New York Daily News -
100 women who shape our city

Saturday, April 24th, 2004

BROOKE ASTOR In a city where everyone is eager to count your fortune for you, Astor has given hers away — $193,317,406, to be exact — to stalwarts like the New York Public Library and unsung schools and gardens in all five boroughs. At 102, with fist-sized pearls and signature hats, she's still a potent social force. Lots of centenarians get a nod from Willard Scott; Mrs. Astor's 100th merited an editorial nod from the city's other Good Gray Lady.

LIDIA BASTIANICH Dubbed the mother of Italian food in America, the chef-owner of Felidia and Becco has more on her plate than a mobster at a Soprano dinner: restaurants (with son Joe and biz partner Mario Batali), cookbooks, TV shows, a line of sauces. Next: a West Chelsea spot that could bring New Yorkers a treat as rare as white truffles — valet parking.

BRENDA BERKMAN In 1977, Berkman was in the first class of women to pass the New York Fire Department's written exam, but when they all failed the he-man physical, she sued — and won. The city's first female firefighter is now the department's second-highest ranking woman. Sound easy? You try hoisting 100 pounds of equipment — and an 11,000-man force — on your back.

THERESA BISCHOFF More than two years after Sept. 11, most New Yorkers still aren't equipped to handle a disaster. Enter Bischoff, who, after five years as president of NYU Medical Center, took the helm of the American Red Cross of Greater New York. Her mission: to raise its profile and the city's ability to cope with catastrophe.

CATHIE BLACK She has presided over one of the most successful magazine launches ever (O: The Oprah Magazine) and one of the most disastrous (Tina Brown's Talk). But, mostly, Black keeps a steady hand on the world's largest stable of monthly magazines. Cosmo alone appears in 41 countries and 25 languages — that's a lot of ways to say “sexy.”

KRISTEN BREITWEISER Yes, she's really a Jersey girl. So what? The World Trade Center widow and her three N.J. comrades — Lorie Van Auken, Patty Casazza and Mindy Kleinberg — single-handedly forced the Sept. 11 backstory onto center stage. Putting aside their own grief, they knocked on doors and twisted arms until Congress and the President agreed to create an independent panel to investigate how the attacks happened. And they didn't stop until even the most reluctant players bared their Presidential Daily Briefs.

BOBBI BROWN Pink and orange might spiff up a powder-room wall, but Brown showed women that clown colors do nothing for lips and cheeks. Starting with 10 lipsticks 15 years ago, she's now the reigning queen of soft neutrals. Best, she donates tons to Dress for Success, he nonprofit that knows needy newcomers to the workforce are as eager as Conde Nast editorial assistants to look great.

RUTH BROWNE Convinced that black and Hispanic women are less likely than whites to get a breast-cancer screening, she brings it to them — in beauty shops, tattoo parlors and laundermats. The executive director of the Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health, Browne turns staffers in Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan shops into educators and advocates who preach the wisdom of self-exams and mammograms. The only thing better than great hair is a saved life.

ALICE CARDONA Well into her 70s,this opinionated activist is at every meeting of substance to Latinos, even if it means hours by city bus to get there. Founder of the National Coalition of Puerto Rican Women and publisher of her own political newsletter, the doyenne of Puerto Rican politics in Queens broadened her big tent when Colombians, Dominicans and Ecuadorans became a meatier part of the city's ethnic stew.

E. JEAN CARROLL Long before Carrie, Samantha, Miranda and Charlotte made us blush with their explicit sex talk, Carroll was scorching the pages of Elle with hilarious, no-bull advice about men. It's not just talk. Swamped for tips on how to find guys, the columnist launched, a Web site where women can recommend guys to each other. This year, she added an irreverent guide to snagging Mr. Right.

GINA CENTRELLO The little-known but enormously powerful president and publisher of the Random House Ballantine Group moved quickly to calm jittery authors and agents who feared the venerable old house would go soft when heavy-hitting prez Ann Godoff was ousted last year. Forget her background in frothy romance novels and thrillers. Centrello controls a stellar stable that ranges from Anna Quindlen and John Irving to Laura (”Seabiscuit”) Hillenbrand and Sen. John (”Faith of My Fathers”) McCain.

OONA CHATTERJEE The daughter of immigrants who lived through India's fight for independence, Chatterjee is an activist in the poorest corners of Bushwick. Co-founder of Make the Road by Walking, the young lawyer has muscled businesses into paying garment workers back wages, got the city to provide free translation services in public offices and won $500,000 in federal funds to open the first literacy center in Bushwick.

