WO Interviews Richard Norton Smith re: On His Own Terms: A Life of Nelson Rockefeller

 

William O’Shaughnessy 

Exclusive Interview

with

Richard Norton Smith

Historian – Biographer

Re:

On His Own Terms

A Life of Nelson Rockefeller

October 22, 2014

WVOX and WVIP Worldwide

The great historian Richard Norton Smith worked for more than a decade on a monumental biography of our incomparable Westchester neighbor Nelson Rockefeller.

As I read through On His Own Terms:  A Life of Nelson Rockefeller … my mind drifted back over the years to many encounters with this unique and colorful individual who was absolutely sui generis.

We traveled with Westchester’s “Favorite Son” on his Gulfstream, in helicopters and even golf carts and Air Force Two.  And arriving at Westchester Airport, even late at night, he would always head straight for the WVOX microphone.  Indeed, in all his years as governor and vice president, Nelson never shook off or declined an interview with his hometown radio station.

I’ve been widely quoted suggesting that, as a rich man’s son, NAR could have been quite a glorious bum … had he not entered the arena to devote himself so relentlessly and zestfully to public service.

Professor Smith has captured all of this – and a lot more – from Rockefeller’s amazing life … in an extraordinary biography of our dynamic and unforgettable neighbor.  I hope, if you can find a copy, it will commend itself to a place in your personal library.

William O’Shaughnessy:

Good morning ladies and gentlemen.  For the next several minutes while we’re in your care and keeping … a very special guest and a very interesting program – I promise you in advance … you can make book on it.  We’re here in “Rockefeller Country.”  And among our neighbors are the Rockefellers and the most vivid and dazzling one among them was one Nelson Aldrich Rockefeller.  He was governor of New York for four terms.  He was vice president of the United States.  He built Rockefeller Center, and the United Nations.  Across the microphone this day is his biographer –  the legendary historian Richard Norton Smith.  Mr. Smith, we welcome you again to Rockefeller country.  Your brand new book is called On His Own Terms:  A Life Of Nelson Rockefeller.  But I’ve got to tell you … I thought I would never live long enough to see it finally published. How did you do it?

Richard Norton Smith:

Well, you know, Bill, all good things come to those who wait, right.  Fourteen years in the making!  I’d like to think it took 14 years to get it right.  It is a huge story, a huge life.  Colorful.  Controversial.  Relevant.    One of the things, that practically anyone who has ever done research will appreciate … I was writing the story even as the Rockefeller Archives were opening up and I promptly tore up the first 70,000 pages of my original manuscript.

WO:

Why?

RNS:

Well, the keepers of the Family archives opened up 120 boxes of a collection within the Collection marked “Family and Friends.”  Well, you can imagine, that’s the gold!  For example, there were over 100 letters from Nelson’s first wife exchanged with Nelson during their courtship.  And among other things it allows us, I think for the first time, to know Mary Todhunter Clark Rockefeller as a three dimensional figure … a young woman who harbored real doubts about whether she wanted to marry Nelson … whether Nelson wanted to marry her.  I’ve often said if it was a Hitchcock movie and you’re in the audience, you’d be shouting at the screen:  “Don’t go in that room!” because, unfortunately, we know how it turned out.  Good history is all about humanizing the past.  It isn’t simply immersing yourself into the past … that’s part of it.  But it’s also about putting a human face on people and events who are otherwise frozen in textbooks.  That takes time.  And Nelson was a very elusive figure.  Nelson Rockefeller was an incredibly complex man who made it his business to appear simple.  One of his children was quoted as saying “We only wish we knew him as well as the people of New York.”  The people of New York thought they knew him.  This blintz-eating, back-slapping, tax-raising, force of nature who was, as you say, the governor for 15 years much as Franklin Roosevelt was the president for 12 years.  There’s still a whole generation of New Yorkers who equate this man with the office.

WO:

Professor Richard Norton Smith … historian Richard Norton Smith, these proceedings, as we welcome you back to Westchester – Rockefeller Country – are greatly enhanced by the presence of the star feature-columnist of the Gannett papers – The Journal News – it would be a bowling alley without him!  His name is Phil Reisman.  And also we welcome the familiar voice of our talk show host Michael Dandry, who is also quite influential with the Westchester County Press, the county’s only Black-owned newspaper and some think – although they’ve never admitted it – that he actually writes the “Snoopy Allgood” column that terrorizes all the local politicians.  Also, at my left, across from you in our studio in Westchester this morning is Nancy King, the editor of the Westchester Guardian weekly newspaper.  And we’re to be joined shortly by Dan Murphy, the editor-in-chief of Mr. Sprayregan’s The Rising weekly publications. 

Phil Reisman, you’ve written a lot about local politicians.  Do you ever see anything like Nelson Rockefeller around today?

Phil Reisman:

Well, I was going to ask Richard that question because we have a debate tonight between two – three – gubernatorial candidates, including the Green Party guy.  What would Rockefeller make of modern day elections … including, perhaps, this one going on right now?

RNS:

It’s a fair question.  Unfortunately, it’s a question I can’t answer, obviously because I have enough trouble trying to make sense out of the past without projecting into the future.  One thing I am pretty confident in though … he would still be the optimist to end all optimists.  I mean the contrast between his brand of politics – forget ideology for a moment – just the way he approached problem-solving.  He would be the first to tell you he’s a pragmatist.  He was not an ideologue.  But more important than that, he believed every problem had a solution.  And the contrast between then and now – when there’s such pervasive cynicism, much of it masked as apathy, because it’s a notion that government – forget ideology again – isn’t working.  It isn’t even talking about the problems.  I mean, there’s a consensus out there about a lot of the major issues we confront and there’s this dichotomy between that kind of unarticulated public consensus and the seeming total inability of government – right, left, liberal, conservative – to address those issues.  There’d be none of that with Rockefeller. 

PR:

There was an interesting story today about the American public’s lack of faith in institutions.  He was a creator of institutions. 

RNS:

He was a creator of institutions. 

PR:

Especially and obviously in this State. 

RNS:

He was a “Roosevelt Republican.”  And I mean both Theodore and Franklin.  It’s no secret he got his start, ironically, at the age of 32 when Franklin Roosevelt – obviously the leading Democrat in America – plucked the scion of the leading Republican family in America to run Latin America for him.

Michael Dandry:

Well, Vincent Astor probably put in a good word for him at that point!!

WO:

We’re talking about Nelson Aldrich Rockefeller, the book is called On His own Terms:  A Life Of Nelson Rockefeller with Richard Norton Smith who wrote it.  He spent 14 years of his life.  Professor Smith – do you think you got him?

RNS:

I think I came closer than anyone has.  I think that’s an honest answer to you.  Again, as I say … I’ll tell you a Eureka moment when I thought “I’ve Got Him!”  There’s a pattern. If you remember when everyone thought he was going to run in ’60 against Nixon and Nelson surprised everyone at the last minute by not running.  And then in March of ’68 … everybody thought he was going to jump in when Romney pulled out and he surprised everyone by not going.  Now, he got back in a month later – urged on, by the way – by Lyndon Johnson.  But in any event, there is the famous incident where he didn’t go to Attica.  Now on the face of it, all of those incidents run counter to everything else we know about Nelson Rockefeller who was the most assertive, involved … you name it …

WO:

Dynamic …

RNS:

Yes, dynamic, problem solving.  And it was interesting, the subject the Rockefeller people didn’t want to talk about – and I talked to 150 people  for this book – was, overwhelmingly … the one subject was Attica.  And it wasn’t because they necessarily condemned what he did or didn’t do, they didn’t understand.  They didn’t understand what it was.  OK … so I started looking for … is there any kind of theory?  Is there something that unites all of these seemingly inexplicable lapses about what we think we know about Rockefeller.  One of the things I found amazing was that  Nelson in his last years was $10 million in hock to his trust. 

MD:

That bears repeating … it’s encouraging to me personally.  He was in debt!

RNS:

He decided he would write a memoir.  The book never got written, but he wrote over 500 pages of oral history with his great friend Hugh Morrow, his very trusted communications director.  So what you got was this very intimate, revealing autobiographical sketch.  At one point there was a quote that absolutely jumped off the page at me in which he – apropos of nothing in particular – said “When I got to a point I didn’t feel confident of being in control, I was never reluctant to step back and wait until a time when I thought I could be in control.”  Control and creativity are the two buzz words you want to keep in mind.  He was not a politician who collected art.  He was a frustrated artist for whom government – not politics – but government afforded him the opportunity to create and control his environment.  That’s what the South Mall is all about. 

WO:

Does that not sound a little bit like our current governor, Phil Reisman? Nancy King …. ?

Nancy King:

It does sound a little like our current governor.  But … again, control should be Andy Cuomo’s middle name.  With that being said, I do understand the complexity. What I take away from the story of Nelson Rockefeller was that with his complexity and in his need to control and to coordinate and to build and solve problems, there was always an inner doubt of himself.  I don’t know whether it was his dyslexia, his disabilities or where he fit in the family hierarchy, but I always found he was striving for something he couldn’t inherently reach. 

RNS:

And this is what humanizes … Nelson Rockefeller.  The last word in the world most people would apply to him as vulnerable.  And he was sure of that.  But the fact of the matter is George Hinman, his great political advisor from Binghamton and sort of his ambassador to the Republican Party, explained it once to Ann Whitman who was his executive assistant – she had been Dwight Eisenhower’s secretary.  Hinman had a theory and it’s as good as any and that is he never got over his exposure to Franklin Roosevelt.  He wasn’t running against John Kennedy or Richard Nixon.  It was the ghost of Franklin Roosevelt. 

NK:

Who was a tortured soul in and of himself.

RNS:

But he was this larger than life, defining figure …

MD:

Didn’t he go so far as to create a think tank around him to help solve problems.  That’s the big difference between Andrew Cuomo and Rob Astorino.  Andrew Cuomo still has Larry Schwartz as his think tank.  Is that fair?

RNS:

He was a moving think tank!

MD:

He hired people and he didn’t care whether they were Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal to actually scientifically solve problems. 

