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

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

WO interviews John Cahill — Candidate for Attorney General

John Cahill is like a breath of fresh air in the murky world of contemporary politics. The hour we recently spent at our Westchester studios with Governor George Pataki’s former chief of staff left me feeling better about politics, the potential of good, enlightened government and even with a somewhat renewed confidence in a Republican Party which has lost its way. The registration numbers are heavily against him in his race for Attorney General of New York State. But John Cahill, who speaks eloquently of a Party that is more inclusive and compassionate, just might restore your faith in the political process and even in the confused and beleaguered Republican Party. We’ve argued for years that men and women of real quality, substance and ability will not submit to the rigors of public service. And then every once in a while along comes a John Cahill. We’ll see how well he does …

– – – W.O.

William O’Shaughnessy:
In our studio, live this very morning in June, is a man we’ve admired – I’ve got to tell you straight out – for a long time. He’s a Republican … are you ready? And he’s running for attorney general of the Empire State. He’s a Yonkers, New York guy … a child of Yonkers – “where true love conquers” … John Cahill.

John Cahill:
Bill … it’s great to be with you.

William O’Shaughnessy:
You really ran the State of New York for a good, long time as George Elmer Pataki’s Secretary – which means chief of staff. You ran the damn place.

John Cahill:
Well, it was a job with a lot of responsibilities. It had gotten me to know the State from Long Island to Buffalo, Bill. I have a real passion for the State. It’s an amazing state with amazing people. Because of that background I have in government as his Secretary and also previous to that as Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation … I’m anxious to get back into public service.

William O’Shaughnessy:
Secretary doesn’t mean the typing kind. Secretary means you run everything.

John Cahill:
Secretary means you do what the governor needs to get done. That includes typing if you have to. But really it’s the highest appointed position in the State. All State agencies report into the Secretary to the Governor. So your responsibilities run from the environment to health care to transportation. All of those State agencies out there run through the implementation of the Governor’s policies.

William O’Shaughnessy:
John Cahill, you and – former Governor Pataki – have been together for a long time. How did you meet?

John Cahill:
Yes … it goes back to the days of practicing law with a mutual friend of ours – Mr. William Plunkett …

William O’Shaughnessy:
“Brother Bill” Plunkett, Esquire.

John Cahill:
Yes, absolutely. Actually, Bill was very instrumental in convincing me to go to law school. I met him when I was coaching and teaching at Stepinac High School in White Plains when I coached his oldest son, Ryan. And Bill convinced me to go to law school. He gave me a job as a summer intern. And the first case I tried at Plunkett & Jaffe was tried with Mr. Kevin Plunkett, his brother, and George Pataki, in upstate New York. George Pataki and I have been friends ever since.

William O’Shaughnessy:
In every telling and by every account, John Cahill is a nice guy. You are greatly admired in your home heath. Why the hell do you want to mess with politics now?

John Cahill:
Well, never having run in politics before … but having been around government for a good 12 years, Bill, you see the difference it can make in people’s lives. Government can be an instrument of good or it can be an instrument of not so good. And I’ve seen the goodness of government. Whether it was working at DEC or our rebuilding efforts in lower Manhattan, I believe in public service. And I believe my time in government and in the public sector has given me the qualifications and background to serve capably as the next New York State Attorney General.

William O’Shaughnessy:
What’s going on in the State of New York? We only know what we see in the public press. It looks like a mess. Is it really as bad as it seems?

John Cahill:
Well, I think it really depends on where you go. I spent last week traveling much of upstate New York … Buffalo, Jamestown, Elmira, Corning … some great old towns in New York with wonderful, people. And I must say there’s a sense of concern and lack of confidence in the future. What I hear most, the biggest concern, is about jobs and also the brain drain. Where are my children going to live? If they go off to college, do they come back? Is there going to be a future here for the next generation of New Yorkers? I believe there is because New York is always going to be, as you mentioned, the Empire State. But we need to have government fighting for the needs of these people by having programs and policies and law enforcement that will build a future for New Yorkers and that’s my concern right now, Bill. There is a lot of concern in upstate New York about the future of the State and what it means for the next generation of New Yorkers.

William O’Shaughnessy:
John Cahill, can anything … can anyone – even Cahill – save Binghamton or Utica or Batavia?