HILLARY CLINTON The former First Lady has survived bad hair, bad press and bad legal advice to become a senator, zillion-selling author and one of the most powerful Dems of her generation. With her sensible suits, sophisticated shag and unshakable star power, she's the object of eternal will-she, won't-she speculation.

HARRIETTE COLE Bad marriage. Hidden drug use. Alcohol abuse. Sounds like a recipe for personal failure. But Cole, a former fashion and lifestyle editor at Essence magazine, turned her own demons into an industry as an author and image consultant. Now, she's known for the positive, no-nonsense advice she dispenses in her nationally syndicated column.

GAIL COLLINS The witty editor of The New York Times' editorial pages has the soul of a feminist and the timing of a standup comedian. In the nearly three years since she landed on the masthead, she has brought feistiness, smarts and muscle to The Times' opinion pages, from its controversial demand that women be admitted to the all-male Augusta National Golf Club to slapping Mayor Bloomberg for acting like “the only person in town who cares about the welfare” of failing third-graders. Ouch!

BETTY CORTINA Latina's ambitious thirtysomething editorial director, who was born in Cuba and came to the U.S. as a teen, has turned up the heat, making her magazine a lively must read for hip, young Hispanic professionals.

KATIE COURIC She may have morning television's biggest ego (and shoe closet), but the “Today” show host compensates with boundless energy. Her on-air colonoscopy persuaded tens of thousands to go for their own cancer screenings. But will her recent insistence that she's not getting a brow lift dissuade other sagging boomers from nips and tucks? That's the $64 million question.

GRETCHEN DYKSTRA Don't miss Times Square's porn houses? Its hustlers? Its wall-to-wall grime? Thank Dykstra who, as president of the Times Square Business Improvement District, sparked the '90s rejuvenation of the nabe. How do you top that? As commissioner of consumer affairs, her legacy rests on the ridiculous (Are frozen-dessert shops serving treats that aren't as lo-cal as they claim?) and the sublime (Can she devise a city cabaret law that balances the demands of clubs that want dancing until 4 a.m. and neighbors who want to sleep?).

JACKIE EBRON She has been dubbed the Mitzvah Mama, an apt tribute to an African-American Episcopalian who has spent half her life working with the poorest Jews in New York. As director of crisis intervention at the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, she oversees 50,000 people a year devastated by unemployment, mental illness, old age and family violence, offering them everything from a rent check to a sympathetic ear.

CAROL ENSEKI The first kid-centric museum in the country is about to become one of the snazziest, thanks to the president of the Brooklyn Children's Museum and driving force behind its $39 million expansion. The wing will double the 105-year-old institution's size and make it the first “green” kids' place in the country. But it's not geothermal heating that will wow your second-grader. Enseki tapped architect Rafael Viñoly, who designed a kid-friendly bright yellow facade.

EVE She once sang “Who's That Girl?” But no one needs to ask anymore. The sexy, stylish singer held her own as the Ruff Ryders' first lady, then parlayed her appeal into a soaring solo career that has already included two albums, a fashion line and a slew of films, including “Barbershop 2.” Her TV show, “Eve,” rivals “Girlfriends” as the highest-rated sitcom on UPN.

EDIE FALCO It would have been easy for Carmela Soprano to be yet another whiny Mafia wife, with big hair, bigger diamonds and dreams as empty as her head. But Falco's Carmela is neither cartoon nor pushover. No wonder viewers are rooting for her to find true love, not just an affair with a loutish high-school administrator or a reconciliation with the boorish — and bearish — Tony.

LINDA FARGO In a tiny field dominated by men, Bergdorf Goodman's window designer is a standout. She creates lush, dreamlike tableaux, from her “Last Supper,” for which she scoured the city for fish bones and pheasant carcasses, to her post-Sept. 11 Christmas windows, which nodded to virtues other than shopping. Barneys' Simon Doonan may grab all the buzz, but Fargo might be the rightful heir to the legacy of Tiffany's legendary designer, Gene Moore.

CHRISTY FERRER Before the Sept. 11 attacks, Ferrer was on her way to becoming a mini-diva of domesticity, doing fashion standups on the networks and launching her own lifestyle Web site. But when her husband, Neil Levin, executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, was killed in the attacks, Ferrer stepped up to the mike. As the mayor's liaison, she has helped victims' families navigate the tricky shoals between government and grief.

TINA FEY “Saturday Night Live's” first female head writer is smart and wickedly funny, with political instincts Bush and Kerry would covet. She has also done more than all the “SNL” boys to make the show fresher and feistier in its second quarter-century. With horn-rimmed glasses and snug little anchorwoman suit, she's also the perfect “Weekend Update” foil for Jimmy Fallon. To fracture Astaire and Rogers: He gives her sass, she gives him sex.