RNS:

Part of that goes back to the dyslexia.  He never heard the word dyslexia until he was 50 years old.  He went through life thinking he had a deficient IQ.  And his mother said: surround yourself with people who are smarter than you are … which helps to explain the think tank and the gurus.

WO:

You know what’s interesting … here it is 2014. We’re sitting here on this Wednesday in Westchester talking about Nelson Rockefeller – a man who left us how many years ago?

RNS:

WO:

1979 … he would have been 106!  And he’s still relevant.  Why, professor?

RNS:

He’s still relevant for a number of reasons.  Some of it is nostalgia for “The Man Who Gets Things Done.”  How many times during the rebuilding of the World Trade Center site did you hear people say “Oh gosh … maybe Robert Moses wasn’t so bad after all!”  Or … “Nelson Rockefeller would have gotten this done.”  And you know what?  He probably would have.  It’s kind of a posthumous triumph, because Nelson really, genuinely, passionately believed solving problems took precedence over ideological purity.  There are millions and millions of Americans who would not use the phrase – either because they’re not familiar with it or because they’d be uncomfortable with it – but who are in fact “Rockefeller Republicans.”  The great Meade Esposito explained in a nutshell the reason he never became president was because he was too liberal for the Republicans and too conservative for the Democrats.  Nelson himself said he had a Republican head and a Democratic heart.  Guess what?  That’s not a bad reflection of where the middle of the road is – and there is still a middle of the road – in this country.

WO:

His name is Richard Norton Smith – the great historian. Random House calls his new book On His Own Terms “magisterial.”  I call it monumental.  How many pages is it?

RNS:

Well, the text is 721 pages.  And then there’s 101 pages of footnotes and sources. 

WO:

Phil Reisman, you ask the tough questions and I ask the good ones … 

PR:

I have a million questions about Nelson Rockefeller … but you eluded to the “rosebud” of Governor Cuomo which we often discuss … his complicated relationship with his father.  How did Nelson get along with his father and how did that shape him?

RNS:

It’s fascinating.  He was his mother’s son.  Abby Aldrich Rockefeller today would have been the candidate.  She was the daughter of Senator Nelson Aldrich, the Republican leader of the United States Senate from Rhode Island.  But more than that, she was this larger than life, ebullient life force.  I said she combined the better qualities of Mabel Dodge, Margaret Sanger and Auntie Mame!  The Museum of Modern Art is her creation handed off to Nelson in many ways.  She handed a lot off to Nelson.  She told him as a boy that he can be president of the United States.  His ebullience – his openness to new ideas and new people, his curiosity about how ordinary people lived – he got all of that from Abby.  His father – he was more like his father than he knew or let on.   His father used to say “Never show more surface than necessary.”

WO:

Professor Smith … you’ve got almost 900 pages.  Did you have to be a little diplomatic.  Did you do a little discreet “editing” … ?

RNS:

You always edit.  I suspect what you’re referring to are some of the more “scandalous” – I don’t think that’s too strong a word – parts of the story.  Particularly the private life.  Look …

MD:

The psycho-sexual chapters …?

RNS:

You don’t spend 14 years of your life unless you want to do an honest, comprehensive account.

WO:

Did you find out in those 14 years a lot of things people don’t generally know?

RNS:

Oh … sure.  Two weeks after he was dumped from the ticket in 1976 by Gerald Ford, he was on the phone to Hubert Humphrey and George Meade. They were on the phone to him asking if he would consider changing parties and be the Democratic nominee for president in 1976.  That’s one for instance.  And another … John Lindsay and Nelson Rockefeller were put on this planet to piss each other off.

NK:

They sure were …

RNS:

The results were historic!   And colorful!  It’s easy to say a plague on both your houses.  Lindsay used to refer to Nelson’s apartment on Fifth Avenue as Berchtesgaden. 

WO:

Why did he call it that, professor?

RNS:

Well … because of the dominance Nelson had.  It was famously said that Nelson owned one political party and leased the other.  But as I said, the rental was not very high. 

WO:

Richard Norton Smith … what did Rockefeller call Lindsay?

RNS:

He called Lindsay a lot of things.  He used to repeat the story to one of his commissioners that if Lindsay wasn’t so tall and good-looking, he’d be pushing a mop and broom somewhere.  The dichotomy between these two … John Lindsay was the perfect television pol.  He was the epitome of charisma.  Nelson was a policy wonk before the term was invented.  He said “I wish John would stick to the stage and leave the governance to me.”  That in a nutshell sums up how he viewed Lindsay.

WO:

But, Professor, they were both great with people.  Late in life I walked through the town – about 20 blocks – with John Lindsay and still the bums in the street, the people, the crossing guards – he was like a rock star late in life.

RNS:

They had so much in common.  They were both extraordinarily gifted, natural street campaigners.  I mean, you go back to October 1, 1958, the birth of a legend.  It was Louis Lefkowitz’s idea.

WO:

Louis Lefkowitz was …?

RNS:

He was the “People’s Lawyer … the attorney general in New York.  It was entering the last month of Nelson’s first campaign for governor against Averell Harriman who was an admirable stiff.  Let’s be honest. 

PR:

And a rich one …

MD:

From a comparable side of society …

RNS:

Absolutely … In fact there was a great line.  One of the joys of this book was reading seven or eight daily newspapers from those days.  They had wonderful columnists.  One of them came up with a great line.  He suggested that Averell Harriman’s campaign slogan should be:  “Don’t switch multi-millionaires in mid-stream!” 

RNS:

It was Louis Lefkowitz who suggested:  Let’s go down to the lower East Side and eat some blintzes.  And the rest is history.  No one knew it was going to take off the way it did.  But it turned out that Nelson Rockefeller … including everyone who noticed – including even Nelson Rockefeller – they saw what a natural campaigner he turned out to be.

WO:

Was it genuine?  Did he really like it?

RNS:

It was genuine.  He did like it.  He was fascinated by how real people lived their lives.  He had enormous curiosity which is the first thing any successful pol is going to have.  You can fake sincerity … but you can’t fake curiosity.

WO:

This book On His Own Terms just came out yesterday.  We’re grateful to the elders of Random House for giving us Professor Norton Smith on the very next day.  Boy, they’ve got some schedule for you.  You’re going to need a Joe Canzeri, who was Rockefeller’s colorful advance man, to organize your life for the next several months.  Professor … tell us … it’s on everyone’s mind so let’s get it out of the way.  The night he met his Maker.  The night he departed for another and we are sure, a better world, to quote Malcolm Wilson of sainted memory.

RNS:

Well … I decided first of all, that the real story, and I get it … I’m a historian, I think there are two significant historical questions, if you will.  The first of course is could he have been saved?  Could anything different happened?  Did he die needlessly?  And I concluded, having done a lot of new interviews, a lot of archival research, that the answer to that is No.

WO:

Set the scene for us …

RNS:

One  of the things people do not know is that Nelson Rockefeller’s health had seriously deteriorated …  that he himself believed he was about to die. 

MD:

It brought on some depression also …

RNS:

Yes … but he had a very serious heart condition.  There was evidence of that for several months.  He tried to keep it basically to himself.  He couldn’t keep it from Happy. He couldn’t keep it from people like Joe Canzeri.  I personally – and I’m not a doctor – believe he would have died that night wherever he was.  He was that close. He had talked to, for example, one of Happy’s children just a couple of nights before he died – out of the blue, he was having dinner with her – he said that he wasn’t afraid to die, but he was sorry to have to leave everyone.  I mean he was clearly putting his house in order. 

WO:

You have a haunting line in your book … it won’t be long now!

RNS:

I talked to Mrs. Rockefeller … I talked to Happy about that night and he had gone to the Buckley School.  There was a fundraiser … Henry Kissinger spoke.  The Buckley School … attended by both of his sons. 

Then they went home and had dinner.  After which he called Megan to meet him.  They were finishing up work on a modern art book.  He told Happy the boys are fine.  I love you and I won’t be long.  Was that a foreshadowing?  Who knows? 

WO:

Professor … then he went off to his townhouse …

RNS:

Right, which is several blocks away on 54th Street. 

WO:

Can you tell us for certain what happened that night?

RNS:

The story I tell begins with the 911 call because the story – in my estimation – is of the cover-up which was hastily improvised and very quickly unraveled.  And the significance of that is this … in my view, that’s the night the press attitude permanently changed about what was public and what was private. 

WO:

What do you mean?

RNS:

In the old days … however defined … a potentially embarrassing, essentially private situation, would have been treated as such.  The fact of the matter is

MD:

Roosevelt and Kennedy!

RNS:

Even then, frankly, had Megan Marshack not climbed into the ambulance and gone to the hospital, she would have been lost to history and the story would have been whatever the family wished it to be.  But … the late Al Marshall, who was one of Nelson’s deputy governors, told me he got a call from someone very high up in the New York Times – who shall remain for the moment nameless – who was quite angry because Hugh Morrow had gone out from the hospital thinking he would spare the family embarrassment.

WO:

This is the PR man?

RNS:

The PR man … the communications director.  And he basically concocted the story that Nelson had died at Rockefeller Center.  The New York Times was so outraged at being out and out lied to … they saw to it that the 911 call was subjected to electronic analysis.  And if you remember – no reason for you to remember – but the story is there were in fact two transcripts of the 911 call and gradually it surfaced that there were other people involved.  The mystery deepened.  There was clearly some internal debate going on within the family as to how much we should reveal.  Then the Will was revealed and it indicated he had forgiven Miss Marshak a significant loan that she used to buy her condo apartment just down the street from his townhouse.  Anyway, the whole thing, in effect, unraveled.  What no one ever knew was the pre-existing medical condition. And in some ways had they been more open, had they been more forthcoming at the time, then the urban legend might not have taken hold.  The sad thing was that for a generation, for several years at least, it defined him.  That’s terribly unfair.  No one deserves to be remembered for the worst hour of their lives. 

MD:

It sure canceled out the Rockefeller Mall in Albany.

PR:

Is Megan Marshak still around and does she talk about this ever?

RNS:

As you can imagine, I wrote to her and got no response, which doesn’t surprise me.  My understanding is she is married and living in California.  She’d be about 60 now. 

