilled painting and repair people,” said Vicki Karp, the department’s director of public affairs.

“For example, in 2012, a 120-foot flagpole in Battery Park South required reroping,” she said. “The repairman was lifted in a boom truck to the truck’s maximum height and then had to climb out of the bucket and complete the climb by hand to the top of the pole. Also in 2012, two 100-foot flagpoles in Bowling Green Park were reroped with steel, and a 75-foot flagpole in Corlears Hook Park was completely repainted.”

The cost, Ms. Karp said, ranges from $20 a foot for simple painting or repairs to $55 a foot for more challenging jobs.

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On Illegal Betting Slips, a Three-Digit Mystery

A copy of a betting slip seized on March 13 during a police raid of a numbers game in Manhattan. Yana Paskova for The New York Times A copy of a betting slip seized on March 13 during a police raid of a numbers game in Manhattan.

So what do all those numbers in a so-called numbers-running racket mean, anyway?

Crime Scene Extra

Michael Wilson writes on crimes in the city.

On Saturday, the Crime Scene column reported the arrests of two people in East Harlem who were accused of running numbers, an age-old sort of illegal neighborhood lottery. Bettors choose three-digit numbers and wager that they will match a prearranged result appearing in horse-racing reports later that day.

The column included a copy of a betting slip seized the day of the arrests, March 13. There were several numbers scratched on the slip without explanation. Here is how the police explained it:

The bettor appears to be placing two wagers on the “New York number,” hence the “N.Y.” at the top of the slip. It was formerly known as the Manhattan number or the “357,” and is not to be confused with the “Brooklyn number.” The winning New York number is usually based on payoffs following the third, fifth and seventh races at the New York track operating that day.

The bettor’s two numbers are 226 and 310. For the first number, the bettor bet $1.50 that the number 226 would win, and placed a combination, or “boxed,” bet of another $1.50 that those digits will appear in any order, like 262 or 622. For the second number, 310, the bet is $1.10 for a straight win and 90 cents for a combination. The total appears below, $5.

The date speaks for itself, but the stamped version is the mark of the numbers joint that day, to prove authenticity if the bettor wins.

But no one won that day. It was the day of the police raid.

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Punched in Herald Square

Dear Diary:

I was recently spending my Sunday morning trudging along the beat-up pavement of 34th and Sixth, idolizing pastel-print cottons hugging porcelain mannequins, daringly dressed for spring.

When cavorting in that part of town, it’s important that I pay attention to the sharp edges of overstuffed Macy’s shopping bags galloping my way and sashay around them like a running back aiming to score a winning touchdown in the Super Bowl. Except here, in Herald Square, I am moving to avoid the black-and-blue marks shopping bags can leave on my thighs when they slap me leg-on.

While I was doing the Argentine tango around a family of tourists weighed down by shopping bags, a lady extended her right arm out to point to an “I Love NYC” magnet hanging in the window of a Duane Reade and, instead, punched me straight in the nose.

The discomfort of the oozing pain that suddenly overcame my face, and the drips of blood that began to stain the supportive pavement, were all silenced when the lady looked me in the eyes, shrugged her shoulders and delightfully walked away.

New York, you’re adorably rough sometimes.


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A Marriage Born Where Tables for 2 Women Were Common

Among many Italian restaurants around Greenwich Village in the early 1960s, Portofino was known for celebrity-spotting, a relaxed atmosphere and dinners that were abundant but affordable.

Building Blocks

How the city looks and feels — and why it got that way.

A half-century later, it has earned another distinction — as a footnote to American history — because it was where Edie met Thea.

The case of Edith S. Windsor, who is challenging the constitutionality of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, is to be heard Wednesday by the Supreme Court. (A related case involving same-sex marriage in California was heard Tuesday.) If you trace Ms. Windsor’s marriage to Thea Clara Spyer back to its beginnings, you arrive at Portofino, 206 Thompson Street, near Bleecker Street.

At a time of high heels and pocket squares, Portofino was refreshingly casual. “Happy go lucky,” said Elio Guaitolini, 79, who worked there and, like the other waiters, often addressed regular customers by their first names.