PATRICIA FIELD She's not shy (if you don't know, she'll tell you how fab she is!). Or retiring (who can miss that shocking red hair?). But her “Sex and the City” costumes had more impact on what women wear than most of what comes down the 7th-on-Sixth runways. No wonder the consignment shop sale of “SATC” leftovers drew throngs of Carrie wanna-bes.

SISTER TESA FITZGERALD One columnist calls her a “warrior woman,” and, indeed, her battle to help the 3,000 women imprisoned under New York's infamous Rockefeller drug laws can seem like hand-to-hand combat. Her Long Island City-based group, Hour Children, runs five houses, sheltering the families of these nonviolent offenders and helping ease the transition once they get out.

KATHLEEN FOLEY Pain is no big deal, unless you're the one feeling it. And Foley, a neurologist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and director of the Open Society Institute's Project on Death in America, is determined to get the medical establishment to treat it seriously. Her mission: to ease the deaths of the terminally ill and the lives of 50 million Americans who suffer chronic pain.

ANN FUDGE After a two-year hiatus spent with family and fundraising, Fudge returned to the corporate world last year as chairwoman and CEO of Young -; Rubicam, the first African-American woman to helm a major ad agency. After decades in the food biz — she was the acclaimed president of Kraft's coffee and cereal divisions — she's determined to redefine clients' images and women's power. As she asked Fortune magazine, “Do we have to follow the boys' scorecard?”

BONNIE FULLER Snitty Staffers Snort in Her Sweets! Mag Melts Into Mutinous Mess! Yes, the only thing we love more than reading her gossip is gossiping about her. American Media's demanding $1.5 million-dollar-a-year editorial director has 20 other mags under her wing, but the only thing we want to know is whether she can turn the trashy Star into a star (that, and whether she really leaves crumbs when she eats).

NECIA GOLDBERG While most women obsess about breast cancer, Goldberg has been fighting to get us to wake up to the risks of heart disease, the No. 1 killer of women. A cardiologist and head of the women's heart program at Lenox Hill Hospital, she has battled the medical establishment's misconceptions about heart patients. As the title of her 2003 book put it, “Women Are Not Small Men.”

THELMA GOLDEN This art doyenne moved from the Whitney to the Studio Museum in Harlem, where she focuses on artists of African descent. She's known for stirring the pot — notably, her controversial 1995 Whitney show, “Black Male: Representations of Masculinity in Contemporary American Art” — and for showcasing works that make people think.

GWEN GOODWIN Walking on the beach in Cape May, N.J., after Sept. 11, Goodwin was struck by how clean the air was. That gave rise to A Breath of Fresh Air, which provided rooms and respite to exhausted firefighters and cops. Soon, she set her sights on the 100th Street Bus Depot, her fume-filled neighbor in East Harlem. She lost — the depot reopened last year — but she hasn't given up the battle against its emissions. And when she's not pushing a placard, she's wielding a makeup brush at the Trish McEvoy counter at Henri Bendel.

MONIQUE GREENWOOD After five years at Essence — including the top slot — Greenwood quit the magazine biz and opened Akwaaba, an inn in a 150-year-old house smack in the middle of Brooklyn. But she didn't rest on her velvet settee. She has two more B-;Bs (in N.J. and D.C.), a black woman's guide to life and Go on Girl, a reading group for African- American women with chapters in more than a dozen states.

ROSEANNE HAGGERTY A 2001 MacArthur “genius” grant may be the least impressive of her accomplishments. Haggerty is executive director of Common Ground, a nonprofit group that finds housing for the poor and the homeless. It has already restored the Prince George and Times Square Hotels to their former glory and converted them into housing with on-site support services.

PATRICIA HARRIS She's not New York's highest-paid deputy mayor, but she arguably wields the most clout: She was one of 13 jurors who helped select the World Trade Center memorial, and she oversaw the gorgeous $7 million Gracie Mansion face-lift (mostly paid for by an anonymous donor named Bloomberg). Still, Harris' real worth is as a longtime mayoral friend and confidante who can be counted on to give her billionaire boss a check — a reality check.

RAMONA HERNANDEZ This sociologist is director of CUNY's new Dominican Studies Institute, the only research project at any U.S. university dedicated to the influx of Dominicans. And though Mayor Muscle bounced her from this year's version of the Board of Ed — she wouldn't rubber-stamp the end to social promotions — expect her power to soar along with the city's Dominican population.

SARA HOROWITZ Daughter of a labor lawyer, granddaughter of an ILGWU honcho, Horowitz was destined to help worker bees. But instead of targeting obvious down-and-outers, the young lawyer created Working Today, which provides low-cost insurance to freelancers, who she says represent “the new middle-class poverty.” In the last two years, more than 4,000 New Yorkers have signed up.