WO:

My mind drifts back … Professor Richard Norton Smith when … as a young man … I was a great admirer – still am – of Nelson Aldrich Rockefeller and Newsweek published a letter from me suggesting that the incidental details of a man’s passing are meaningless and irrelevant.  Happy sent me a note:   … “Good friends rally ’round when life turns sad and difficult.”  Where is Happy with all this?

RNS:

I don’t know … you know I talked with her.  She was very gracious at the onset.  I spent a day with her. I’ll tell you a wonderful story.  It goes to the heart of who he was.  She gave me a tour of Kykuit and then took me down to the Japanese house, the house he had built for their retirement.  And I had been told by someone in a position to know that Nelson kept his mother’s ashes in the house, in Kykuit.  And I thought, well, what have I got to lose?  Every Rockefeller house is built with the same floor plan.  When you walk in on the right, it’s mother’s room.  And on the left is father’s room.  And sure enough, there’s an urn in one corner that looks suspiciously like a funeral urn.  So I ask Mrs. Rockefeller, and she said “Oh … that’s true.”  I said really? … how can that be?  Because obviously, there was a funeral and they had Abby’s ashes interred in the family cemetery on the estate.  “Oh … Nelson just reached in and grabbed a handful.”  Now, that tells me two things:  It tells me there was an almost childlike impulsiveness, lack of self consciousness – which among other things helped to explain why he was such an incredible campaigner in any situation he found himself in.  But it also told me there was a sense of entitlement that borders on the bizarre.  Could be arrogant.  Could be however you want to characterize it.  But those qualities co-existed.  And it helped me to begin to understand how much I didn’t know about Nelson Rockefeller.   But let me tell you this … Nelson loved Happy until the day he died … loved her and admired her … and had enormous respect for Happy’s judgment about people and especially her very good instincts about the people on the streets, which to Nelson was priceless.

WO:

His name is Richard Norton Smith.  We’re here in our Westchester studios with Michael Dandry of the Westchester County Press … Nancy King of the Westchester Guardian and The Great Phil Reisman of Gannett’s Journal News.  Should we take a couple of calls?  They’re lining up … for an interesting guest.  You’re on the air with Professor Richard Morton Smith, the great historian.

Caller

Good morning … the conversation this morning is fascinating.  And I’m a fan of Richard Norton Smith.  I’ve been watching you for many years on C-SPAN … and PBS.  Can we just go back … like 14 years ago.  You could have written about anybody, researched anyone.  Why Nelson Rockefeller of all people?

RNS:

It’s a great question.  If you’ve ever heard … it sounds so presumptuous, but once in a while there is the book you are born to write.   The book opens with that amazing scene at the Cow Palace in July of 1964 where Rockefeller is almost  booed off the stage.  Well, I was ten years old and a very odd child.  An oddly precocious child …

WO:

How so …?

RNS:

At the age of ten Nelson Rockefeller was my political hero and then four years later in ’68, at 14, I was actually in the convention, on the floor carrying my Rockefeller sign knowing we were going to lose to Richard Nixon.  And then years later … look at what I went on to do.  I worked in the Ford White House when Rockefeller was vice president.  I worked for a number of years for Bob Dole who replaced him on the ticket and who, in fact, employed Nelson Rockefeller, Jr.. 

WO:

Didn’t you also run the Abraham Lincoln Museum and Library?

RNS:

Yes … I’ve run several presidential libraries.  But before I got in to the library business, my career traced the decline of liberal Republicans.  I worked for Ed Brooke for a couple of years.  Ed Brooke was the senator from Massachusetts.  The first African-American senator and a classic Rockefeller Republican.  So the answer to the question is … and I guess this is a subject that had bewitched me for most of my life and it was also an opportunity to tell a history of the Republican Party over the last 50 years.  If you want to explain the origins of the Tea Party, go back to that night in the Cow Palace when Nelson was up there denouncing extremism and in particular the John Birch Society.  And, quite frankly, it’s not a long stretch from the Birchers to the Birthers.  The modern Republican Party arguably was born that night.  The next morning, it was a different party.  It was Barry Goldwater’s party.

WO:

Didn’t Nelson also create the Conservative Party?

RNS:

Yes … in many ways the Conservative Party was created by those who didn’t originally see themselves as taking over the Republican Party.  They were themselves on the right playing the role the Liberal Party traditionally played on the left which was moving the center of gravity in their direction and exerting influence and patronage to them.  They had no idea they’d be electing a United States senator in less than a decade … James Buckley.

WO:

Professor Norton Smith … didn’t Rockefeller and Barry Goldwater make up toward the end?

RNS:

They did.  First of all, they had more in common,, always.  Militant anti-Communists.  Rockefeller became more conservative in his later years.  There’s no doubt about it.  And of course, Goldwater, who would go on to become sort of every Democrats favorite conservative, particularly on issues like Gay Rights …  Barry Goldwater became the classic Libertarian who had very little truck with the religious right in the Republican and Conservative coalition.  So each man had his own odyssey.  But it is true that before Nelson died … when Chiang Kai-shek died, Nelson, as vice president, was condemned to go to the funeral … Barry Goldwater went with him … and after about six Dubonets crossing the Pacific, they discovered they had a whole lot more in common than they realized.

WO:

And didn’t Barry Goldwater sit in the very last row at Riverside Church?

RNS:

One of the more poignant scenes at the memorial service … Barry Goldwater slipped in unseen, unrecognized, and sat in the back pew.  But even more poignant than that, the one person Happy Rockefeller saw that week:  Richard Nixon was in town to visit his daughter Tricia who was about to have her child and he detoured and went up to Pocantico.  He spent two hours telling Happy what a great man Nelson was.  Wouldn’t you have loved to be a fly on that wall? 

MD:

I’m trying to put this in a big historical perspective with parameters around it.  We’re really talking about Nelson Rockefeller and Ed Michaelian and Bill O’Shaughnessy’s, Republicans For Cuomo.  These were Main Street Republicans in Brooks Brothers suits.  Is that fair to say … that don’t exist anymore.  The elite of the Republican Party?  Attorneys … bankers … broadcasters ?

RNS:

One line that you’ll never hear.  It goes to what kind of Republican he was.  Nelson Rockefeller said, “I believe if you don’t have a good education and good health, then society has let you down.”  You don’t hear that from many Republicans today.

NK:

And if they were to say that, they would be automatically branded at this point a socialist or a “RINO – a Republican in Name Only.” 

PR:

It’s also different from the New Democrat.  They don’t talk that language either.

RNS:

The irony is Barack Obama is probably for the right – operationally – of Nelson Rockefeller.  The center of gravity in this country has moved so far to the right.

PR:

What was his attitude in terms of tax policy to the richest New Yorkers?

RNS:

He is a Theodore Roosevelt Republican.  You might say he’s a Disraeli Republican. Because what Disraeli did in Britain and TR … what FDR did in this country … Nelson explained once – there was someone who noticed he had an autographed picture of FDR on his desk and he said “He was a great man.”  And he explained why he was a great man.  “He understood you have to give people hope.  And beyond that, you have to give people a stake in the private economy.  It’s great to have a robust private economy.  But if that economy is bursting at the seams with social inequities…” Sound familiar?  Sound contemporary?  “Then you’re risking revolution.”  And the genius of Theodore Roosevelt and FDR … they may have been from different parties, but they had the same instincts.  They were wealthy men who understood you had to share the wealth.  And everyone had to credibly believe they could succeed in this society.  That the rules were not stacked against them, etc., etc., etc.  And then and only then … in some ways, you could call him the original Compassionate Conservative. 

WO:

I would call this fabulously (to use Nelson’s favorite word) interesting program: “Where Once Giants Walked The Land.” 

PR:

Yes … I was just curious … again in terms of State income tax and things like that … was he in favor of a progressive tax?  Today our governor doesn’t really want …

RNS:

Here’s the thing.  People use the term “Rockefeller Republican” as though it’s monolithic.  Business Week praised him for having the courage to raise taxes, to close the gap left by Averell Harriman.  That was the definition of fiscal responsibility.  By the end of his first term, people were beginning to notice and rethink the term “fiscal responsibility.”  And yet, you know what, every four years the voters of New York had an opportunity to change hands.  He starts out 30 points behind.  What did he do?  In that campaign he convinced New Yorkers that taxes were well spent.  Can you imagine doing that.  He created SUNY. 

NK:

With his frustrated architectural designs …

MD:

Yes, and the MTA …

RNS:

New York State spent more money fighting water pollution in the mid-60’s than the federal government did in ’49.  People saw results.  And they equated their taxes with the Long Island Railroad.  It was easy to laugh, but the fact is he took a terrible railroad and he made it a decent railroad.

NK:

And that’s exactly how you go back to how he solved a problem.  It was always through development and he couldn’t stay on budget.  And so he said let’s build it.  Let’s fix it.  We’ll build it.

RNS:

He looked into the future.  SUNY was all about … down the road we’re going to need not only this many graduates … but this kind of graduates.  We are today suffering from a deficit in the sciences and math and there’s not a Rockefeller.  It was preventive government.  It was not reactive government. 

WO:

I get a flash of deja vu, Richard Norton Smith … take us to Binghamton and Bob Dole.  Did Nelson really give somebody the finger?

RNS:

Yes … Malcolm Wilson, who had a very dry sense of humor, said, “Oh, I’m sure he got his fingers mixed up.  I’m sure he intended to give him a thumbs up!”

WO:

But did he really give someone the finger? 

PR:

There’s a photograph of it!

RNS:

Oh yes … he did it.  You can see Dole in the background.

MD:

Well, by then the whole world was liberated. 

WO:

But that was scandalous.  Was he vice president then?

RNS:

He was vice president … and not only that, but he was inundated with copies of the picture.  Someone on the staff told me they went in and found him one day signing pictures.  And they said, “Mr. Vice President … you can’t sign those pictures.”  He said why not?  He said he  got more mail, more positive mail after that than anything since that night in the Cow Palace! 

PR:

Don’t you wonder what one of those autographed pictures would go for today?

WO:

Richard Norton Smith … how old are you now, professor?

RNS:

I’m 61.

WO:

You told us that at the age of ten, Nelson Aldrich Rockefeller, about whom you’ve written On His Own Terms so beautifully for Random House – it just came out yesterday – was your hero when you were ten.    You put 14 years of your life into it.  Is Nelson still your hero?

