By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
|Photo by Elliott Shaffner|
The interior of David's electric Toyota Rav 4 is littered with the signs of a chronic multitasker: One cell phone charges in its dashboard cradle as another rings periodically from the depths of her purse on the back seat; a laminated list of important contacts (columnist Arianna Huffington's cell, the Natural Resources Defense Council, her children's school) is tucked into the door pocket; and a smashed tissue box on the floor functions as a makeshift notepad, with phone numbers and messages-to-self, such as "get Bobby K[ennedy] programs," written on three sides.
At the moment, David finds herself enmeshed in two national controversies: the issue of fuel economy and the touchy subject of celebrity activism, both of which are exceedingly relevant with war in the Middle East. She's not your typical Think Globally, Act Locally sort, however. Her husband co-created and produced Seinfeld, for one thing, and doesn't exactly need his day job; and David herself travels in privileged Hollywood circles. Yet she flips their good fortune on its head, mining her connections to actors, producers and movie execs to forward populist environmental campaigns. And the Hollywood alpha crowd listens to her — which means that millions, in one way or another, may actually hear her message. In May, the New York-based environmental-litigation group Riverkeeper will honor David for being the "single most effective environmental voice in America" this year.
'How often in history
has a person’s choice in
a vehicle really been able
to effect change?'
David had spent the morning, she tells me, with her NRDC Action Forum, an informal group of wealthy and influential women friends that includes GiGi Levangie Grazer ("wonderful screenwriter, married to Brian Grazer"), Gwen McCaw ("married to John McCaw of McCaw Communications . . . McCaw cellular . . . major") and Kelly Meyer ("She's Ron Meyer's wife, president of Universal"). Its purpose, David says, "is to use our resources to help stop the assault from this current administration on our environmental laws. I co-founded it with Elizabeth Wiatt. We created it together, to turn all these women into activists."
The group had gathered at Cindy and Glenn Frey's Brentwood home to spam senators. It was an urgent, last-minute attempt to stop the Omnibus Budget Bill, onto which, David says, anti-environmental riders had been attached. "It was kind of like bedlam. But the bedlam was coming from the eight women around the table," she says. "We were all talking on our cell phones at once, leaving messages with chiefs of staff, trying to get through to senators, leaving voice mails — everybody was really fired up. This thing was supposed to get voted on within 24 hours — and there had been no public discussion." She lets out an exhausted sigh. "All these things feel like the world's coming to an end."
During a lull in their phoning, Heather Thomas ("She was an actress, now she's married to Skip Brittenham, one of the top entertainment attorneys in town") casually asked if anyone had heard the NPR story reporting that this year's Oscar nominees would receive keys to brand-new Lincoln Navigators in their goodie bags. "There was this moment where everyone just looked at each other, and then we all started screaming." Elizabeth Wiatt snatched the phone and called her husband, Jim, president of William Morris. He gave her the extension for Frank Pierson, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. "We were screaming questions at her in the background: 'Ask him if it's true, who's in charge, who made the decision,'" David says. But the rumor turned out to be just that.
Had it been true, this particular celebrity-thick, fuel-inefficient affront might just have been the perfect battle for the NRDC Action Women (picture them bursting out of phone booths in tights and designer capes). "We would have done everything in our power to keep it from happening" David says. "I'm telling you, it would not have gone down without a fight." As she relays the story, David stares straight ahead, coolly steering the wheel with one hand and with the other repeatedly jabbing my arm to accentuate her points. "Not without a fight," she jabs. "Not . . . without . . . a . . . fight."
The phone calls have become a near daily ritual. Sometimes they arrive at home, occasionally on my cell; often, they're friendly but urgent voice mails at work, always the same basic message, quick and businesslike: "Hi, Laurie David. Just wanted to make sure you saw the paper today: 'The Great SUV Divide,'" she reads emphatically. "Oh, and The New York Times, A1: 'Hybrid Cars Are Gaining Attention.'" Another day, another call: "Have you seen The Wall Street Journalyet? 'SUVs May Be Losing Their Cool.' If not, I can get it for you." And always, she signs off with an "Okay, bye, doll." Or "Thanks, sweetie."