RITA HENLEY-JENSEN Editor-in-chief of Women's eNews, an Internet news service that reports on women's issues — and we don't mean knitting and baking. Its feminist content — reproductive rights, domestic violence, teen sexuality — is not just meant for Americans; last year, launched a site in Arabic.

NORAH JONES Bright lights! Big city! No thanks. With an armful of Grammys for her first album and wall-to-wall raves for her second, the Brooklyn-based singer-composer doesn't need to go the let-it-all-hang-out, Britney route. Her persona is sweet and mellow, just like her music.

KRISTIN KEARNS JORDAN The future of charter schools is an open question, but not to Jordan. Her four-year-old Bronx Preparatory Charter School, which educates poor fifth- through ninth-graders, is a dazzling departure from the blackboard norm. Kids attend nine hours a day, 200 days a year and are held to A+ behavior and academic standards. Bronx Prep is building a new state-of-the-art home that will carry kids through grade 12.

ANDREA JUNG Don't let the Chanel jackets and triple strand of pearls fool you. Avon's CEO isn't afraid to get her manicure dirty. In five years in the top spot, she has slashed costs, boosted sales and jazzed the company's sagging image, signing tennis' Williams sisters and ramping up the Anew line for aging boomers. Who wouldn't want Jung ringing their doorbell?

ELAINE KAUFMAN What's a nice Jewish yenta doing serving bad Italian food? For journalists and celebrities of a certain age, the owner of Elaine's has been, for 41 years, queen of the bite.

JUDITH KAYE Named in 1992 to succeed the disgraced Sol Wachtler as New York State's chief judge, Kaye is tough and compassionate. She's the crusader behind a blitz of court reforms — online access to decisions, better pay for court-appointed lawyers. But it's as a family advocate that she has proved that no-child-left-behind isn't just a political cliche.

CAROLINE KENNEDY The famously private princess of Camelot is spending some of the Kennedy magic to snag big bucks for city schools. The first-year haul by the education department's $1-a-year fund-raiser-in-chief? A cool $156 million and an even cooler Dave Matthews fund-raiser in Central Park.

SALLIE KRAWCHECK The $30 million woman. Hired by CitiGroup chief Sandy Weil to be CEO of its Smith Barney research arm, the Queen of Clean's real job is to repair the battered brokerage firm's tarnished image. All that for only $30 mil?

MATHILDE KRIM In a quarter-century, Krim has infuriated gays, straights, pols and preachers, but the founding co-chairman of the American Foundation for AIDS Research has also gotten every one of them to take heed. She has raised awareness and cash — more than $220 million for research, prevention and education. Thanks to Krim, the question isn't just how many people have died from AIDS, but how many are able to live with it.

MARINA KURIAN If former fatties like Al Roker, Carnie Wilson and Randy Johnson have shrunk from XXXL to M, thank Kurian, a gastric bypass surgeon at Lenox Hill Hospital, who helped pioneer minimally invasive surgery for the morbidly obese (and who did Roker's now-famous stomach snipping). Still, in a nation where bariatric surgery is growing faster than our bottoms, Kurian, who's been involved in more than 1,000 procedures, cautions that it's risky, pricey and still only for those who've failed at everything else.

JHUMPA LAHIRI How do you top a Pulitzer Prize? Lahiri, who was honored for her debut short-story collection, returned last year with “The Namesake,” a novel that is perhaps even more mesmerizing. It's a bittersweet story of assimilation — a young Indian who shakes his immigrant past for Manhattan yuppiehood, only to be diminished for it — and one that New York's teeming masses know intimately.

AERIN LAUDER What's on your makeup shelf? You can bet Lauder had something to do with it. Vice president of global advertising for Estee Lauder, she lures you with those eyes, those lips, those cheeks — not hers, but Carolyn Murphy's, Liya Kebede's and Liz Hurley's. At 33 and a perennial on the best-dressed lists, she's one of the heirs apparent, at the family firm and among New York's social set.

EVELYN LAUDER When Lauder thinks pink, watch out! More than a decade after the makeup megastar teamed with Self magazine to launch the breast- cancer awareness campaign, it's still the most important partnership between fashion, real women and medicine. Lauder's Breast Cancer Research Foundation has distributed millions of pink ribbons and more then $70 million for research into the causes, treatments and prevention of breast cancer.

KATE LEVIN Soon after Levin became the city's culture chief, she faced the daunting task of having to slash millions from art institutions already hurt by the fallout from Sept. 11. But with a sense of fortitude — and a boss who's a serious patron of the arts — the former CCNY theater professor managed not to shutter a single museum, music hall or movie house.