RNS:

It’s like marriage.  Can you imagine after 14 years of marriage, would you emerge from that with the same views?  I would put it a little differently.   I would say he has not lost any of his fascination.  If anything, he is more complex.  More nuanced.  More significant.  That’s how I would put it.

WO:

He can also almost still light up a damn room!  When you were coming in today there was a buzz here at the radio station I used to call his “hometown” stations.  It was almost like Nelson was going to walk in the damn place.  He dedicated this building a long time ago.  And he finished his last night campaigning for governor in the back seat of our mobile unit careening around in lower Manhattan.  I remember we stopped at an Automat.  He was hungry down in Chinatown someplace.  I miss those days.  I miss him …

RNS:

It’s curious.  I think people sensed, paradoxically perhaps, a sense of authenticity about the guy.

WO:

What do you mean?

RNS:

They thought he was real.  Cab drivers and bartenders.  He was “Rocky!”  You know …?

NK:

And I also think there was a fascination with the Rockefellers, the Standard Oil history.  There were fascinated with the wealth of that gilded era.  And I think that’s also what drew people to him.  Was the fascination only to find he was only “amiable” …?

RNS:

He knew that.  He knew the fourth multiplier that the name had.  That the legend had.  But he also knew he really liked people.  And by simply being himself …

WO:

We ask you this as a historian, Professor Smith.  Is there anybody around today, abroad in the land in the body politic, that they’ll be writing about when they’re 106?  Anybody?  Where once giants …?

RNS:

In the American political universe?

WO:

Yes …

RNS:

No.

WO:

Do you think anybody will write of Barack Obama?

RNS:

You know … it’s impossible to say about a sitting president … he’s certainly a historic figure.  And of course, we don’t know what the next two years holds.  Or beyond.  Because, as Jimmy Carter has demonstrated, there are presidents whose greatest contributions come after they leave office.  Who knows …?

MD:

And Gerald Ford is in a brand new light the last few years. 

RNS:

History does have a way of …

PR:

Somebody just wrote about Calvin Coolidge.

RNS:

You know why? You could take Coolidge seriously after you’d had Reagan.  It’s that kind of small government … Jeffersonian small government.  In other words, Arthur Schlesinger are you listening … there is more than one model of presidential success than the one Arthur Schlesinger told us about.

WO:

Professor Richard Norton Smith … what is your next project?  Your next gig?  You put 14 years into Nelson Aldrich Rockefeller.

RNS:

Well, logically in many ways, I think logically enough!

WO:

You’re not going to run another dumb museum, are you?

RNS:

I’m going to take the next six years – someone has very generously put aside sufficient funds to allow me to concentrate on a biography of Gerald Ford which has not really been done.  I mean a full-scale, bio, particularly since his passing.  And I think people better be prepared for some surprises.

WO:

He really didn’t trip coming out of that airplane?

RNS:

Well, he tripped for the best of reasons, you know.  He was holding an umbrella over his wife.  And the sole of his shoe came undone.

WO:

What are you going to going to call your biography of Gerald Ford?  

RNS:

Don’t know.  I will tell you … it’s funny.  Before I wrote word one, I had a title for this book about Nelson.  And in all the years I’ve been writing, this is the first time I ever got the title I wanted.  On His Own Terms.  Because I think, in a nutshell, it goes to the heart – for better and worse – on how Nelson Rockefeller approached life. 

WO:

Professor, you have an amazing life.  You’re a teacher.  Do you miss the classroom?

RNS:

No … no.  I get to teach on C-SPAN.  Writing a book is another form of instruction. 

WO:

Do you write everyday?  No … but I write in longhand.  And I have a long-suffering typist.  No portion of this book went through less than 50 drafts which is one reason it took 14 years. 

PR:

You must have great handwriting. 

RNS:

She’s the only one that can read it.  She’s amazing! 

MD:

He’s too young to have the Palmer method I had … and Bill had.

WO:

His name is Richard Norton Smith, historian.  And his new book – it came out just yesterday – I know it’s on Amazon already and it’s in the bookstores as well:  On His Own Terms.  Like I said … Random House … I guess there’s no better publishing house … called it a “magisterial” book.  O’Shaughnessy called it a “monumental” book.  But like I said at the beginning, with you having these detours to take over museums, Richard, I really thought I’d never live long enough to see it.

RNS:

Well, we both reached our goal, Bill O’Shaughnessy.

WO:

Phil Reisman … I’ll give you the last question. 

PR:

Now you’re putting pressure on me for the last question!  Did Rockefeller have a sense of humor about himself? 

RNS:

He did …

PR:

What about all those impressionists who did those marvelous “Rocky” impressions of him because he had that nasal gravelly, distinct voice. 

RNS:

He had a sense of political theatre.  He understood.  The whole blintz-eating thing early was pure theatre.  He was Rocky!  That was a public persona.  There was a whole lot more than that.  You have to have a sense of humor to play that role

MD:

And yet he hid a lot of his personality in the sense I don’t think people understood the depth of his love of modern art and everything about his personal possessions.  He wasn’t just a traditional, very wealthy man with Chippendale furniture. 

RNS:

Dubonnet and Oreo cookies.  That was his idea of gourmet dining. 

WO:

Michael speaks of his love of art.  Don’t you have a thing in your book about Nelson keeping the pope waiting one day while in Rome?

RNS:

Actually, he kept the British prime minister and the pope waiting because he was in art museums …

WO:

Did he apologize?

RNS:

I don’t think so.  He had his priorities.  The late, great R.W. Apple – Johnny Apple – told me the story about most candidates out on the road … they’ll stay up … they’ll drink – some will chase skirts.  Nelson would get up at six in the morning and have the local art museum opened up so he could go through it. That was his idea of an “excursion.” 

WO:

We’ve shared a lot of stories in the last hour while we’re in your care and keeping, ladies and gentlemen.  This has been an historic program about an historic Westchester neighbor.  Professor, you honor us with your presence.  We’ll have you back in six years to talk about the Gerald Ford book.  It’s a wonderful book, this Rockefeller book … the one you were born to write.  There’s a lot of you in this book and we’ve just touched on it.  There’s so many more wonderful stories. 

RNS:

Can I tell you a last, quick one.  I’ll give you an idea of the relationship between him and Don Rumsfeld which was hostile, to put it mildly.  So hostile … you said he had a sense of humor – well Nelson in the early morning, when he was vice president, would walk by Rumsfeld’s office and open the doors and shout:  “Rummy … you’re never going to be vice president!” 

WO:

They say Chaney and Rumsfeld hated him.  They tried to thwart him in every way. 

RNS:

They were not “allies” – to put it mildly. 

WO:

But why? 

RNS:

Some of it was ideological.  Gerald Ford came into office under a unique set of circumstances.  The right wing never really trusted him.  His selection of Nelson Rockefeller alienated them further. And Rumsfeld believed – not surprisingly – that part of his job was to reconcile the right wing of the party and that would not be advanced by doing what the vice president wanted.

WO:

Did you talk to Rumsfeld or Chaney for the book?

RNS:

Yes … I talked to both of them.  Yes.  They’re friends.  I’ve known them for a number of years because of my Ford connections. 

WO:

Do they still hold it against him?

RNS:

Well, a rather poignant moment happened before Laurance Rockefeller died … he gave the ranch out in Jackson Hole to the People of the United States.  And who accepted on behalf of the People of the United States …  Vice President Dick Cheney.

WO:

There’s a lot more … it’s called On His own Terms.  A Life Of Nelson Rockefeller. The author is Richard Norton Smith.  The publisher is Random House.  I was up half the night last night and I’ll be up again tonight.  Thank you, sir.  Thank you Phil Reisman, Michael Dandry and Nancy King.  And Dan Murphy of the Rising chain of weeklies awaits in the next studio. 

Damn, but I still miss Nelson … especially every day when I walk by the plaque at our front door which went up in the 70’s to commemorate the day he dedicated the new WVOX building from which we now broadcast. 

Like I said, Professor Richard Norton Smith … I thought I’d never see the book that took you 14 years to gather and compile. 

It was worth the wait … for the book you were born to write …

  

# # #

 

William O’Shaughnessy, a former president of the New York State Broadcasters Association, was chairman of Public Affairs for the National Association of Broadcasters in Washington.  He has been a point man and advocate for the broadcasters of America on First Amendment and Free Speech issues, and is presently chairman of the Guardian Fund of the Broadcasters Foundation of America.  He operates two of the last independent stations in the New York area: WVOX and WVIP.

He is the author of “AirWAVES” (1999) … “It All Comes Back to Me Now” (2001) … “More Riffs, Rants and Raves” (2004) … “VOX POPULI: The O’Shaughnessy Files” was released in January, 2011.  He is currently working on his fifth book for Fordham University Press, an anthology which will include this interview with Richard Norton Smith.

 

Contact:

Cindy Gallagher

Whitney Media

914-235-3279 … cindy@wvox.com

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WO Interviews Sam Zherka

Phil Reisman, the star feature columnist of Gannett’s Journal News, has famously called him an “agent of chaos.”  That may be a stretch.  But in any telling, Sam Zherka is a colorful, flamboyant and controversial Westchester entrepreneur who has extensive real estate holdings.  And his very “diverse” portfolio also includes at least two Manhattan strip clubs and a weekly newspaper:  The Westchester Guardian.  Zherka is also a most outspoken and surprisingly articulate advocate for the First Amendment, due process and Constitutional rights.

However, in September of 2014, life took a bad turn for Zherka when FBI agents arrested the Albanian dynamo for a long litany of charges which included, among other things, conspiracy to commit loan fraud.  He’s now cooling his heels in the Metropolitan Correctional Facility down at 150 Park Row in lower Manhattan after prosecutors persuaded the judge he was a flight risk and/or a “danger to the community.”

In light of these recent developments … our 2010 WVOX interview with the outspoken provocateur is still timely and very interesting …

                                                                                               – – – W.O.

