Rupert's Welfare

The New York Post's editorial and opinion page is a place where the sanctity of the free market is practically a religion.

But behind the scenes, the Postis quite content to take government handouts.

Take, for example, the $13 million economic development grant the Pataki administration approved this week for the tabloid.

Why, taxpayers want to know, should part of our hard-earned paychecks pamper the pockets of the paper that's always complaining about everyone else's welfare check? Especially since that paper is owned by billionaire Rupert Murdoch?

To hear the state tell it, the Pataki crew is scared to death that Rupert will take his paper and run to New Jersey. A state spokeswoman claimed there was "a good possibility" that the Post was going to move its printing jobs to Jersey.

So just because Murdoch starts playing job footsie with Christine Todd Whitman, you and I have to fork over millions to help him build a color printing plant in the Bronx?

Please.

Last year, Murdoch's News Corporation had revenues of $11.26 billion. He needs my money about as much Papua New Guinea needs a rainstorm.

The Empire State Development Corporation--the Pataki-picked panel that doles out these pork rinds--is supposed to help companies create jobs.

If Murdoch lives up to his word, this $13 million welfare check will go to create a whopping 100 jobs between now and 2002. That's it: 25 jobs a year. That comes out to $129,000 for every new job--making this the largest handout of its kind in New York State's history.

And if Murdoch doesn't create 100 jobs, how hard do you think George Pataki is going to work to get our dough back?

So much for Republican fiscal responsibility.

Maybe you think it's a coincidence that state money is being handed over to a newspaper in an election year.

Think again. Thanks to the Albany Times-Union, we know how this backroom deal is structured: as part of the Post deal, the state will purchase the Walnut Avenue Depot in the South Bronx from the Metropolitan Transit Authority. The MTA has agreed to ignore critics who say that closing the bus depot there will hinder bus service.

Buying that land will cost taxpayers $11.5 million. The state will then turn around and sell the land for $3.5 million.

Any real estate genius who tried to pull off a deal like that would find himself out on his keister.

The key here is to understand who's buying the land at this discount: a firm called Harlem River Yard Ventures, part of something called the Galesi Group.

You've probably never heard of the Galesi Group, since it's based in Rotterdam. But rest assured that Pataki and his fundraising staff know exactly who Francesco Galesi is.

Back in 1994, Pataki's campaign finance chief, Charles Gargano, was very familiar indeed with Galesi, who gave $15,000 to Pataki's campaign and helped him raise even more. Galesi was so overjoyed at Pataki's victory that he kicked in another $5000 for the governor's inaugural (how many jobs did that create?).

Then in '96, Galesi was one of the big ($25,000) donors to Pataki's pet cause: getting the message to voters that Pataki is an environmentalist--whoops, I mean, getting voters to see the virtues of the environmental bond act.

How does the Pataki administration reward this benefactor? Well, Gargano now heads up economic development for the state, and can express his gratitude by helping Galesi get some very cheap land. Galesi then gets to lease the land to Rupert Murdoch well into the 21st century.

See how nicely this works?

For a moment, it looked like Democrats in the state assembly might put the brakes on the deal. But on Monday, a spokesman for majority leader Sheldon Silver told the Voice that the final approval vote would sail through unanimously.

So everybody's happy, except those of us who want to know why poor little Rupert Murdoch can't pay for his own plant.

And how will the Post ever repay all the state's generosity?

For starters, you can bet your X-Files T-shirt that the Post will endorse Pataki's reelection this fall. And it's also a safe wager that the normally tax-conscious Post won't be spotlighting too many instances of Pataki using our money to pay off his friends.

Only in New York, kids, only in New York.

(With stylistic apologies to Cindy Adams, Andrea Peyser, Ray Kerrison, and, well, pretty much all the Post's columnists.)

Blumenthal Goes Ballistic

The conventional view--especially on the right--is that the online magazine Salonis probably the nation's most Clinton-friendly publication.

Earlier this year, for example, a Washington Times op-ed writer called Salon "a favorite Web site of the Clinton White House." A New York Post editorial this year referred to "the pro-Clinton press machine, writing under the name 'Murray Waas' in the on-line 'zine Salon."

On all matters Whitewater and Lewinsky, the criticism has some basis. But when it comes to ballistic missiles, the White House wants to have Salon bombed.

Recently, top White House aide Sidney Blumenthal--angry at what he thought was a critical Salon article--threatened to cut Salonreporter Murray Waas off from all administration sources. Such strong-arm calls to reporters are not unheard of. But this one was made before Waas's article had even been published.

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