RACHEL LLOYD Think “Pretty Woman's” john-with-a-heart-of-gold is harmless stuff? Lloyd doesn't. This Brit has spent years fighting to turn around the lives of teen prostitutes through her Harlem-based GEMS — Girls Educational and Mentoring Services, the only social service agency in New York that works with exploited girls. Her two-pronged battle attacks pop-culture images and muscles city officials to confront the sordid world that plays out on city streets every night.

JUDY McGRATH She worked her way from copywriter to the top of MTV Networks, one of the most powerful cable programming giants in the world. And though her $1.7 billion domain — MTV, VH1, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central — defines youth culture, McGrath is not all “Beavis and Butt-head.” Her “Choose or Lose” broke political barriers by appealing directly to young voters and answered that burning presidential question: boxers or briefs?

BETTE MIDLER In a 30-year ride from bathhouses to Broadway, movies and coliseums, Midler hasn't lost her beat or her bite. Yet, instead of kicking back, she keeps expanding her repertoire — and not just to Rosemary Clooney. Her New York Restoration Project has planted thousands of trees in city parks and hauled away tons of debris. This spring, she'll launch the boathouse at Swindler Cove Park, the first on the Harlem River in 100 years.

ANN MOORE Time Warner Inc. is a lot like the old British Empire — the sun never sets on it. And Moore runs its enviable magazine kingdom, which includes heavyweights such as People, Sports Illustrated and InStyle. Though things may be rocky in mag land, she's hoping to find green in a new mass-market women's mag that will be sold exclusively at Wal-Mart.

JULIANNE MOORE The small-town North Carolina girl has morphed into a cool New Yorker who, with her director husband, is raising two kids and renovating a gazillion-dollar West Village town house. When the makeup's off, the four-time Oscar nominee is just another mom pushing her $700 Bugaboo Frog stroller over to Pastis.

EVA MOSKOWITZ The chairwoman of the City Council's Education Committee isn't afraid to disagree with the big boys, even when the heat's turned up. When schools chancellor Joel Klein proposed a $13 billion plan to rebuild schools, she told him to go back to the drawing board. When Mayor Bloomberg muscled through his plan to end third-grade social promotions, she blasted it as “too little, too late.”

MIRA NAIR Her big fat “Monsoon Wedding” put her on the map, but this Indian-born director is no one-trick wonder. Her HBO film, “Hysterical Blindness,” was a tale of two wrong-side-of-the parkway Jersey girls, and her upcoming Reese Witherspoon flick tackles William Makepeace Thackeray's English costume drama “Vanity Fair.”

MARION NESTLE You may not be watching your waistline, but Nestle is. The NYU nutrition professor, researcher, author and consumer advocate has been a vocal critic of the supersizing of America — the servings of French fries and the folks who gobble them. After years of dissecting starch, Snackwell and steak fads, her fat-fighting advice is unwavering: lots of fruits, lots of veggies and everything else in moderation.

BEBE NEUWIRTH The quintessential Broadway baby — or should we say babe? She has played the prissy Lilith on “Frasier” and the cradle-robbing temptress in “Tadpole,” but Neuwirth's heart — and killer legs — belong to the boards, which she first hit at age 7. Catherine Zeta-Jones may have an Oscar for Velma Kelly, but she has nothing on Neuwirth's Broadway turn as the tough-as-nails “Chicago”-an.

CHRISTYNE NICHOLAS Sure, she loves New York. But in the post-Sept. 11 world of orange alerts and frazzled nerves, the city's booster-in-chief has the monster task of luring tourists back to the Apple. By comparison, years of dodging rumors about her and ex-boss Rudy Giuliani seem like a day at the beach.

ROSIE O'DONNELL Comedian, wife, mother, producer, talker, gay marriage activist, Martha supporter. Yeah, No-More-Ms.-Nice-Guy is a pain in the butt and wears her opinions like a crown of thorns, but love her or loathe her it's impossible to ignore the sheer force of her. Besides, how many other pugnacious princesses were models for a talking doll?

KATHERINE OLIVER If you've run into the “Law -; Order” gang on 47th St. or Nicole Kidman at the United Nations, nod to the city's film commissioner, who'll do anything to get movie and TV companies to park their trailers on this side of the Canadian border. Her arsenal: everything from tax incentives to an official Elf Day (which celebrated last year's “Elf” movie premiere). Something's working: After a rocky post-Sept. 11 period, production was up 27% last year.