William O’Shaughnessy:
We have a special guest today … I’m afraid he’s a very controversial guy.  But first a brief reminder about Election Day fast approaching.  A reminder, a caution actually, from Ogden Nash.  I met Ogden Nash’s granddaughter in Manhattan recently … and he wrote a wonderful couplet I think is so appropriate for Election Day.  “They have such refined and delicate palates … they can find no one worthy of their ballots.  And then when someone terrible gets elected, they say: There!  That’s just what I expected.”  So this is an important election and I know listeners to this radio station will do the right thing and vote.  We have live in our Westchester studios today Sam Zherka.  He is the man of the moment in the Golden Apple, Westchester.  He’s a newspaper publisher and a controversial entrepreneur.  He’s younger than I thought.  He’s an attractive guy.  I just hung up with Phil Reisman, the star feature columnist of the Journal News, who claims to be your greatest champion and advocate.  I’m not sure he’s serious.  Sam Zherka … you’re a man of many parts. 

Sam Zherka:
Thank you Mr. O’Shaughnessy for having me. 

William O’Shaughnessy:
I usually ask this question last … what do you want on the gravestone?  Sam Zherka … ?

Sam Zherka:
I’m not even sure I want a gravestone.  I tell this to my wife:  when I’m gone, it doesn’t matter where you put me.  You can put me in a plastic bag in the garbage.  Bury me … burn me … it doesn’t really matter.

William O’Shaughnessy:
How old are you?

Sam Zherka:
I’m 42 years old.

William O’Shaughnessy:
And you’re in really good shape.  Do you work out?

Sam Zherka:
Yes … actually I train in martial arts … mixed martial arts and I just got back into doing some weightlifting.  But I haven’t lifted weights in about ten years because I’ve been training mixed martial arts for nine of those ten years. 

William O’Shaughnessy:
I said you’re controversial … I’ve got to tell you in the intimacy of this room, a lot of people are afraid of you in this county.  I’m not afraid of you …

Sam Zherka:
No … there’s no reason for anyone to be afraid of me.  I’m really a straight guy.  I’m a straight guy. But the people who are afraid of my are not straight.  Politicians, as we all know, they fear people who stand up and speak the truth and are not afraid of speaking the truth.  And I’m one of those guys.  I would like to see more people stand up and speak out against political politicians nationwide and countywide and statewide.  I think if more people took part, we’d have a better system. 

William O’Shaughnessy:

As you have done, and in case someone among our listeners, and we’ve got a very savvy listening audience, Mr. Zherka … in case someone’s been living in Mars and they don’t know, you scored a monumental victory.  Was this in Federal Court?

Sam Zherka:
Yes, it was.

William O’Shaughnessy:
Who was the judge?

Sam Zherka:
The Honorable Judge Cathy Seibel.

William O’Shaughnessy:
Now tell us what happened.  You sued the living hell out of the mayor of Yonkers, where true love conquers, Phil Amicone:  And as I understand it, he didn’t like what you were writing about.  What were you saying that was so bad about Amicone?

Sam Zherka:
Well … what triggered the avalanche was a front page article that depicted the mayor of Yonkers … Amicone … and the former Mayor Ernest Davis from Mount Vernon …

William O’Shaughnessy:
I like Ernie Davis … you were picking on him?

Sam Zherka:
We were picking on him … yea … under their pictures read the words “Dumb and Dumber.”  Amicone being dumber.  We like taking Free Speech to its limits.  And we put out the newspaper and it said: “Tale of Two Cities:  Dumb and Dumber.”  And after we put out that newspaper, our news racks started disappearing.  And there came a time after a week or two … almost all of our news racks were gone.  I think we were left with one news rack in the entire city and it was on State property.  That’s why they couldn’t take it.  And there was a camera right above the news rack.   So they confiscated 56 news racks. 

William O’Shaughnessy:
Who confiscated them?  Who took them off the streets? 

Sam Zherka:
City workers.  DPW workers confiscated the news racks.  What added insult to injury was then they used police power … the Yonkers Police Department … to stop our distribution. They threatened our drivers.  They threatened our distributors.  They gave them criminal summons for distributing a newspaper on public property which is constitutionally protected.  And they know it. We all know it.  But they did it anyway.  It was content based.  They basically tried to annihilate the First Amendment.  They tried to put the Westchester Guardian out of business in Yonkers because of what we wrote about them.

William O’Shaughnessy:
Is that the name of your paper?  It’s a weekly … the Westchester Guardian?

Sam Zherka:
Yes.  The Westchester Guardian.

William O’Shaughnessy:
Is it a serious paper?

Sam Zherka:
Absolutely!  Absolutely.  It’s a very serious paper.  I’ve poured millions of dollars into that paper.

William O’Shaughnessy:
What’s the headline this week?

Sam Zherka:
Oh … I don’t know.  I’m not really involved in the day-to-day operations of the paper.

William O’Shaughnessy:
You keep it going and you sustain it.   But what do you want?  You’re the publisher.  What do you want to do with the paper?  What do you think you can do with the paper?

Sam Zherka:
What I was planning about three years ago was on expanding to Manhattan and the Bronx.  We purchased 845 additional news racks.  I have them in storage.  And we were going to move out to the Bronx and Manhattan and cover Westchester and we were going to add Putnam to our distribution.  We were looking at actually picking fights with politicians not just in Westchester County but in Putnam County and Bronx County and Manhattan County.  Unless we use the Constitution which was originated for the people to restrain government … well, you have government gone wild!  And that’s what we see today … government gone wild.  And we want to use the Constitution and the First Amendment to restrain government in every aspect.

William O’Shaughnessy:
Alright, so you hauled the elders of Yonkers, the whole damn lot of them in city hall, into Federal Court.  What happened in this landmark decision?

Sam Zherka:
It was great!  We had an educated jury.  We had a great judge.  We had a great legal team.  Lovett and Bellantoni.  Rory Bellantoni being a former Acting Supreme Court Judge.

 William O’Shaughnessy:
He represented you?  He’s a brave guy. He made a good decision a few years ago …   

Sam Zherka:
The Richard DeGugliemo decision … he’s a good judge … he was a good judge. 

William O’Shaughnessy:
That’s a great family, the Bellantonis.

Sam Zherka:
Absolutely, the Bellantoni family is a good family.  We hauled them into court and we had a great jury who understood the issue and the importance of preserving the First Amendment not just for Sammy Zherka and the Westchester Guardian, but for Bill O’Shaughnessy and for everyone on this radio station and every radio station and for everyone who wants to speak and everyone who wants to disseminate an opinion, everyone who wants to disseminate news, everyone who wants to voice themselves and express themselves and practice religion.  That decision and that verdict was a victory for every single person in Westchester and New York and the United States of America.  It shows our elected officials and appointed officials and government officials that the Constitution is there for the people … for the people.  And if you attempt to stifle the First Amendment there’ll be hell to pay … and Amicone is paying hell right now! 

William O’Shaughnessy:
What do you mean?  How much? 

Sam Zherka:
$8 million verdict against Amicone personally …

William O’Shaughnessy:
Who gets the $8 million?

Sam Zherka:
The employees of the Westchester Guardian.  Those who were threatened with arrest.  Those who were harassed.   The editor … the former editor of the Westchester Guardian Richard Blausberg.  They all will divide the $8 million up evenly. 

William O’Shaughnessy:
Do you think you’re ever going to see that money?

Sam Zherka:
Yes … we might not see the full $8 million dollars.  But we will see a big chunk of it and I did promise everyone who worked for me and I promised everyone that was listening that I will make Phil Amicone a poster child of what happens to someone when they mess with the First Amendment. 

William O’Shaughnessy:
Does City Hall have insurance against this kind of thing?

Sam Zherka:
I don’t know … I’d like to let the listeners know how important this victory is.  Every single day we have our boys and girls sacrificing their lives in wars in other countries – in Afghanistan and Iraq – boys and girls who are dying – in trying to defend the exact freedoms that Yonkers Mayor Phil Amicone tried to desecrate and tried to annihilate.  So what message do we send to the parents who lost their sons and daughters when we allow guys like Amicone who perpetuate  themselves as being government officials … we allow them to desecrate the same document and the same freedoms our boys and girls are dying for.  So I’m really adamant and I’ll say it in front of anyone and everyone … I will chase Amicone to the end of the earth … even it takes me a year or five years.  And I will spend anything and everything needed to collect that money for those people who were most affected.  And I’m going to stick to that. 

William O’Shaughnessy:
Our guest is Sam Zherka … it is 22 minutes passed high noon on this Friday before the weekend here in the Golden Apple.  His name is Sam Zherka.  We all owe him a debt of gratitude.  I’m sort of late to the party.  I didn’t know much about you. You have another life.  You own a few “colorful” venues … can I use the word strip club?

Sam Zherka:
You can use strip club … colorful venue … you can use gentleman’s club.  Whatever you call it, is fine with me.  I’m proud of everything I do and that’s fine.

William O’Shaughnessy:
Sam Zherka … didn’t you also do restaurants?

Sam Zherka:
Yes. 

William O’Shaughnessy:
I like the guy a lot … Jimmy Rodriguez … were you partners with him … or are you partners now?

Sam Zherka:
No, I was not partners with Jimmy Rodriguez.

William O’Shaughnessy:
Where did I get that idea?

Sam Zherka:
I’ll tell you where you got the idea.  One of my partners J.R. Morales, who was a former detective, was partners with Jimmy Rodriguez and then bought Jimmy Rodriguez out of a restaurant called Sofrito on 57th Street and Fifth Avenue.  And J.R. was my partner.  He wouldn’t be where he is today if it wasn’t for me.  So I’d like to pat myself on the shoulders for that one.

William O’Shaughnessy:
Rodriguez … he’s got a place called Don Coqui … you see it from the Thruway, you can’t get in there Friday, Saturday.  You’ve got to go Monday night and the food is good.  The service is terrible the rest of the week.  They can’t handle the crowds.  Don’t you wish you had a piece of his action?

Sam Zherka:
You know … I’ll have to give him a call and see if he’ll sell me a piece of his action! 

William O’Shaughnessy:
You’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse. 

Sam Zherka:
I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse!

 William O’Shaughnessy:
I like him … he’s attractive in the same way you’re attractive.  I think he believes what he’s doing … and you sure believe what you’re doing.  636-0110 if you want to get in on this conversation with publisher and entrepreneur … colorful, controversial  Sam Zherka.  You don’t have to tell me this … but who are you voting for on Tuesday?