And those weren’t just any names. Elaine Kaufman, a waitress and manager at Portofino, was perfecting her skills in cultivating the patronage of writers and entertainers, skills she would apply to her own restaurant, Elaine’s, which she opened on Second Avenue near East 88th Street in 1963. That made Portofino good for stargazing. “Don’t turn around just now — he’ll see us — but Bobby Short is over your left shoulder.” “Psst. I could swear that’s Lorraine Hansberry at the table by the window.”

There was more to admire than the celebrities, of course. Craig Claiborne, the restaurant critic of The New York Times, favored the boneless chicken Portofino and the scaloppine with butter and lemon.

But Portofino offered something else — on Friday nights in particular. It offered a place where women who wanted to rendezvous with other women could do so discreetly, with little fear of exposure or entrapment.

That described Ms. Windsor in 1963, divorced and 34 years old. She knew what she wanted but had no clue how to get it without risking her career at I.B.M. “I suddenly couldn’t take it any more,” she said in the documentary “Edie and Thea: A Very Long Engagement” (2010), “and I called an old friend of mine — a very good friend — and I said, ‘If you know where the lesbians go, please take me.’ O.K. So she took me to the Portofino for dinner.”

“The lesbians used to go there on Friday night,” she said, “and somebody brought Thea over and introduced her. And we ended up dancing.”

Ms. Windsor’s lawyers said she was not available to be interviewed this week. (Ms. Spyer died in 2009, two years after the couple were lawfully married in Canada. Because the federal government does not recognize same-sex marriages, Ms. Windsor had to pay estate taxes that spouses ordinarily avoid, which is at the heart of her legal challenge.)

Nonetheless, a picture emerged of Portofino in the day. “It was not one of the bars the ladies frequented regularly,” said the writer Marijane Meaker (pseudonymously M. E. Kerr), who is now finishing a memoir, “Remind Me.”

“You would be in error to write that Thea and Edie going to the Portofino was what began the landmark case coming up tomorrow,” she said in an e-mail. “It had begun years before, in many bars, mostly in Greenwich Village.” Some of the better-known among them were the Bagatelle, the Laurels, Provincetown Landing, the Sea Colony, Page Three, Seven Steps Down and Lonnie’s Hideaway.

“Most of these little joints were owned and run by organized crime in cahoots with the cops,” the novelist Ann Bannon said. “It was scary to be there if they hadn’t been raided by the police in a while. It meant the restaurant might be overdue for a raid, and you could end up in a paddy wagon on your way to the police station.

“Those were the days when they printed your name in the paper the next day,” Ms. Bannon continued. “And if, as a result, you were outed as L.G.B.T., your life was really turned upside down. It was not uncommon for people to lose their jobs, their friendships, even their family ties, so great was the opprobrium attached to that contaminated identity.”

If someone spotted you leaving Portofino, on the other hand, no suspicions were likely to be attached. The owner was Alfredo Viazzi, a restaurateur who became better known later for Trattoria da Alfredo, at Eighth Avenue and West 12th Street.

“It was a nice mix of people,” Mr. Guaitolini said. “A couple of the waiters were gay, but it was not a big issue. In that environment, it was taken for granted.” Mr. Guaitolini followed Ms. Kaufman to Elaine’s and later opened his own restaurants, including Elio’s at Second Avenue and East 84th Street. Joe Allen, the proprietor of Joe Allen Restaurant at 326 West 46th Street, said Portofino “had an artsy kind of edge to it.”

“It was Elaine’s having worked there that helped her get off the ground when she moved uptown,” Mr. Allen said.

Though Portofino closed long ago, its space still exists. It is now the Malt House, a gastro pub that opened in August 2012. When one of the owners, 33-year-old Eoin Foyle, learned of the connection between Portofino and the case before the Supreme Court, he said he liked the idea of affixing a historical plaque somewhere. Asked his view on same-sex marriage, Mr. Foyle answered simply, “100 percent support,” standing no more than a few feet from where Edie met Thea.

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