I used to think I knew something about expensive New York hotel breakfasts.
I learned it the hard way, when I invited an interview subject to breakfast during the 2004 Republican National Convention. Louisiana’s delegation had just finished up a morning meeting at the tony Plaza hotel, and since we were pressed for time, we decided to eat there. I knew it wouldn’t be cheap, but how bad could it be?
Well, pretty bad. I scanned the menu and settled on a five-dollar bagel, only to watch my guest head straight for some sort of fancy omelet with caviar and lobster on the side. The cost came to somewhere in the neighborhood of $70, which I had to sheepishly defend when I turned in the receipt to my then-employer.
That used to be my standard for outrageousness, until I saw this week’s report by WWL-TV’s David Hammer about a 2012 New York trip that New Orleans Jazz Orchestra maestro Irvin Mayfield billed to the nonprofit dedicated to raising money for a chronically underfunded library system that, until recently, couldn’t even afford to stay open on Fridays.
For the $1,435 that Mayfield spent on breakfast at the Ritz-Carlton hotel just down Central Park South from the Plaza, he could have ordered 20 fancy omelets. Alternately, the Orleans Parish Public Library system could have purchased way more than 20 books.
We have no way of knowing how Mayfield managed to amass such a check, though, because he has refused to be interviewed, and has returned a request for repayment from the New Orleans Library Foundation’s new management team unopened. The letter sought reimbursement for the entire five-night, $18,713 stay at the Ritz, for charges that included not just the gilded breakfast but an $801-per-night room for a personal assistant, $402 in mini bar charges, and $2,820 for six limo rides. New foundation president Bob Brown told Hammer that the trip had no identifiable connection to the foundation’s work.
But it does fit a pattern. Mayfield once served as the library foundation’s president and he and his business partner diverted more than $1 million to NOJO, where each collects a six-figure salary. The orchestra claimed the money went to library-type functions, but after Hammer exposed the arrangement, NOJO offered to pay it back. The orchestra ultimately agreed to reimburse less than half the total, and make up the rest in in-kind donations such as benefit concerts.
The whole matter is under criminal investigation, so this latest story can’t be good news for Mayfield.
Even if the individual purchases are comparatively small, images of officials living so large tend to leave very big impressions. Especially on those who get stuck picking up the tab.
‘Grace notes’ is a daily feature by Advocate columnist Stephanie Grace. To read more of her content, including her full columns, click here.