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Now is the time for all good men (and a few good women) to come to the aid of . . .

Martha Stewart?

Except for Mother Teresa, Elizabeth Taylor and Xena, Warrior Princess, Martha is now the most famous woman in the world. And, if you believe her detractors, the most ferociously unpopular since Lucrezia Borgia.

Which is patently absurd. And unfair, besides.

Martha Stewart is intelligent, attractive, successful, wealthy and could give lessons in discipline to worker ants. If she is the insomniac people say, it's understandable; the woman works longer hours than a marathon dancer.

So, why then, are people beating up on Martha?

Well, there's envy, one of the seven deadly sins (along with those perennial favorites, lust, gluttony and sloth). Is it fair that one incredibly talented and energetic woman can: run a major magazine (named after her, bien sur), have a TV show, possess beautiful homes, earn millions, drive a Jag, design a line of house paints, grow flowers, cook like Sirio Maccioni, play tennis, replace a fuse and build a compost heap, and at the same time be tall, blond and good looking?

In part, some of the blame is mine. In a new novel I have a character who's bumped off by having a stake of privet driven through her heart. Since the victim is inordinately rich, beautiful, and successful, she has enemies. In fact, when the homicide detectives round up the usual suspects, half the population of East Hampton is in cuffs. Was it Senator D'Amato? PR woman Peggy Siegal? Television exec Howard Stringer? Donna Karan? Jerry Della Femina? Alec Baldwin? Demi Moore? Kurt Vonnegut Jr.? What about Bill Clinton? Hadn't he visited the Hamptons for the artists & writers softball game? No one is above suspicion.

Now this is all very well for promoting a novel. But for reasons beyond my control, there have been suggestions my victim is based in whole or part on Martha Stewart. I deny this here and now and have denied it previously on "Imus in the Morning," "Good Morning America," the "Joan Hamburg Show," "Good Day, New York," to columnists from Liz Smith to Paul Colford to Neal Travis and Richard Johnson, and to magazines from Town & Country to The New Yorker. But just because my character is rich, beautiful and successful, mean-spirited people keep saying, "It's Martha."

But if I may in all innocence have caused difficulties, I certainly apologize profusely. Martha has enough on her mind not to be pestered by the likes of me. Or by this fellow Jerry Oppenheimer, who's now out with a tell-all book about Martha titled, "Just Desserts, the Unauthorized Biography."

I wish Mr. Oppenheimer had spoken with me first. I could have set him straight on a thing or two. Take this feud Martha's been having out in East Hampton with real estate tycoon Harry Macklowe. Harry and Martha have places bordering each other on Georgica Pond. There's apparently a dispute about boundary lines. Do Martha's trees obscure Harry's view of the pond? Do his trees shut off her vistas? Who knows?

Then the other night (about 10 p.m., said the authoritative East Hampton Star), a construction crew working for Mr. Macklowe arrived at the disputed boundary and began erecting a fence. Martha, ever alert to trickery, heard the commotion, leaped into her four-wheel-drive and raced to the scene, calling out to the workmen to stop! And, in addition, to cease and desist. A lively discussion ensued and at some point one of the Macklowe forces claimed he'd been pinned against the fence by Martha's vehicle.

Next day, warrants were being discussed. One woman against a construction gang and she was the perp? Was Martha heroine or villainess? The debate raged. Then Chief Stonemetz, who heads our splendid police force, said that from his experience, when a construction job in the Hamptons begins under cover of darkness at 10 p.m., there are reasons to suspect funny work at the crossroads. So perhaps Martha was justified?

And then, ah. . .the smoking gun!

It was revealed this was the very same Macklowe who in 1985 wanted to build a spanking new Manhattan hotel on the site of an old flophouse sheltering single-room-occupancy poor. On the eve of a city moratorium banning demolition of such buildings, Macklowe's gang went in there in the middle of the night and knocked down four buildings-without bothering to turn off gas, electric or water. Several people pleaded guilty to reckless endangerment and Harry had to pay a $2 million fine.

Harry Macklowe did the usual pious handwringing. What could his gang have been thinking? It cost him a few bucks, but he got what he wanted; Macklowe's hotel went up. And last week, thanks to a new state housing bill approved by a tame legislature, Mr. Macklowe won the right to demolish two other Manhattan buildings housing 13 elderly tenants, some in their 80s, one of them blind.

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