THE OLSEN TWINS Not even 18, they've turned their cute-as-a-button selves into a sophisticated $1.2 billion industry — clothes, fragrances, books, videos, movies. Maybe Mary-Kate and Ashley — who recently declared their disdain for the “Twins” label — should be teaching, not taking, classes at NYU next fall.

SARAH JESSICA PARKER Cosmos at your lips? Manolos on your toes? That's just the frill of it. Even if she and Big don't live happily ever after, the “Sex and the City” star and her six-year love affair with New York upended the way singletons think about — and talk about — their lives. Like Mary Richards and Murphy Brown before her, Parker's Carrie made girls free to be.

SANDRA PAYNE It sounds like child's play, but Payne's mission — to make the city's libraries more accessible to teens —is all grown up. Officially the New York Public Library's coordinator of young adult services, she worked with young readers on Staten Island and in the Bronxbefore launching “Teen Central” at Manhattan's Donnell branch. The 50-something artist employs whatever it takes — loud music, poetry howls — to rope 'em in.

PETRA POPE The Knicks may have their ups and downs, but the Knicks City Dancers always rock, thanks to their founder and director. The daughter of an Army sergeant, Pope runs them within a sequin of their buff bods. Best, this former Lakers girl has outlasted that Armani-wearing pretty-boy coach she rode into town with.

JONELLE PROCOPE When the Apollo Theater Foundation asked her to head its search for a new chief, Procope didn't expect to wind up with the top slot. But like Cheney to Bush, she couldn't turn down a dream job. Good move. In just a year, the former entertainment lawyer has put the theater, and its neighborhood's revival, back on the A-list.

ROLANDA PYLE They never plan for things to turn out this way. Which is why grandparents thrust into the role of primary caregiver — the result of divorce, child abuse, drug abuse, AIDS or jail — often lack the money, resources or strength to start all over again. That's where Pyle comes in. The head of the Department of Aging's Grandparents Resource Center — the first of its kind in the nation — the Brooklyn-born social worker has spent a decade helping grannies-turned-parents find everything from warm meals to warm coats to warm hearts.

JENNIFER RAAB The former Giuliani campaign aide and chairwoman of the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission got a mayoral boost into the president's office at Hunter College, where she also oversees its top-notch elementary and high schools. Her love of all things historic landed her in a Tudor in historic Fieldston, one of the city's two planned “suburban” communities.

DIANE RAVITCH In an age marked by the dumbing down of America, the education scholar and historian demands that we aim higher. An assistant secretary of education under the first President George Bush and a member of the National Assessment Governing Board under President Bill Clinton, she has championed high-pressure, high-stakes standardized testing and decried the PC police who would sanitize textbooks — who knew we should be allergic to words like “peanuts”? — and learning.

RUTH REICHL She made foodies of all of us with biting restaurant reviews and wonderfully wise memoirs that are as hilarious as her hat-and-wig disguises. (Her Queen of Mold descriptions of her mother are straight out of Dickens.) Now the editor in chief of Gourmet, the woman who punctured the pomposity of food writing has infused new life into a dull old mag and helped the rest of us find four stars in even the most mundane corned beef.

CATHY RENNA From the murder of Matthew Shepard to the furor over gay weddings, Renna, the longtime spokeswoman for GLAAD, has brought a passionate yet reasoned voice to the fight for gay rights. When Bride's magazine published its first article on same-sex unions last year, she announced that, like 70 years of brides before her, she'd relied on the nuptial bible for her own ceremony.

KELLY RIPA She's Faith in the ABC sitcom “Hope -; Faith” and the bubbly chatterer who brought new zest to Regis Philbin's morning talkfest. With three toddlers, a hunky hubby and a refreshing refusal to press the diva button, Ripa is the perfect neighbor who comes by every morning, yet never seems to wear out her welcome.

JEANNE GREENBERG ROHATYN She operates the rarefied Salon 94 gallery in the home she shares with her husband, financier Nicholas Rohatyn, the son of the man who singlehandedly saved the city from bankruptcy in the 1970s. But it's not his pedigree that matters. The daughter (and partner) of gallery owners, she's a mother, socialite and perennial Vogue favorite. And savvy. When father-in-law Felix Rohatyn was ambassador to France, she helped select art for the U.S. Embassy in Paris.

JANE ROSENTHAL Robert De Niro's business partner is the force behind the Tribeca Film Festival, which was launched to help a neighborhood shuttered and in mourning after Sept. 11. Already one of the hottest attractions downtown, the festival offers loads of free films and loads more buzz — so much that Rosenthal is talking to playwright Wendy Wasserstein about adding a theater component.