John Cahill:
Yes, I do believe they can, Bill. I think there are policies and opportunities in the State. One of the challenging issues the State is facing is on the issue of developing natural gasses along the Southern Tier. Hydrofracking is a very controversial issue right now in the State. And as you travel the Southern Tier – Binghamton, Jamestown, Elmira, that is a really big issue. And having been Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation four years … and prior to that I served as their general counsel, I spent my entire life around environmental issues and energy issues. And I do believe it can be done safely. We shouldn’t be drilling in the New York City watershed. We shouldn’t be drilling in our State parks. But there are areas in the State – if properly regulated – that I believe my former agency is capable of regulating. And that would not only be an economic game-changer for the Southern Tier, but for all of New York State.

William O’Shaughnessy:
There’s a story in the Wall Street Journal this very morning, John Cahill, about all the little towns, hamlets and villages that have actually banned fracking.

John Cahill:
Yes … and it’s now before the Court of Appeals as to whether these towns and villages can act unilaterally to basically ban fracking. And if that was to happen, obviously the opportunities for companies to come in is going to be severely limited. New York State has generally recognized in the past that energy mining, developing those resources, are preempted on the local level. So that’s right now before the Court of Appeals and that is going to be an important issue as to whether we do develop oil and gas in the Southern Tier.

William O’Shaughnessy:
Well, you’re not saying you know better than those local yokels?

John Cahill:
No, I’m not. I’m saying I think we need to have an overall State policy that certainly gives the locals the appropriate opportunity to participate in the decision-making process. Certainly there would be a concern if with each town you had a patch-work around the State. And that would be a concern, Bill. But I think there is a process to make sure we get the locals on board, to get the counties on board. And if there’s strong feeling that it’s not the right place, no one should be forced to live with issues they don’t want to live with. But at the same time there are areas around the State, Bill, that very much are anxious to move forward appropriately and diligently on developing those resources.

William O’Shaughnessy:
His name is John Cahill … he hails from Yonkers, right over the Cross County Parkway, that colorful, if sometimes beleaguered city on the Hudson and he’s running and surprise, surprise – as a Republican!

John Cahill:
Yes, I am. I’ve been a Republican my entire life, Bill. You say why are you a Republican? My parents are Irish immigrants … how come you’re not a Democrat? Actually, my father was a Republican as well. We believe in opportunity. I do believe in an active government, but I don’t believe in a dependent government or a government that forces dependency. And I think the government can have an awful lot to give people – as it’s given me, a son of immigrants – an opportunity to achieve something in this world.

William O’Shaughnessy:
So what kind of Republican are you, John Cahill? There was a story in City and State this week – a blog, a very good one – that there ain’t no more Rockefeller Republicans.

John Cahill:
I guess I’m a Rockefeller Republican … a Pataki Republican …

William O’Shaughnessy:
Is that one and the same?

John Cahill:
I would leave that to the Rockefellers and the Patakis. They have differences but they have a lot of similarities, I expect. And I think it goes back to the idea that we’re not anti-government. We do believe in a role for government. But we believe in the overriding sense and responsibility of opportunity and not dependency, Bill. And I think certainly that was Governor Pataki’s mantra and if I recall Governor Rockefeller also had a lot to say about that as well. We’re not like many of the other Republicans around the country who believe that government should have very little role in bettering the lives of its citizens.

William O’Shaughnessy:
Do you remember when Louis Lefkowitz of sainted memory was attorney general?

John Cahill:
Yes, I’m old enough to remember Louis Lefkowitz. And you know, when I look at that office, Bill, he’s somebody I certainly admire as an attorney general. He was known as the “People’s Lawyer.” He was somebody who really served the interests of the people of the State and used that office not to aspire to higher office. He never ran for governor … he had a tough guy in front of him to run for governor!

William O’Shaughnessy:
Rockefeller …

John Cahill:
Yes! Rockefeller. But he was dedicated to that notion of serving as the people’s lawyer. And certainly that is a model I would like to emulate again in the office of the attorney general.

William O’Shaughnessy:
Out on the stump on the road, the rubber chicken circuit, you’ve said again and again you want to be the people’s lawyer. But aren’t you also the governor’s lawyer?

