Before the M.T.A., I remember Kalikow at The Post
By JERRY TALLMER
In late February or early March of 1988, I stood on the floor of the city room of the New York Post then on South St., just north of the Brooklyn Bridge and, with maybe a hundred other ink-stained (okay, computer-stained) wretches, survivors of close to a dozen near-death experiences of our beloved rag throughout the previous 10 years, listened to the new owner introduce himself.
He was quite a nice-looking man, and his name was Peter Kalikow. At the last minute, when it looked like Rupert Murdoch was going to close us down, here was our savior. Ted Kennedy, a frequent recipient of Murdoch-vilification, had, in the Senate, in the middle of the night, boxed Rupert into a corner, forcing him to dispose of either the newspaper or parallel TV interests and Murdoch was hungry for TV. At that moment of capital punishment for the ancient and honorable journal Dorothy Schiff had sold to Rupert Murdoch, along had come millionaire realtor Kalikow, out of nowhere (more exactly, out of Queens), to tender us renewed life eternal.
Or so it sounded to the troops who had been rallied to the City Room to be addressed by the 45-year-old new publisher. I can only quote from memory, so I wont use quotation marks, but the key sentences went pretty much like this:
My name is Peter Kalikow, and I dont expect to die soon, but when I do die it isnt going to say on my tombstone: He was a man who built a lot of big buildings in Queens. Its going to say: Peter Kalikow was the publisher of The New York Post. And The Post isnt going to die, either; you and I are going to be here a long time, and I just want you to know that.
Very inspiring. Of course we all at that moment forgot the day 10 years earlier that Rupert Murdoch had stood on the floor of that same city room and told the assembled troops: Dont believe anything youve read about me. Im not going to change anything on this newspaper and the very next day, started to change everything, beginning with elimination of the folio (page number) on the back page, so nobody could tell at a glance how few pages there were. Not long after that came the total elimination from The Post of Pulitzer-Prize-winning political cartoonist Herblock, whose sardonic X-ray perceptions of good and evil Murdoch detested.
To the best of my memory, Kalikow didnt do anything like that. In fact I cant remember anything he did editorially, one way or the other; he didnt seem to care, or know, about such matters the skin, blood, bones, and muscle of a newspaper. The heartbeat.
I remember him walking the halls, a lean and hungry, grayish, handsome figure rather (I thought) like Jay Gatsby, always with a couple of henchmen pacing along at his shoulder types you would some years later read about in exposés of the Kalikow-eras mob-linked newspaper circulation scam.
Well, if its going to say on Peter Kalikows tombstone that he was publisher of The New York Post, it will have to add in parentheses (1988-1993), because by 1993 Kalikow was gone.
He left behind a debt of $4.5 million to the government in unpaid (or unforwarded) withholding taxes, and a declaration of bankruptcy cooked up, I have always been convinced, with Murdoch. That bankruptcy ultimately enabled owner redux Murdoch to wipe out the papers contract with the New York Newspaper Guild, force the Post unit into a strike, break the unit, and fire all 287 Guild members one of whom, chairperson Harry Leykis, a scrappy, ultra-loyal Post staffer for 25 years, died of a heart attack not long after. Harry, like all of us, had had many thousands of dollars in severance pay wiped out overnight, thanks to the corporate bankruptcy laws.
Kalikow, who had declared personal bankruptcy two years earlier, went back to his yacht (docked at its pier on his waterfront Montauk estate), and to the vintage automobiles lining his six-car (or was it eight-car?) garage. And I dont know what else he put his hand to.
Until, lo and behold, in July 1994, Gov. George Pataki, to whose election campaign Kalikow and members of Kalikows family had made substantial contributions, appointed him a member of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. On March 13, 2001, Kalikow advanced to the position of chairperson of the authority.
He was, as was widely noted, almost nowhere to be seen during the nerve-wracking pre-New Years Eve days and nights at the Grand Hyatt four months ago when the whole city 7 million bus and subway riders, and certainly all 34,000 transit workers were sweating out a transit strike.
But guess who did show up at the Grand Hyatt one day. Rick Nasti, a vice-president in Kalikows real-estate firm and one of those honchos I used to see pacing through the corridors of The Post at Kalikows shoulder. Rick Nasti, who had pleaded guilty in that aforementioned 1992 circulation scam and had more recently been forced to quit the M.T.A. (where Kalikow had installed him) because of questions about procurement deals there.
This is the Peter S. Kalikow who sat stolidly and silently through the entire outrageous process by which this citys transit fares have just now been jacked up by 33 percent without a public vote or, shall we say, a fare thee well; the same Peter S. Kalikow whose entire response to the state and city comptrollers thunderbolt charges of cooked books and double bookkeeping on the part of an M.T.A. that has misled the public was (to date) that Mr. Hevesis and Mr. Thompsons charges are outrageous . . . political grandstanding.
And who then said no more, except, in answer to various questions from the press (as reported by Joyce Purnick in the Times), a tight-lipped No . . . no . . . no.Tonight as I go home I know Ill see at least one very old lady or very old gentleman haul herself/himself painfully up the steps of a bus and wobble a senior citizens MetroCard slowly into the slot on the fare box. Or Ill see an exhausted cleaning woman from Lower Manhattan collapsed in fury on the I.R.T. on the long voyage home to the Bronx. Or a fat mama with three kids, one of them in a stroller, cramming through a subway door thats snapping at them like a crocodile. When the fare goes up for these people (also for me), I tell you what, Mr. Kalikow. Lets help them out. Lets let them sail to work on your yacht.