DARYL ROTH Sure, she has backed some flops. But with her sharp instincts and her husband's Vornado real estate fortunes, this producer has turned out a steady stream of theatrical gold. Among this Jersey housewife-turned-Broadway angel's best: “Wit,” “Proof,” “The Tale of the Allergist's Wife” and the upcoming “Mambo Kings” and “Caroline, Or Change.” Tired? No. Next up is a feature film.

LYDIA RUTH She lights up New York. The woman at the controls of the Empire State Building's 1,100 flourescent bulbs, Ruth flicks on the orange-and-white (for the anniversary of the New York City Food Bank) or the solid gold (for Oscar week). And though she doesn't do requests (no baby blue for your girlfriend's birthday), she does listen to the city's heart, as she did after Sept. 11, when rescue workers asked that the dusk-to-midnight lights stay lit until dawn.

AMY SACCO The striking blond owner of hipper-than-thou Lot 61 and Bungalow 8, Sacco is this generation's Queen of the Night. Of course, you can't get in, unless you're Bill Clinton or one of the M-;Ms: model, movie star, mogul or media man. While Sacco has redefined nightlife, the real measure of her cool is her enthusiasm for her gritty West Chelsea neighborhood, where she boosts every local artist, taxi dispatcher and restaurateur.

ISIS SAPP-GRANT Sapp-Grant knows where trouble is — as a teen, she led a notorious Brooklyn girl gang. She was arrested. Her boyfriend was killed. Her pals landed in jail. But instead of wasting her life experience, she used it to launch the Youth Empowerment Mission, which inspires teenage girls to find self-worth someplace other than on the streets.

SUSAN SARANDON Hers is one of the few dual Oscar households in New York. (Longtime partner Tim Robbins even suggested they give the statuettes a quiet room and some candles and see what develops.) But Sarandon is also a vocal — and controversial — human rights activist, and, at 57, she's still incredibly glam, which she proves every time she dons another revealing gown by that other New York legend, Donna Karan.

JESSICA SEINFELD Sure, she nabbed one of the richest entertainers on the planet, but instead of sitting back and counting his cars, she has become a social and philanthropic powerhouse. Her vehicle of choice: Babybuggy, the “love recycled” organization she started after the birth of daughter Sascha to provide baby basics to less-pampered families in all five boroughs.

KARI SIGERSON and MIRANDA MORRISON Not all fab shoes cost $500. Sigerson Morrison's more approachable wares are colorful, clever and a few bills less. Department stores couldn't keep their plastic kitten-heel slides in stock last summer; this year, they've launched a cheaper line called Belle. No wonder their end-of-season, $99-a-pair sale has New York women lining up like an “Apprentice” casting call.

BEVERLY SILLS For the legendary soprano and Metropolitan Opera chairwoman, it's not enough to sing. Her life's work is to make us care — as deeply as she does — about Verdi, Donizetti and the rest. Now, Belle from Brooklyn is betting her reputation on raising $150 million to save the 72-year-old live-from-the-Met radio broadcasts, which have introduced opera to generations of Saturday listeners.

SUE SIMMONS She came on the air the year Ronald Reagan won the White House, the year America was asking, “Who shot J.R.?” But in an industry where women over 30 are yesterday's news, Simmons has been a smart, frisky, steady presence for 24 years on WNBC/Ch. 4. And with a new contract, count on her to guide New Yorkers through seven more years of politics, parades and pop culture.

SUSAN STROMAN In an age that demands blockbuster musicals, the director-choreographer keeps 'em laughing, tapping and filling Broadway seats. From “Contact's” girl in the yellow dress to “The Producers” chorus line of metal walkers, she can be heartbreaking or uproariously funny. What's under her trademark hat for “The Frogs,” the Nathan Lane/Chris Kattan satire due this spring? Expect her to rock Stephen Sondheim's story about a fifth century B.C. journey to Hades.

DIANA TAYLOR When was the last time you even knew the name of the state banking superintendent? Taylor, of course, would be hard to miss, even if she didn't look drop-dead gorgeous in $3,000 Ralph Lauren gowns. This sharp, ambitious Columbia M.B.A. recipient is a longtime ally of Gov. Pataki. Her job: overseeing an industry with a whopping $1.7 trillion in assets. Her ability to light up her billionaire beau, Mayor Bloomberg: priceless.

MARY ANN TIGHE She put Conde Nast in Times Square. And Christie's in what used to be a Rock Center garage. But if she's not the best-known real estate exec in town, the CEO of CB Richard Ellis' New York tristate region is the most powerful. She has estimated that she has moved 44 million square feet of commercial space in 19 years. And that's not even her first act. A child of the South Bronx, she launched the A-;E network and was deputy chairwoman of the National Endowment for the Arts. We can only wonder what's next.