Sam Zherka:
I’m voting against every single incumbent whether it’s a Republican or Democrat.  It doesn’t matter.  If you’re an incumbent – you’re out!  And I’d like to say one thing to the listeners.  We possess in our power something that’s more powerful than a gun.  More powerful than a canon.  More powerful than an atomic bomb.  We possess in our powers something that can overthrow an American administration, an entire government.  And that’s our right to vote.  We must use that power this November 2nd and send a clear message to every single incumbent that the people are using that power and we want to be heard and we’re taking back our government.  And the only way to send that message is to go out into those booths and  vote and I’m  not telling  anyone who to vote for, but I would say to send a clear message to our government we have to vote every single incumbent out of office.

William O’Shaughnessy:
Well, the lines are jumping!  Sam Zherka … are you a Tea Party Guy? 

Sam Zherka:
Absolutely.

William O’Shaughnessy:
What does that mean to be a Tea Party guy?

Sam Zherka:
The Tea Party, although the press says and tries to churn it and make it a whacko organization, is not.  A Tea Party is basically people who are fed up with government.  Fed up with predatory taxation.  Fed up with corruption. Fed up with excessive taxation.  It’s a group of people who are everyday Americans who get up every single morning and go to work and are just fed up.  Fed up with the corruption and just don’t trust the government anymore.

William O’Shaughnessy:
You know, Sam Zherka, we’ve had some weirdoes and whackos before in this country.  They’re named Madison … Jefferson … Hamilton … Patrick Henry … Thomas Paine. 

Sam Zherka:
Yes … they are our forefathers.

William O’Shaughnessy:
You have a way with words.  Why don’t you … will you let me class you up for a minute.  Will you get out of the strip club business and go on the stump?  Why don’t you become a politician?

Sam Zherka:
Never … I would never do it.

William O’Shaughnessy:
Why?

Sam Zherka:
It’s like taking a person who is not a prostitute and putting them in a room with 100 prostitutes.  Ultimately, you either become a prostitute or those 100 prostitutes oust you.  I’m not a prostitute.  I’ll never be a prostitute.  I like to be on the sideline and I like to take on the prostitutes.

William O’Shaughnessy:
You’ve got a way with words publisher Zherka.  12:27 … let’s go to the phones.

Caller:
Yes …good afternoon, gentlemen.  This is Frank from Byram.  Big admirer of Mr. Zherka. 

William O’Shaughnessy:
Why?

Caller:
I think he embodies the American dream and what it is all about.  He never forgot where he came from and he’s trying to make it right for everybody else who is on their way up the ladder.  And let me tell you something about Phil Amicone.  When he was the deputy mayor over there in Yonkers they pulled the same thing on a woman who currently today is a city councilwoman in Yonkers.  A woman named Joan Granowski.  She worked for the City of Yonkers and Amicone was the deputy and Spencer was the mayor … they violated her civil rights.  And they all told her … you don’t stand a chance going against city hall.  And guess what?  She beat them in Federal Court also.  So my hat’s off to that woman.  My hat’s off to Mr. Zherka.  He’s what America needs.  Let’s put it that way.  He’s what this country is all about.   And I’m proud of him when he says I wouldn’t be a politician because he’s absolutely right in his characterization of 99.99% of them.  The only one I’ll leave out is that woman over in Yonkers who beat them in city hall and then ran for office and guess what?  To this day she’s a thorn in the side of Amicone …  Amicone and Spencer … the ones who gave her the business.  Well now she’s seeing to it that the people of Yonkers are protected against a guy like Phil Amicone to the best of her ability and hats off to her too! 

William O’Shaughnessy:
Would you vote for Zherka if I could sort of twist his arm? 

Caller:
I would vote for Zherka in this sense.  If he created the Zherka Party and he put his imprimatur on it and his stamp of approval on it saying this is the party you can trust … these are the guys you can believe in  … then I would be behind them.  Because for five years now I’ve been hearing that the D.A. down in Manhattan is ready to indict him.  The D.A. up in Westchester – DeFiore, the other fraud who can’t make up her mind what side of the aisle she’s on – she was going to indict him.  The Feds are indicting him.  Everybody’s indicting him and guess what … he just beat them in Federal Court for $8 million!  And I hope Amicone’s got to go to whoever he’s got to go to and go out on the street to get the $8 million.  And for the next thousand years he’s paying back the $8 million he’s got to give Sam Zherka.

Sam Zherka:
Thank you … I just want to say one thing with regard to all these investigations.  I openly challenged, everyone, Everyone!  No one knows better than you whether you have skeletons in your closet.  I have a clean closet.  The only thing in my closet is my clothing.  I challenged the Manhattan D.A.  I challenged the Westchester D.A.  I challenge anyone on this line and anyone anywhere who says Sam Zherka ever did anything wrong.  Now, in Westchester County, Free Speech is a crime.  But we’re bringing that back.  We’re un-criminalizing Free Speech and we’re going to attack anyone who attempts to un-criminalize it.  Namely, dirty politicians. 

William O’Shaughnessy:
Sam … are you sure you’re not using the First Amendment and Free Speech to distract from any other “entanglements” this guy just mentioned?

Sam Zherka:
Look … I just said it before.  No one knows better than you or me or whoever is being accused of something whether or not they have anything in their closet. 

William O’Shaughnessy:
True …

Sam Zherka:
I have nothing in my closet … but my shoes and my clothing.  And I’m a proud father of eight.  I have eight kids.  And I like who I’m looking out at when I’m looking in the mirror.  And I enjoy and I respect the man my kids call Dad.  And I will not … whether it’s a D.A. or an A.D.A. – whoever it is – a law enforcement official or politician!  I will not tolerate them trying to demean me or trying to criminalize what I do when all I do is exercise Free Speech all over content because they don’t like to be criticized.  Well … wake up D.A. or A.D.A. or law enforcement people or political people.  This is America.  We will criticize you.  We will opine you.  We will write about you.  And if you don’t like it, move to Cuba.  That’s my attitude and advice to any politician, whether it’s the D.A. or a police officer or an elected official or an appointed official.   If you don’t want to be written about or if you don’t want to be discussed … or if you don’t want to have anybody having an opinion of you – negative or positive – move to Cuba. 

William O’Shaughnessy:
Or Albania!

Sam Zherka:
Actually Albania is a democracy now!

William O’Shaughnessy:
Or Romania!  Which was the one who had the dictator?

Sam Zherka:
Albania.  Albania was a Communist country … Romania is a Democracy now.  How about Somalia!  We’ll send them to Somalia.

William O’Shaughnessy:
Sam Zherka … you’re a good talker. But with eight children I think you do a little more than talk.  What about your wife?  She’s the hero.  How old are these children?

Sam Zherka:
Yes, my wife is a hero, I have to say. 

William O’Shaughnessy:
What’s her name? 

Sam Zherka:
Carmella.  She’s a hero.

William O’Shaughnessy:
Could she have been an Italian girl?

Sam Zherka:
She’s Italian … she’s Sicilian. 

William O’Shaughnessy:
Mario Cuomo says she’s not even Italian … if she’s Sicialian. 

Sam Zherka:
He’s right … if you ask my wife if she’s Italian, she’ll say no … I’m Sicilian! 

William O’Shaughnessy:
Eight children … how old?

Sam Zherka:
I have quadruplets!  I have a 21-year-old.  A 19-year-old.  Two daughters 21 and 19.  I have a 16-year-old son.  A four year-old daughter. And I have four boys that are two!   Luca, Damian, Maximus and Beckham. 

William O’Shaughnessy:
Fabulous names … so you’ve changed a few diapers!

Sam Zherka:
I changed about 30 diapers on Friday and Saturday!   Actually Saturday and Sunday are my days to take care of the kids so I change about 30 diapers a day on Saturday and 30 diapers a day on Sunday! 

William O’Shaughnessy:
Are you a good father?

Sam Zherka:
I’m the best father!

William O’Shaughnessy:
What makes a good father?

Sam Zherka:
I spend time with my kids.  I educate them.  I show them a lot of love and respect.  I teach them what’s right and wrong.  I do the same thing my father did with me I do with my kids. 

William O’Shaughnessy:
First of all … on your cell phone you still use the name Sammy Z.  Why don’t we dump that and be “This is Mr. Zherka?” I can have John Harper do a recording “This is Samuel Zherka’s phone” right now … why don’t you dump that Sammy Z stuff?

Sam Zherka:
I tell you why … because I’m in my 40’s now and a lot of my kids friends call me Mr. Zherka.  I don’t like it because it makes me feel old.  Sammy Z is what everybody called me when I was 18, 17 and 19, 21 and 25.  And you know what?  I still feel like I’m 18 years old … so I want to carry that through until I’m about 90.  And when I’m 90 … I’ll change it to Mr. Zherka. 

William O’Shaughnessy:
Are you a typical suburban father?  Do you coach soccer and baseball Little League?  Do you do that stuff?

Sam Zherka:
No … I don’t coach any of that stuff. 

William O’Shaughnessy:
I think you’d be a great coach!

Sam Zherka:
I do take my son to wrestling. He’s an avid wrestler.  And I take him to all his matches and practices and all that kind of stuff.  But I’m really not into sports other than martial arts and wrestling for my son.

William O’Shaughnessy:
No hockey?

Sam Zherka:
No … I’m a business guy and a father.  That’s it.  I’m a very proud father and I’m a business guy.

William O’Shaughnessy:
Sam Zherka … you say you ain’t for anybody now holding office.  Isn’t there one?  Name one good guy … or good dame who’s doing a good job at the people’s business?  Just give me one!  Someone who has commended themselves to your favorable judgment …

Sam Zherka:
Here’s the problem … I can’t name one.  And why?   You do have some good people who run for office.  But unfortunately they’re controlled by the Democratic Party and the Republican Party.  Anytime you have a monopoly on the political process like we do right now, you have a problem and everybody becomes a puppet.  So you do have a lot of good people who have become puppets.  And once you’ve become a puppet in my eyes, I can’t consider you a good person anymore.  If we had two companies controlling industry it would be called a monopoly and the Federal government would step in and turn those two companies into ten different companies.  Right now we have a monopoly with the Democratic Party and the Republican Party and nothing good can come out of any monopoly.  They have a monopoly on the judiciary and they have a monopoly on the legislature.  They have a monopoly on the political process, on how it’s run.  It’s not a good situation.

