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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Children in Atlanta Exposed to Toxic Levels of Carbon Monoxide while in School Whitney Houston Photo Tribute; Wall Street CEOs and Fiscal Cliff; School Bus Crash in Florida

Aired December 4, 2012 - 08:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR, "EARLY START": And former New York Mets star Lenny Dystra sentenced to six-and-a-half months in federal custody. He plead guilty three felony counts, bankruptcy fraud, concealment of assets, and money laundering. The former outfielder is already serve in serving a three-year prison sentence in a separate case for grand theft auto. And Soledad says that's really sad.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: It's talent wasted. That's just sad.

SAMBOLIN: Let's move on here to Anna Wintour, the high-profile editor in chief of "Vogue." Add the title of ambassador to her name? President Obama is considering pointing her as ambassador to either Britain or France. It would be the President's way of thanking her for raising a lot of money for his re-election.

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I'm no expert on Anna Wintour, but I have seen "The Devil Wears Prada." That does not reflect diplomacy, to me. When I see that movie, I don't think --

O'BRIEN: Did you watch the end?

(LAUGHTER)

BOB SHRUM, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: She could play nice to the president of France. The people like Ron will go to work on her staff that have to worry about this.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Would she consider that a promotion or demotion?

O'BRIEN: She runs "Vogue," so that would be a demotion.

BROWNSTEIN: Exactly right. I think it would be a step down.

SHRUM: Those are both very important posts. They actually matter. The people who occupy those posts don't just do social stuff. They do a lot of real, hard work. It would be interesting to see if she's appointed.

O'BRIEN: Students at this one elementary school in Atlanta now attending class in a different building this morning. There was a carbon monoxide leak at their elementary school. They had to evacuate yesterday. CNN is not learning that the gas leak started in the boiler and heating system of the elementary school. And 34 kids, several adults had to be treated at a nearby hospital. Measuring carbon monoxide level of 1,700 parts per million near the school's furnace. Fire department says that's one of the highest levels they've ever seen. Of course, the normal would be 50 parts per million and they measured 1,700.

One of the kids sent off to the ER after she passed out was Adrianne Whitener, joined by her mother, Josephine Benjamin. We'll be talking to the deputy superintendent and chief of staff at the Atlantic public schools. Josephine and Adrianne, thank you for joining us. How are you doing today?

ADRIANNE WHITENER, FINCH ELEMENTARY STUDENT: Good.

O'BRIEN: Yes, you're feeling better? Did you really pass out and have to go to the hospital? What was that like? That had to be so scary.

JOSEPHINE BENJAMIN, DAUGHTER EXPOSED TO CARBON MONOXIDE AT SCHOOL: She can't remember.

O'BRIEN: She's like, yes, whatever. All right, I'll talk to mom instead. I know seven-year-old is well. Josephine you must have been absolutely in a panic, in all seriousness, when you get a phone call from the school saying that your child is on her way to the ER. What happened?

BENJAMIN: At first I got a call saying that the building is being evacuated because they're being quarantined and I was like, well, what is going on? And she was like, well, she's OK. And I was like, well, I'm on my way. She was like, well, if you come, you're not going to be able to get by her, touch her or nothing like that. And I was like, well, what's going on? She was like, well, they're doing OK. And I was like, OK. Well, I'm on my way still.

O'BRIEN: You went anyway and then you find out that she had passed out and was on her way to the emergency room.

BENJAMIN: Yes.

O'BRIEN: What were they telling you there?

BENJAMIN: I got a call 30 minutes later saying she was going to the emergency room. She still didn't tell me what was going on. When I got to the emergency room that's when they told me she had actually passed out and was not responding. She couldn't respond.

O'BRIEN: Oh my goodness. You must have been terrified.

BENJAMIN: Yes, I was. I was nervous. I was shaking. I was scared. I was like, I wish they would have told me that over the phone, I would have flew even quicker to get here to get my baby.

O'BRIEN: The principal truly sounds like a hero in this story. I know she was one of the ones who evacuated the school, when they started figuring out why all the kids just got sick and started complaining and started to pass out. Were you surprised there was no carbon monoxide detector in the school with all these little kids?

BENJAMIN: Yes, I am. I'm very shocked they don't have them in school. That's crazy. I have smoke detectors. You have everything else in school. Why not have that? I'm not understanding.

O'BRIEN: Let's ask Steve Smith. He is a deputy superintendent of the Atlanta public schools. Adrianne is yawning, so I'll give her a break for a little bit.

Mr. Smith, thanks for talking with us. Why no carbon monoxide monitors? That seems basic. They're not all that expensive. I think you can get one on amazon for 5 bucks or something.