ANN RUBENSTEIN TISCH Shaken by what she saw as a crisis in confidence among teen girls, the former NBC correspondent used her reporter's smarts and her husband's Loews Corp. fortune to launch the Young Women's Leadership School of East Harlem, one of the few all-girls schools in the country. At a time when the Bush administration has proposed letting districts experiment with same-sex schools, Tisch's eight-year-old effort gets high marks for its small classes, strong academics and solid record of college acceptances.

BLAINE TRUMP Her Blondness, as the late gossip James Revson famously christened her, shouldn't be mistaken for a shopping-and-highlighting dilettante. Glam? Sure. But she has opened her heart — and Chanel bag — to raise millions for God's Love We Deliver, which supplies 3,000 meals a day to AIDS and cancer patients and other seriously ill New Yorkers. Want shopping? The brownie- and Burberry-filled God's Love catalogue she spearheaded offers some of the most rewarding gifts in town.

NYDIA VELAZQUEZ As the first Puerto Rican woman elected to the House of Representatives, the Brooklyn-Queens-Manhattan Democrat has made a name with her Hispanic base. Now the ranking Democrat on the House Small Business Committee, she has set her sights on job development for New York and a higher profile for herself.

CLARA VILLAROSA At a time when independent booksellers are disappearing down a rabbit hole to make way for yet another Barnes and Noble, Villarosa came out of retirement to open Hue-Man Books, the largest African-American-owned bookstore in the U.S. Teaming with Rita Ewing (ex-wife of ex-Knick Patrick) and Celeste Johnson (wife of retired Knick Larry), she aims to sell not just pop stars like Terry McMillan but also James Baldwin, Langston Hughes and other greats of the Harlem Renaissance.

VERA WANG With her dreamy, $12,000 wedding gowns, her Oscar-worthy red carpet dresses and her skating costumes for ice princesses like Michelle Kwan, Wang has done more to feed our girlish fantasies than any other designer in New York. Bags, books, Barbie dolls — everything she touches turns to gold. Even her signature perfume became an instant hit, thanks to legions of brides who want the Wang imprimatur even if they can't afford her satin and lace.

RANDI WEINGARTEN They've tried to shut her out, but they can't shut her up. As president of the 140,000-member teachers union — and head of the coalition of municipal unions — Weingarten may be the one person in New York who can go mano a mano with both the mayor and schools chancellor. A former high school teacher who helped Bloomberg win contol of the schools and then blasted him for muscling through the ban on social promotions, she has the power to determine whether he'll be remembered as the education mayor or a misguided one.

HENNA WHITE Co-founder of Mother to Mother, hers was a mission born out of tragedy — Orthodox, African-American and Caribbean women who launched a dialogue following the 1991 Crown Heights riots. She hasn't stopped talking. Now the liaison between the Brooklyn district attorney's office and the Orthodox Jewish community, White enlists even the unlikeliest sources — wigmakers, manicurists — in her campaign to get women to report domestic violence.

WENDY WILLIAMS Her VH1 show is called “Wendy Williams Is on Fire,” and who are we to argue? Likened to shock jock Howard Stern —though she's black, female and not in the FCC cross hairs — her hit WBLS-FM radio show is the highest-rated girl talkie in the nation. And though she famously got Whitney Houston to cop to implants, Williams isn't afraid to bare her own demons. In her best-selling bio, she admits to affairs, a cocaine habit and her own DD breast work.

MADELYN WILS New York's first female mayor? Not so far-fetched. The TV producer-turned-activist has become a force downtown as a member of the post-Sept. 11 Lower Manhattan Development Corp. Even before that, she put in a decade building neighborhood shelters and parks. Chairwoman of Community Board 1 and mother of three, she just signed on as CEO of the Tribeca Film Insitute. A sure bet to raise an already impressive profile?

ANNA WINTOUR Let PETA throw dead raccoons on her plate. Let overworked assistants throw snitty romans à clef in her face. The Vogue editor doesn't flinch. With a clear vision and an iron will, she's the most powerful woman in fashion, with the muscle to make or break trends (see, respectively, fur and grunge) and to transform near-bankrupt design geniuses (like the pre-Dior John Galliano) into world-class stars. Bet your Manolos: No fashionista leaves home without her.

CYMA ZARGHAMI She may be the only grownup on Earth who loves being slimed. But it's all in a day's work for Zarghami, the CEO of Nickelodeon, which turned a “Double Dare” trick into a certified phenom. From “Nick at Night” to “SpongeBob SquarePants,” if your kids are watching TV, it's a good bet Zarghami had something to do with it.