William O’Shaughnessy:
I will grant you, Sam Zherka, that not enough good men and women of quality will submit to the rigors of public service.  They just won’t do it.  They’ll go into other fields.  They’ll go into Wall Street.  They’ll do anything … but they won’t go into public service.  Not like John Lindsay, of sainted memory, who would bring attractive people into government.  As the Kennedy brothers would.  Nelson Rockefeller had a cadre of them.  Mario Cuomo inspired a lot of bright, beamish young people.  There’s a guy who came in here recently and sat across this microphone that I thought was very impressive … Bob Cohen … he’s a Republican.  He’s running against the legendary Senator Suzi.  She’s been in the State Senate forever.  Have you met Cohen?

Sam Zherka:
I’ve met Bob Cohen.  But keep in mind he’s not a politician.  He’s a dad … a business guy who is now looking to run and once he becomes a politician we’ll be looking to get him out also.  We hope he doesn’t become a politician.  I like Bob and I think he’s your next state senator.  Suzi Oppenheimer has worn out her welcome.  She should have been out a long time ago. I don’t think she has anything left.  She’s just riding the wave.  She doesn’t care what happens with her constituents and the State.  She’s just riding the wave and getting that paycheck. 

William O’Shaughnessy:
I asked – Bob Cohen, the Republican running against Oppenheimer for state senate who are your heroes?  Who has inspired you?  Without missing a beat he said Jack Javits … Senator Jacob Javits, father of the War Powers Act.  Probably one of the brightest guys – intellectually – to ever serve in Congress.  And Daniel Patrick Moynihan.  There’s a new book out The Letters of Daniel Patrick Moynihan.  They inspired Cohen.  But who has inspired Zherka?  I mean you speak passionately … almost eloquently … on these things that are so precious … the First Amendment and civic life.  But who has inspired you. Where did you get this passion?

Sam Zherka:
My father. 

William O’Shaughnessy:
Tell me about him.

Sam Zherka:
My father.  He lives in Florida.  He’s in his 80’s.  He’s got to be, in my opinion, the best human being who walks this earth.

William O’Shaughnessy:
What did he do for a living? 

Sam Zherka:
He cleaned toilets and cleaned buildings.  He was a doorman … anything he had to do to feed the family. But my father was born and raised in Albania and from age 18 to his early 30’s he spent in Communist concentration camps under torture because he sought freedom.  Half his village was torched and everybody killed.  My father was sent away to Communist jails and was tortured every single day for over a decade. 

William O’Shaughnessy:
Do you think he’s proud of you?

Sam Zherka:
Absolutely.  He calls me up every single day.  We speak every day and he says Sam, you look at these bums eye-to-eye and you don’t cow down to any of them.  They don’t have what you have … and I believe that.  None of these politicians have what I have.  I have passion.  I have passion for what I do.  I don’t care about money.  I don’t care about what it costs.  I like to get it done at all costs.  And a lot of people say, Sam, why are you making enemies with all these politicians?  And I say, because I can.  Because it’s my duty to make enemies with politicians because unless they fear something they are going to stampede all over every single one of us. 

William O’Shaughnessy:
So are you using this newspaper as an “ego” thing?

Sam Zherka:
Absolutely not.  I don’t have an ego.  I’m very humble.  I don’t have an ego. If I wanted to have an ego I would just keep the money I spent on the newspaper and …

William O’Shaughnessy:
Now if you were just an owner of a strip club or an entertainment complex your words and your observations wouldn’t have that much weight.  Publisher is a different thing.  You’re a publisher. You’re at the people’s business.   You deal in ideas and notions and opinions. What’s the question? 

Sam Zherka:
The question is all I can say is I’m very passionate in what I do and in what I believe in.  And my father always told me as a kid and still tells me today … do not judge a man by the friends he keeps.  Judge him by the enemies he makes.  Any man who makes weak enemies is a bully.  Any man who makes powerful enemies is the man you need to embrace.  And I listen to every word that comes out of my father’s mouth because he paid a very, very heavy price because he sought freedom.  Albania was a Communist Country.  And he – and my mother, she spent three and a half years in a Communist torture camp, and was beaten for three and a half years because all they wanted is what we enjoy. 

William O’Shaughnessy:
Your mother and father were from where?

 Sam Zherka:
From Albania. 

William O’Shaughnessy:
But where in Albania?

Sam Zherka:
My father was from Tropje, Albania and my mother was from the same area.

William O’Shaughnessy:
Forgive my lack of knowledge on this.  I go down to Arthur Avenue to my friend Joey Migliucci’s.  Every Italian restaurant is owned by Albanians it seems, except a few.  There’s Joe Migliucci … Patsy Perrillo … Matty Ianniello’s kid has a place.  But the waiters all have names like … they don’t have names like Sam or Bill.  They have names like Bardell or Circerrie.  The guy who owns the Club A Steakhouse … Bruno, his real name isn’t Bruno and one of his sons’ is Agron.  How come you didn’t give your sons Albanian names? 

Sam Zherka:
Some of them are Albanian names.  Luca …

William O’Shaughnessy:
Luca is Italian!!  It’s Luke!  Like Sirio Maccioni’s grandson!

Sam Zherka:
No … well it’s Italian also.  Luca is an Albanian name.  Beckham means “gift of life” in Albanian.  So Beckham is an Albanian name.  I named my son Maximus because I really love the movie Gladiator.  Maximus Aurelius.  I named my son Maximus because of the movie.  Damian … my wife named him Damian.  Damiano … it’s an Italian name.  Serranda is my oldest daughter.  It’s an Albanian name.  Sophia is a town in Albania.  Sammy is my son, my oldest son.  He’s named after me.

William O’Shaughnessy:
Sam Zherka … I haven’t asked anyone this … but take us back.  We hear about Montenegro. There’s a guy who lives here in New Rochelle, Vic Vuksanaj.  He’s in the real estate business.  And they talk about Montenegro.  Bill Clinton almost bought his house when he was rattling around here before he went to Chappaqua.  He’s in business down there near Arthur Avenue.  They talk about Kosovo and the Serbs.  All the young waiters tell me that the country is really booming now and that it’s a great tourist destination. Montenegro, was that just a little part of Albania? 

Sam Zherka:
Yes, Montenegro used to belong to Albania and it was partitioned off and the Serbs took it. 

William O’Shaughnessy:
And Serbia was what? 

Sam Zherka:
Today’s Serbs are originally from Russia.  They settled in that part of Europe hundreds and hundreds of years ago and created what is now Serbia. 

William O’Shaughnessy:
Is it safe to say they were the bad guys?

Sam Zherka:
Absolutely!

William O’Shaughnessy:
The Serbs … and they attacked and they were terrible … did ethnic cleansing against the Albanians …?

Sam Zherka:
Well, they did ethnic cleansing against the Albanians, against the Croatians, against the Slovenians, against the Bosnians.  They killed over 500,000 Bosnians.  They executed over 500,000 men and women for doing absolutely nothing.

William O’Shaughnessy:
Where was the rest of the world while this was going on?  Where was Bill O’Shaughnessy? 

 Sam Zherka:
The entire world was asleep while this was going on.  And people just don’t care.  Everyone is tied up with trying to earn a living.

William O’Shaughnessy:
You were over here while this was going on.

Sam Zherka:
Yes … I was here. 

William O’Shaughnessy:
You were in your teens?

Sam Zherka:
Yes.  This was going on in the 1990’s.

William O’Shaughnessy:
If this happened today, you’d be over there leading an elite unit. 

Sam Zherka:
I’d be more involved.  Yes.  I don’t know if I’d be leading an elite unit, but I’d be involved in whatever needs to get done to bring about more attention to what was going on. 

William O’Shaughnessy:
So does peace reign over there now?

 Sam Zherka:
It’s peaceful.  It’s a democracy in Albania, in Kosovo.   Business is booming.  The economy is really moving and people are making money and there’s peace.

William O’Shaughnessy:
Do the Serbs and Croatians get along?

Sam Zherka:
Yea … I think – listen, all people get along.  Politicians are who ignite hatred.  I don’t think the Jews and the Germans didn’t get along.  I think we had a crazy man like Adolph Hitler who got up and created a mess and you had a lot of people who were suffering financially and he basically catered to those people and convinced a lot of people that the Jews were problems.  But Jews and Germans got along.  Just like in the Middle East … you have a lot of Jews and Arabs that get along.

William O’Shaughnessy:
Didn’t the Serbs have a bad guy? 

Sam Zherka:
Yes they did … Milakovic.  Serbs and Albanians got along.  They lived together for hundreds and hundreds of years.   They never had a problem.  And then you had this one guy – a madman – who created this ethnic cleansing issue and you had a lot of problems.

William O’Shaughnessy:
Do you think you’ll ever take all your money and go over and have a villa on the Adriatic? 

Sam Zherka:
No … I wouldn’t do that.

William O’Shaughnessy:
Why?

Sam Zherka:
Because I have kids here.  My kids are American.  I’m an American. 

William O’Shaughnessy:
How about your father?  Does he ever talk about going back?

Sam Zherka:
My father goes back six months a year.  Every year.  He goes to a little town where he was born and raised.  He still owns property and still owns the house his father left him.  And then he stays in the capitol. So he’s back and forth to the town that he was born … and to the capitol.

William O’Shaughnessy:
Do you ever go there?

Sam Zherka:
I was there a couple of times … yes.

William O’Shaughnessy:
How about your children?  Do you think one day they’ll want you to tell them all about that?

Sam Zherka:
My oldest two daughters have been back.  Last year they were there.

William O’Shaughnessy:
What did they say? 

Sam Zherka:
They didn’t like it.  It’s different.  Once you’re born and raised here, it’s tough to go and live anywhere.  They were there for four weeks.  I think it was a little too much for them.  I was born and raised in New York.  When I go to Florida for a week, I have to come back. Once you’re born and raised here, it’s tough to live anywhere.