STEVE SMITH, DEPUTY SUPERINTENDENT, ATLANTA PUBLIC SCHOOLS: Thanks for asking, Soledad. Of utmost importance is to make sure that our staff and students are safe. While the law doesn't require for us to have the carbon monoxide detectors in the schools, certainly as a result of this incident, it will prompt us to look into that matter which we actually started yesterday. Our understanding is actually there are probably -- there are some states, that is, currently do have that option. And that's going to prompt us, as a result of yesterday's incident. We've already started that process.

O'BRIEN: It's interesting, in the state of Georgia, where you are, if you're in a residence you have to have a carbon monoxide monitor. So it seems contradictory that your school, which is relatively new, built in 2005 or something, that you didn't need to have one there. That seems sort of like lack of common sense in that law.

SMITH: We certainly would respect, in terms of what the laws are on the books. And this incident provides us the opportunity to really be able to, as in any incident that is a crisis like yesterday, it allows us to have the opportunity to process afterwards. And we are very pleased with the response team yesterday, the way that the entire incident was handled. And as we have begun yesterday the process of debriefing regarding this incident, the item you mentioned certainly will help us to be able to ensure that we have the utmost safety and security for our staff and students.

O'BRIEN: The school is now being held at the nearby middle school. What kind of questions are the parents asking you where you're able to say, yes, your kids are going to be safe?

SMITH: Well, we were assured by the authorities yesterday and even through last night, our security as well as our facilities team literally worked through the night, Soledad. They worked through the night to ensure that we had a very effective plan for transition of our students to Kennedy Middle School this morning. And this morning that plan has worked very well in terms of our transition of our students from finch to Kennedy Elementary School. We will continue to work with the appropriate authorities in terms of making sure that the facility is safe before our students return.

O'BRIEN: Steve Smith is the deputy superintendent of the Atlanta schools. Lesson learned and nobody was seriously injured. So that's good news. Also Josephine Benjamin joining us this morning, and Adrianne Whitener joining us as well. Bye, Adrianne, nice to see you. Sorry for keeping you up this morning.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: Nice to have you with us. We appreciate your time. We've got to take a break. I love seven-year-olds. They just do what they're going to do on TV or wherever.

SHRUM: How about on Christmas recess, they just install detectors in this?

O'BRIEN: They're now --

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: They were very lucky. They dodged a bullet, so to speak. You could have had a serious, serious injury and they didn't.

Still ahead this morning, the legacy of Whitney Houston is living on. Her former manager and sister-in-law will join us to share photographic tributes to the late icon. You're watching STARTING POINT, and we are back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MUSIC PLAYING)

O'BRIEN: It's been nearly 10 months since the legendary singer, Whitney Houston, tragically passed away, but her music lives on in the 171 million albums and singles she is sold, which made her one of the world's bestselling artists. Another part of her legacy that's being celebrated is her image. Her sister-in-law and long-time manager Pat Houston is releasing a new book called "Whitney: Tribute to an Icon." The book features 130 pictures of Whitney Houston, some never seen before from the last 25 years of her life. And Pat Houston joins us this morning in Atlanta. It's nice to have you with us. Thanks for joining us. This book is absolutely gorgeous.

PAT HOUSTON, WHITNEY HOUSTON'S SISTER-IN-LAW: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Someone actually stole my copy and I have to hunt it down this morning. Do you have a favorite picture of Whitney Houston, how you like to remember her?

HOUSTON: You know what? I love the still photos of Whitney during the bodyguard series in the early '90s. Those pictures were absolutely stunning. And it was such a pivotal point in her life, getting married, having a baby, becoming an icon. Those are my favorite pictures.

O'BRIEN: The one I love is a picture where she's clearly holding Bobby Kristina as an infant, because it gives you all the potential that really she struggled with down the road. There's a picture in the bathroom. Let's throw that up on the screen first and then we'll talk a little bit about it.

HOUSTON: OK. O'BRIEN: That's a great picture. Tell me about that picture.

HOUSTON: You know what, that photo was taken by Randy St. Nichols here in Atlanta in 2010. And, actually, it was a photo shoot for her world tour. She was absolutely stunning. She was in a great mood. And, of course, it helped that the photographer was Randy St. Nichols because they had such a great, great relationship. And she just not only captured the moment but she captured Whitney was absolutely amazing. She had a lot of fun. She was like a little girl.

O'BRIEN: There's a great picture from the 1990s, which was in New York City. Really, she looks so young in that shot.

HOUSTON: Right.

O'BRIEN: Let's show that picture, too.

HOUSTON: OK.

