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.

 

# # #

 

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

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