William O’Shaughnessy:
Sam Zherka … where are you based now?  You’re not based in Yonkers. 

Sam Zherka:
My office is in New Rochelle.  That’s where my base is.  New Rochelle. 

William O’Shaughnessy:
How do you like New Rochelle?  How are the elders treating you in our home heath?

Sam Zherka:
New Rochelle is a good town.  I like New Rochelle.  I always liked New Rochelle.  How they treat me?  I don’t really have much interaction with them.  I did have some problems with them years ago … with Noam Bramson and Chuck Strome and the guys.  They tried to eminent domain.  They tried to take a property I owned.

William O’Shaughnessy:
Do you have a club in New Rochelle now?

Sam Zherka:
No …

William O’Shaughnessy:
I was in downtown New Rochelle the other day.  What’s that Miami?  Is that a club?

Sam Zherka:
Yes … it was a club.  I used to own the building where the club was and that was the building I had the issue with New Rochelle on.  They tried using eminent domain to confiscate my building and give it to Lou Cappelli.  I went to a City Council hearing and I gave them a tongue lashing and I warned the mayor and every single council person that if they voted to use eminent domain to confiscate my property and give it to Lou Cappelli I would tie it up in the courts for as long as possible and in the interim I would destroy every single one of them.  And they knew I would do it and they were smart not to challenge me on it and so they voted against it.

William O’Shaughnessy:
But it’s still there.  It used to be Marty and Lenny’s years ago in this town.

Sam Zherka:
Yes … I used to go there.

William O’Shaughnessy:
It’s still Miami.

Sam Zherka:
Yes … but I don’t own the building anymore.  

William O’Shaughnessy:
What happens there now … is it a club?

Sam Zherka:
No.  I don’t know what they’re doing.  I sold the building to Lou Cappelli.  I eventually sold the building to Lou Cappelli but the key, which was a victory for me, was, the city wasn’t going to take it from me and give it to him.  Lou Cappelli was forced to come and sit down at the table with me and pay my price.  And the city wasn’t going to take it from me and force me to the price they were going to pay for it. I went in to a city council hearing and gave them a tongue lashing and said … listen … if you guys want to take it, I challenge you to take it.  I’ll tie it up in court for five or ten years and in that interim I promise you, mayor and all you city council members … my name is Sam Zherka … I promise you I will destroy every single one of you and I’ll replace you guys with someone who really cares about people’s rights and people’s homes and people’s properties.  They did the smart thing and they went in the back and they came back and they voted against eminent domain which shouldn’t exist.  That was a victory for me.

William O’Shaughnessy:
This is a special edition of Westchester Open Line with tough talk and passion from Sam Zherka.  I’m going to change you … no more Sammy Z.  It’s going to be Samuel Zherka.  Of Westchester.

Sam Zherka:
Samuel … OK. 

William O’Shaughnessy:
I like Louis Cappelli, incidentally.  I hope you didn’t make an enemy out of him.

Sam Zherka:
No … no.  I have no hard feelings against Cappelli.

William O’Shaughnessy:
He’s a very good guy.  I like him. He’s got five jet planes.  Still.

Sam Zherka:
God bless him.  I don’t have a jet plane.  Nor do I want one. 

William O’Shaughnessy:
You fly commercial?

Sam Zherka:
I don’t like flying.  I hate flying.

William O’Shaughnessy:
How do you go and see your dad?

Sam Zherka:
I drive! 

William O’Shaughnessy:
What do you drive these days?

Sam Zherka:
A Mercedes.

William O’Shaughnessy:
I don’t think you’re a Dodge Dart kind of guy! Or a Ford Fairmont!

Sam Zherka:
I drive a Mercedes.  I drive a Hummer.  I’m not too crazy about cars.  I really don’t care. 

William O’Shaughnessy:
Hummer is a little … that’s so 80’s!

Sam Zherka:
Maybe …

William O’Shaughnessy:
Alright … we dropped the Sammy Z.  We dropped the Hummer and get you an Audi A8L.

Sam Zherka:
I don’t even know what an Audi A8L is!  I don’t even know what that looks like.  But it doesn’t matter.  

William O’Shaughnessy:
How about a Jaguar?

Sam Zherka:
I’ll drive a Chevy … it really doesn’t matter.

William O’Shaughnessy:
Sam Zherka this has been a very stimulating visit.  My son David said I think this is a good guy. And I think it was Reisman this morning when I said What is with this Zherka guy … I think I like what I hear.  And they all say you believe the stuff you’re putting out there.

Sam Zherka: Absolutely.   If I didn’t believe it we wouldn’t put it out there.

William O’Shaughnessy:
Mario Cuomo once said he prays for “sureness.”  The old Jesuits will say you never really get it in this life.  You never get complete understanding of everything.  According to Cuomo, sureness is you’re on the road to Damascus.  There’s a lightning bolt in the sky.  Bam! You’re knocked off your horse. The Lord appears in all his or her refinement and says Sam, your name is not Sam anymore, your name is Paul and by the way you’re a Saint.  That’s sureness!  A lightning bolt in the tush, according to Cuomo.  How did you become so damn sure of everything?

Sam Zherka:
You have to go with your conscience and your gut.  I follow my conscience and my gut every single time.  I believe in treating people the way you want to be treated.  And I live that. That’s what guides me.

William O’Shaughnessy:
There’s a marvelous cartoon in the New Yorker.  This guy was standing in front of his wife.  It was reading his mind and said He’s trying a Hail Mary pass and what he said was:  “I was wrong to the wife.” Did you ever say I was wrong? 

Sam Zherka:
Yes, absolutely. No one is perfect.  If someone proclaims to be perfect then they’re only fooling themselves.  We’ve all made mistakes.  If I make a mistake I’m the first guy to apologize and I even bow my head.  I’m not ashamed of apologizing.  I’ll take whatever repercussions come with being wrong.  No matter what it is.  If I’m wrong, I take it.  I admit it and say I’m wrong.  If there’s a price to pay I’ll take the price and I take it with honor and respect. 

William O’Shaughnessy:
You know who I think would like you?  And a lot of people do.  Ralph Martinelli.  Do you know him?

Sam Zherka:
I never met the man.  But I heard a lot of good things about him.  Ralph Martinelli was the politically incorrect one.

William O’Shaughnessy:
Ralph Martinelli was a fiery, feisty guy like you are.  Not as articulate perhaps, but he believed what he was saying.  He had the Martinelli papers and now they’re put out by a guy named Sprayregen.  He’s another windmill tilter.  He won a big thing against Columbia University.  He owns warehouses in the Bronx and they wanted to bulldoze them and extend the domain of Columbia.  You ever speak to Sprayregen or are you competitors.

Sam Zherka:
No, I’m not a competitor.   There’s no competition with Free Speech.  Everyone is entitled to it.  People don’t read my newspaper and not any other newspaper.  People don’t read the New York Times and not read the New York Post.  I pick up almost every newspaper that’s out there.  I read newspaper after newspaper after newspaper.

William O’Shaughnessy:
How many do you read on a normal day?

Sam Zherka:
Two, three, four.  On the weekends I read six or seven.  The Journal News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Post is my favorite.  The Post and Fox News are my favorites.

William O’Shaughnessy:
And David Hinckley in the Daily News.  You gotta read him.

Sam Zherka:
I think the Daily News is a little too far on the left.   I like it right along the middle.

William O’Shaughnessy:
Let me tell you something Publisher Zherka … you may not know this, but there used to be a hearty perennial in this state during the days of Nelson Aldrich Rockefeller, the great governor, and  his name was Arthur Levitt.  His son and heir later became head of the stock exchange.  Arthur Levitt, you couldn’t beat him. Rockefeller decided he’s going to be friends with this guy because I can’t beat him.  Arthur Levitt was comptroller. He won once, twice, three, four times … he could have had it for life.  Arthur Levitt never played with radio, television or anything.  He sent out one press release a week.  He would time it so it would go to every weekly in New York State.  They would put it on the front page … everything Arthur Levitt said that week.  But weekly newspapers are still damn strong in this state.  But I’m told you have to own the printing press to make money.

Sam Zherka:
I didn’t get into the Westchester Guardian to make money.  Westchester Guardian was never meant as a money making tool.  It was meant for more of a First Amendment tool … to use the First Amendment to restrain government and to tell people what’s really going on.  

William O’Shaughnessy:
But you’re not going to use it just to bring them down.  You’re going to build some people up, right?  You’re going to find some people you like.

Sam Zherka:
We want to keep good people.  You mentioned Bob Cohen.  Bob Cohen is a good guy.  Let’s just hope he doesn’t become a politician.  Once he becomes a politician he’ll end up on the front page of the Westchester Guardian.  I just hope he doesn’t become a politician.  But Bob Cohen is, in fact, a good guy.   

William O’Shaughnessy:
Sam Zherka, I like you.  Aren’t you breathing a sigh of relief?  O’Shaughnessy pronounced me OK before a live audience on this Friday in late October as winter is on the horizon.  Good luck to you sir.  Thank you.  You’re quite a guy.

Sam Zherka:
Thank you for having me.  I want to thank that caller Frank.  He sounds like my kind of guy.  I don’t know who he is but I like everything he said and I want to thank him for calling.

William O’Shaughnessy:
Let’s do it again.

 

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William O’Shaughnessy, a former president of the New York State Broadcasters Association, was chairman of Public Affairs for the National Association of Broadcasters in Washington.  He has been a point man and advocate for the broadcasters of America on First Amendment and Free Speech issues, and is presently chairman of the Guardian Fund of the Broadcasters Foundation of America.  He operates two of the last independent stations in the New York area: WVOX and WVIP.

 

He is the author of “AirWAVES” (1999) … “It All Comes Back to Me Now” (2001) … “More Riffs, Rants and Raves” (2004) … “VOX POPULI: The O’Shaughnessy Files” was released in January, 2011.  He is currently working on his fifth book for Fordham University Press, an anthology which will include this interview with Sam Zherka.

Contact:
William O’Shaughnessy
914-980-7003
wfo@wvox.com

Cindy Gallagher
Whitney Media
914-235-3279
cindy@wvox.com