O'BRIEN: That's one of those pictures. There's another one. One of the things I'm surprised by in this -- or stunned by, really, in this book, this collection of photos is how young she was. When she first started coming on the scene for those of us who ran out and bought all her albums in the late 1980s, to see just her youth. And she's not even posing for the cameras really. She's really inexperienced. She looks almost a little awkward as she's doing what seemed to be these kind of publicity type photos.

HOUSTON: There were photographers that worked with her that captured moments in her early years and then there were photographers that worked with her that captured Whitney. She was such a girl when she first started out and just so full of life, and one of the most beautiful women I had ever seen in my life. She wasn't just the voice. She had such a phenomenal style about her, and all of that was just conveyed in her in the photography. And she was just so, so beautiful. And I was so privileged just to work with her and be around her.

O'BRIEN: You're part of this new reality show now. That kind of surprised me, one, because it came so quickly after her death. I would have thought that your family would have been like, no, away from the cameras, away from the celebrity, everybody out of our business. We need a moment.

And instead you decided to open yourself up to the cameras. How has that been going and why make that decision?

HOUSTON: You know something regardless if we had done a reality show or not, the cameras would always be on us. And there was never -- grieving has -- there are no timetables when it comes to grieving. And there are no rules. We're certainly not used to -- certainly used to reality and I'm not talking about of the being Bobby Brown reality show. We did shoot a pilot two years ago called "Power Brokers" that involved the family.

So we just -- it was just a continuation of just being together as a family, supporting one another, standing with one another. And you know even if we don't do a second season and we move on, I think the cameras will always be there, just because we are Whitney Houston's family.

O'BRIEN: You're Whitney's former manager in addition to being her sister-in-law. Do you think one day you would managing Bobbi Kristina?

HOUSTON: No. I think I would much prefer being playing that parental role and just being Auntie Pat. I'll let someone else do that. I'll just be right behind her and making sure she's ok.

O'BRIEN: Pat Houston joining us this morning. This book is -- is absolutely I don't know -- it is absolutely gorgeous. And I have to say whoever stole this out of my office, I would like it back because it's my Christmas gift to me. Thank you Pat for being with us. We appreciate it.

HOUSTON: You're quite welcome. Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Time to turn to Christine for a look at our business update. Good morning again.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: I did not take that book. I promise. If you will find it, it is gorgeous.

U.S. stock futures up slightly this morning. You know the S&P 500 up 12 percent so far this year. Where it ends depends on the fiscal cliff.

I asked the CEO of FedEx how companies plan ahead when Washington is so dysfunctional.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FRED SMITH, CEO, FEDEX: Well, I think most of the CEOs look at the situation in Washington with a complete amazement and dismay to be frank about it. The problem is the ideological pinning's on both sides of this argument are so difficult to bridge that it's going to be hard for -- for them to get a -- get a deal.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: On Twitter yesterday, the President was asked by a homeowner whether that popular tax break for mortgage interest will die. The President tweeted "Breaks for middle class important for families and economy. If top rates don't go up, danger that middle class deductions get hit."

And he signed the tweet BO. That means we know, everybody, that's Barack Obama the President actually wrote that one.

So all eyes, every part of our money is now pretty much embroiled in fiscal cliff.

O'BRIEN: Fiscal cliff is all we've been talk about today. ROMANS: Yes.

O'BRIEN: Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, more speculation about what's next for Hillary Clinton when she leaves the Obama administration. Mayor Clinton?

(CROSSTALK)

BROWNSTEIN: Probably not actually.

O'BRIEN: Really?

BROWNSTEIN: Yes I think --

O'BRIEN: New York City is looking for a mayor.

BROWSTEIN: Maybe -- maybe something with a little more beach front property the next two years I think before thinking about Iowa.

O'BRIEN: I don't know, I don't know. You're watching STARTING POINT. We'll take some guesses straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT.

This just in, a school bus carrying children has crashed into a pole. This is Seminole County in Florida. This information from CNN affiliate, WFTV, who spoke to the Florida Highway Patrol. Troopers told them the children were taken off the bus. We have no other details available at this time.

We are trying to get some more details here. We don't know the condition of the kids on the bus or you know what grades they were in either. But this is Seminole County, Florida. A school bus crashes into a pole there.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg wants Hillary Clinton to be his successor. Several New York newspapers report the Mayor called the Secretary of State months ago and urged her to run in 2013. He is said to be convinced that she would win, calling her a perfect fit as well. Mrs. Clinton reportedly told Mayor Bloomberg that she is not interested -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: That's so bad. That would be so interesting.

BROWNSTEIN: She wants a nap.

