After Owner’s Death, Some Wonder on Fate of New York; We Don’t


New York magazine lovingly eulogizes its owner and Lazard CEO, Bruce Wasserstein, who died unexpectedly Tuesday of heart trouble at 61. “When he bought the magazine in 2004, some wondered what he wanted with New York,” they write. “It turned out that he just wanted the best possible future for it, and he had a self-interested desire to be the man who made that happen.”

Warm thoughts, but the New York media world is cold, and talk has quickly turned to who gets the magazine. “It wasn’t immediately clear what Mr. Wasserstein’s death would mean for New York,” says Ad Age. The Observer thinks Wasserstein’s kids may want to hang onto New York, which is now held in a family trust. But the Post, which had previously covered New York‘s declining revenues, claims Wasserstein’s takeover was “seen as a vanity purchase,” suggests that New York may go, in their characteristic way of putting things, “on the block,” and finds someone to say that 2004 bidders Harvey Weinstein and the News‘ Mort Zuckerman may be interested.

One might wonder what Weinstein and Zuckerman would expect to be different this time. In 2004 — more properly, late 2003 — Wasserstein interrupted a bidding war with an offer more than $10 million richer than what others were pitching and took the prize…

With the financial potential of such properties down across the board, if they couldn’t beat the billionaire last time, how could they (and their boards, who would have to go along) expect to convince his estate holders to undo his legacy for whatever they might offer?

As big media players, Zuckerman et alia had reasons to covet New York as a property. But Wasserstein’s seem to have been slightly different. He became known for his financial wizardry and his public-minded stint as a Nader’s Raider, but he apparently viewed journalism as a deferred dream. He had been a high-school newspaperman, and his friend Gordon F. Joseloff, a former journalist, says that he recalled “Bruce telling me about his career and clearly envying mine as a foreign correspondent. At one point he said to me: ‘Gordon, I made more money — but you had more fun.'” Wasserstein’s late sister Wendy was a Pulitzer-Prize-winning playwright, and he may have wondered whether his legacy would be better served by achievements in the life of the mind rather than in the vaults of the banks.

Do his children — one of whom is an accomplished journalist — want to keep New York? A better question might be, why should they sell it? Wasserstein leaves a personal fortune of $2.2 billion. Even if the annual losses on New York are over $5 million, they don’t have to sweat it; unlike Charles Foster Kane, they’re probably Depression-proof, at least compared to the media empires of the allegedly interested parties.

And if money has nothing to do with it, as our own Graham Rayman has shown, ego does. Their father’s obituaries gave nearly as much play to the magazine that didn’t make him money as to the finance career that made him billions. They are probably mindful of how he went out, and how they’ll go on. Image (cc) Wikipedia.