John Cahill:
Sure, you have a responsibility as the attorney general to serve as the lawyer for the Executive and the executive agencies. That is an important component of serving as attorney general. Absolutely, Bill. But the role of attorney general has broader responsibilities than just defending the Governor or being the lawyer for the Executive. It’s also being an advocate for the People. The responsibility is clearly to defend the civil rights of the citizens of the State of New York. And that’s why I’ve been such a strong advocate and, quite frankly, a critic of the current attorney general. When we have issues concerning the education of our children, which many of us do … it’s a civil rights issue. I believe the attorney general should be more outspoken, more vocal, to be sure the children of the state are given a quality education … as our Constitution requires.

William O’Shaughnessy:
You’re talking about a guy named Schneiderman? I don’t even know his first name.

John Cahill:
Yes. Mr. Eric Schneiderman.

William O’Shaughnessy:
Can you beat him?

John Cahill:
I believe I can. I wouldn’t be in this just to run around the State. I’ve done that before and I love this State. But I believe the response I’ve gotten so far, Bill, is very positive. Most people in the State of New York do not know the present attorney general, they cannot identify him on any particular issue. I also believe there is a sense around the State that having members of different parties at the crucial positions in Albany is important for a good, functioning government. We haven’t had that in the last eight years. And I think we’ve had quite a bit of dysfunction in Albany. I believe people do want a balance of authority, a balance of power in Albany. I would like to bring that balance of power to Albany.

William O’Shaughnessy:
John Cahill … I don’t want to injure you, but the word in political circles is that the Democrat Governor – Andrew Mark Cuomo – thinks you’re a pretty good guy.

John Cahill:
Well, that’s nice to hear.

William O’Shaughnessy:
You’re a Republican. He’s a Democrat!

John Cahill:
You know what, I’ve always approached government and politics really non-political, Bill. I mean whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat, we all have the responsibility to serve the interests of the people. That’s the ideology rather than being a Republican or a Democrat I would take to the office of Attorney General.

William O’Shaughnessy:
Let’s take some calls from our listeners for the Republican – are you also the Conservative candidate?

John Cahill:
Yes I am …

William O’Shaughnessy:
The Republican-Conservative candidate for attorney general of the State of New York John Cahill … let’s go to the phones. You’re on the air …

Caller:
I’m listening to Mr. Cahill and normally as we get closer to Election Day we ask well why should the person already in there be discharged? I heard what you were saying before that you think you can beat Mr. Schneiderman. In general what type of a job do you think he’s doing? What would you do different?

John Cahill:
I do not like the job he is doing. A couple of areas I would take issue with the current Attorney General: One, on law enforcement and on criminal justice issues. For instance, we have a heroin epidemic exploding across the State right now. If you travel from Staten Island up to Buffalo that is really having a devastating impact on many of our communities. And what is the attorney general’s response to that? Well, it’s to hand out an antidote. That’s fine. I believe we should save every life possible. But how about going after the criminals dispensing that horrible drug to those in our communities. We need tougher laws and we need tougher law enforcement when it comes to heroin and drug use in the State. We need to have an attorney general who is helping to bring businesses into this State, not fighting job opportunities on every front. And that’s whether it’s in the financial service industry, in the high-tech industry, in the natural gas industry. We’ve had an attorney general who has been anti-business from day one in office. And number three … anybody out there would say who is the attorney general? People don’t know who he is. Would you hire a lawyer who hasn’t shown up, who you haven’t identified with, who hasn’t helped your life in the last four years? I don’t think you would re-hire him. I will be the advocate for the people of New York. I will be, yes, the governor’s lawyer and the executive lawyer, but I would also be a much stronger advocate for the people of New York.

William O’Shaughnessy:
If push comes to shove … who do you go with? The people or the governor?

John Cahill:
I don’t think it’s really a choice, Bill. Clearly you have a responsibility as attorney general to represent the Governor and to represent the interests of the Executive. Listen, when I was Secretary to the Governor, we worked with Elliot Spitzer. Not exactly an ideologue of similarity to Governor Pataki. But he knew his responsibility with respect to representing the Executive. He also had his own responsibilities and took on his own issues in that role. And not to say I would emulate that attorney general either, but I think the point that you’re making is a good one … you do have responsibility under New York State law and under the constitution to represent the Executive. But that doesn’t preclude you from setting your own policies and advocating for New Yorkers.

