Last week, as I was enjoying my annual escape to the world of fresh corn, heirloom tomatoes and sunshine... I drove by an empty restaurant.
"How could that be?" I was stunned. Della Famina's was closed. It had been years since I'd eaten there. And longer still since I'd been in touch with Jerry Della Famina. In a former life, I'd produced a TV Talk show hosted by he and his wife Judy Licht, and we'd become family friends. I'd come to enjoy his establishment-busting personality.
Back when we were spending time together, Jerry's restaurant was a hot celebrity hang out, his 'Jerry and David's Red Horse Market' was always jam-packed, and his the Independent newspaper was the new edgy newspaper in town.
So, why is his restaurant dark and shuttered now?
I went looking for answers -- and was stunned to find his 40 million dollar beachfront home was also up for sale.
But it was his reason for closing the restaurant and selling his beach-house that I found the most startling, troubling even.In April of this year he told The Jewish World Review:
When I was a little boy I remember walking on Avenue U in Brooklyn with my dad. I was 7 years old and I remember asking him what the difference was between Republicans and Democrats. My dad, a good Democrat and a union man, said, "The Republicans are for the rich people and the Democrats are for poor people like us.
"Oh." I thought, "This is easy. I'm going to become a Republican because I want to be rich."
Ok, that's his choice. Part of the democracy is about choice, and I respect him for that -- up to a point.
But when I found out he'd closed the restaurant, I feared the worst. He must have had some terrible economic downturn. It turns out -- no, in fact. He's selling EVERYTHING -- he's dropped the price on his beachfront house from $40 million to $35 million. The 74-year-old Della Famina and his wife bought the house in 1987 for $5 million. "Basically, everything I own is up for sale," Mr. Della Femina told the Wall Street Journal, including his restaurant and newspaper.
Why? He says it's all because of Barack Obama. He said on the eve of the 2008 election "... that this country was falling in love with an attractive, great-speechmaking hustler/socialist." Now he says: "I'm just not ready to have my wealth redistributed. I'm not ready to pay more tax money than the next guy because I provide jobs and because I work a 60-hour week and I earn more than $250,000 a year." He also told the New York Post's Selim Algar, "I truly believe we are headed for disaster. I'm going into gold and silver."
Now this is what has me stunned. After four years -- it isn't clear to me that President Obama has 'redistributed' anything. In fact, while you may not like his health care plan, it is designed to make everyone who can, pay their own way for health care equally. So maybe Jerry is worried that in a second term Obama will move to get the Buffett plan in place, so that millionaires pay the same Federal Income Tax as their secretaries. So his concern is that if he sells his assets after a tax change on Capital Gains, he'll pay the same rate for the sale of his now $30m home that everyone else pays on their salaried income. Or to do the math, $30m minus the original $5m purchase price and $2m in improvements: he'd net just $23,100,000 at a 30 percent rate, rather than $26,550,000 at 15 percent rate.
Either way, I'm finding it hard to feel to bad about this -- 're-distribution,' it seems that he's coming out on top.
So -- what's his real concern? Well, you have to keep in mind this is the same guy who was taken away in handcuffs for putting an illegal pumpkin in front of his Red Horse Market a few years back. He does like being at odds with the establishment.
But there's something more here. He's a lone Republican in a sea of east coast liberals -- and seems genuinely concerned that Obama will turn his wealth into something less than wealth. So, he's liquidating -- putting his assets into gold, and packing up his bags. Truly, I'd be sad to see him go. And suprised that Obama's tax policies would drive him to that.
He sums it up in The Jewish World Review this way: "There's a great scene in the movie Casablanca where the inspector, Claude Rains, asks Rick (Humphrey Bogart) why he came to Casablanca." Rick says, "I came for the waters." "But Rick, there are no waters in Casablanca."
"I was misinformed," answers Rick.
"If you stop and ask me why I've been a Republican all these years, I can only tell you, "I was misinformed."
I presume he means his father gave him bad information about the Republicans, but if so -- it's taken him a long time to figure that out.
One thing I can say -- I sure did enjoy my meal at Della Famina's. He may be upside down on taxes -- but he sure knew his way around a stove.