It’s hard to believe we could really get this lucky, but if Mort Zuckerman really wants to run for the Clinton/Gillibrand senate seat there’s an entire regiment of former Daily News reporters who might well cover the race for free.
As one of those who labored in Zuckerman’s vineyard, I say: Run Mort Run!
For starters, Candidate Zuckerman could teach voters how public-private partnerships are the way to go. Since coming to New York from Boston in the 1980s, Zuckerman has put some fabulously successful real estate deals under his belt.
Lesson #1 could be a walk-through of the tangled ancient history of his failed Columbus Circle deal. That’s the one where a newly elected Mayor Giuliani cut a deal to save Zuckerman’s Boston Properties from losing the $34 million deposit it had put down with the MTA as part of its pledge to build a huge tower on the site. Lawsuits and a down market killed that plan. But Zuckerman did not despair. He had just bought the News out of bankruptcy and his new newspaper gave Giuliani some of his sweetest ink in the run-up to the election, plus a strong endorsement from what was then the city’s most-read paper. Son of a gun! A few months later City Hall was working overtime to help out a major city developer, succeeding in getting Zuckerman’s losses reduced by half – to just $17 million.
Since Zuckerman had only paid $36 million for the News, some wags suggested at the time that this meant he had already made back half his investment. Presumably, if Mort gets in the senate race, he’ll set the record straight.
Then there are the pair of immensely successful towers that Zuckerman actually did build. Both are in Times Square, and both went up only with strong support and deep tax breaks awarded by Giuliani and former Governor Pataki, another politician his newspaper had backed for office.
It will also be interesting to see what kind of labor support Candidate Zuckerman gets should he enter the race. When he took over the News, he forged a fast and close relationship with the leaders of the Newspaper and Mail Deliverers Union who gave him their crucial support against several other contending bidders. True, most of those NMDU supporters were later caught up in a massive mob extortion ring, but hey, newspapers have to do business like everyone else, a point the candidate can make on the campaign trial.
The candidate will no doubt have to cope with some sore losers looking for payback. After all, the day that Zuckerman bought the News, he fired half the staff. About 350 workers were sent down to the News’s magnificent old Beaux Arts lobby on 42nd street to pick up an envelope. A thick one meant you still had a job. A thin one meant Sayonara. Some 180 never made it back upstairs. Those of us who got the thick envelopes, however, can attest that after he got the pesky Newspaper Guild union out of his way, he was a generous employer. Yes, he’s been forced to cut health and retirement benefits for workers in recent years, but it’s been tough all over in the news business in case you hadn’t heard.
And then there’s the best part about being a newspaper publisher running for public office: As Orson Welles depicts it so magnificently in Citizen Kane, if you can’t have a huge headline proclaiming “ZUCKERMAN WINS!” on election night, you can always use this one: “FRAUD AT POLLS!“