(CROSSTALK)

SHRUM: Buffalo.

BROWNSTEIN: Grover Cleveland, I think, the last mayor to go from mayor to president. So you know I think -- I think --

O'BRIEN: Do you think she's going to run for president? SHRUM: Maybe she'll run for mayor of Buffalo.

BROWNSTEIN: Maybe she'll run as mayor of Buffalo.

SHRUM: No I think there's a very good chance she'll run for president.

O'BRIEN: Really?

SHRUM: She says she won't. Says she won't. Says she isn't interested. I think she'll take some time off.

BROWNSTEIN: Right.

SHRUM: In about a year from now, she'll begin thinking about this, be very active in the midterms one way or another. And if she runs she's a very, very formidable candidate. I don't think she can take it for granted.

CAIN: Right. She'll be running against the Democratic primary -- Andrew Cuomo.

BROWNSTEIN: That's very interesting you know or Martin O'Malley, the Governor of Maryland. Look, I agree with Bob, I don't think she has any plans to run for president but there's a certain gravity from polls. I mean, if she is going to be ahead 16-15 in Iowa and New Hampshire, maybe that's a loser read but that's going to be a powerful force to resist.

O'BRIEN: I think it's kind of fun to have her as mayor of New York City.

(CROSSTALK)

SHRUM: Women really are invested in this.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes.

O'BRIEN: I do. Female mayor would be great. Why are you laughing?

CAIN: I didn't see Hillary Clinton as mayor of New York, and fun didn't pop to my mind.

BROWNSTEIN: The good side of the transaction maybe.

O'BRIEN: Story I want to share. Getting into a high-ranking prep school could be a hurdle for even the most privileged student. But for a minority student from an underprivileged background it's often considered to be a ticket to a first-class education that can eventually open up many doors. But in an unprecedented documentary an elite private school discovers that gaining admittance is not the same thing as gaining acceptance.

Here's Jason Carroll in our series, "BLACK IN AMERICA".

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Your kind of like you're sitting in a classroom and you realize all of a sudden you really are a minority.

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's a revealing look at a subject few talk openly about, race relation in the elite world of a prep school.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The tragedy of an undiverse place is that you don't have the full sound. Just that there are pieces of the spectrum just missing.

CARROLL: the experience of being admitted, yet feeling like an outcast inspired students at New York's Trinity School to film a documentary called "Allowed to Attend".

Deirdre Banton, now a college freshman, remembers her years at Trinity well.

(on camera): Did you feel like you culturally fit in with the rest of the student there is?

DEIRDRE "DJ" BANTON, TRINITY SCHOOL GRADUATE: Short answer is no. There are some things that are straight up racist, you know. Like the fact that when tuition raised, a lot of people who were on scholarship, were like, a rumor had started that it was all our fault, you know.

Like there are some things straight up racist like where people confused me and my friend Ceecee, who we don't look anything alike, but we're both black.

CARROLL (voice-over): Ben says many of Trinity's black, Latin and Asian students routinely feel socially isolated. The documentary explores the reason why. School administrators supported the project.

JOHN ALLMAN, HEAD OF SCHOOL, TRINITY: We didn't know exactly what they were going to say really but we knew that getting honest, personal stories about experiences here would be fabulous and it's what we really needed.

CARROLL: Trinity alum Clay Wardman says gaining acceptance at prep schools can be tough for any student regardless of race. Trinity is one of the most country's most expensive, tuition running upward of $35,000 per year.

CLAY WARDMAN, TRINITY SCHOOL GRADUATE: It's a product of socioeconomics, which means a product of race, I would say. If you look really at literally what is dividing people, I think money is most of it.

BANTON: But regardless of what the cause is, the discomfort is there. So what you need to take care of is just -- it's like open dialogue.

CARROLL: Banton says she has fond memories of Trinity and is a proud alum. She hopes the dialogue created by the documentary will help all students to feel more than just being "Allowed to Attend". Jason Carroll CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O'BRIEN: My documentary which is called, "WHO IS BLACK IN AMERICA", is the fifth in our series. It's going to premiere this Sunday, December 9, at 8:00 and 11:00 p.m. It focuses on colorism and racism -- only on CNN. You've got to watch it.

Tomorrow on STARTING POINT, we're talking to Stephanie Cutter. She served as the deputy campaign manager for the President's re-election campaign. She told me she was done when this was over. We'll talk about her plans now.

And also the Ohio Congressman Steve Latourette. He's going to join us as well.

"CNN NEWSROOM" with Carol Costello begins right now. I'll see everybody back here tomorrow morning.

Hey Carol, good morning.