William O’Shaughnessy:
John Cahill, your own party is a mess. The Republican Party. It almost doesn’t exist anymore. Or does it?

John Cahill:
Oh it does, Bill. I think there are different sectors of the Republican Party. But frankly, you’re also seeing that in the Democratic Party. You saw that with the Working Family Party at their convention up in Albany two weeks ago from the far left pressuring the Governor on the endorsement. Listen, both political parties are going to have fringe elements pressing the issue. And many times, because they are so influential in the primary process, they can have a dramatic impact on elections. But I do believe in the Republican Party, with the right message and the right voice about being inclusive. One of the things the Republican Party has a problem with is being compassionate. At least projecting itself as compassionate, Bill …

William O’Shaughnessy:
What do you mean?

John Cahill:
Well, take for instance … I came out on Sunday in support of medical marijuana and many in my party are opposed to it. Now I’m not in favor of legalizing marijuana. But when you talk to so many of the advocates and the parents who have children who suffer from seizures that would benefit from medical marijuana, I was convinced that yes, we could do this. We can do it by providing additional resources to law enforcement, to State troopers and local police to make sure that the law is properly enforced. But we need to be, as a party, more caring and more responsive and show that to the people of this State and to the people of this country.

William O’Shaughnessy:
John Cahill, you mentioned State Troopers … the State Police. Weren’t you just endorsed by the troopers?

John Cahill:
Yes I was. I’m very proud my first political endorsement came from the New York State Police.

William O’Shaughnessy:
So the next time I’m stopped going up 684 … I’m going to have a Cahill bumper sticker …

John Cahill:
Bill, I think you know a lot of other people that can help you a lot more than I can. But I’d be proud to help you, Bill.

William O’Shaughnessy:
That’s a great endorsement … the troopers.
John Cahill:
Yes … I’m very proud. I worked with the State Police in both the DEC and in the Governor’s Office and they are a tremendous group of men and women that risk their lives every day. I don’t think anyone driving up the State Thruway at night, when they see a State Trooper pulled over, they say wow! That takes a lot of courage to do what they do everyday to protect us.

William O’Shaughnessy:
John Cahill … you’re on the Republican and Conservative lines. And you’re also with a neighbor of ours, Rob Astorino. How’s he doing?

John Cahill:
He’s been a tremendous county executive. He’s kept his word. He’s straightened out the finances of this county. And he is a great campaigner. I mean Rob takes the message every day to the public. He’s happy about it. He’s a wonderful guy. It shows on the stump. I think people have been surprised before in politics. Rob Astorino has the capability of surprising a lot of people.

William O’Shaughnessy:
He sat right at that very microphone and said some very nice things about Andrew Cuomo. But then lo and behold … a month later he changed his tune.

John Cahill:
Well … you know, listen … he’s got to be able to differentiate himself from the incumbent in order to win. I can’t speak for Rob, but I don’t think it’s personal animosity, but they have a difference of opinion about how the State should move forward. And I think that’s healthy for the electorate to have a choice. People competing for ideas. We’re going to see more of that and it’s probably going to get a little bit tougher as we get to Election Day. But Rob is a good person with a good heart and he wants to do the right thing for this State as he’s done for this county.

William O’Shaughnessy:
I agree with everything you’ve said about him. But Siena College … the poll … the people. They have him 36 points behind. Has he got a chance?

John Cahill:
Sure he’s got a chance. First of all, very few people, except for political junkies like you and me, Bill, are not paying a lot of attention to the elections coming this November. They will focus on it after Labor Day. Everybody has a chance in politics. People who don’t have a chance are the people who are sitting on the sidelines. Did you see what happened in Virginia early last week.

William O’Shaughnessy:
What happened?

John Cahill:
The Republican pulled an upset over the Majority Leader Cantor. I think that what happened was Representative Cantor lost touch with his district. He was busy traveling around the state … taking his message and planning to be the next Speaker and once you lost touch with your constituents, you are very vulnerable to losing an election. Not to say Governor Cuomo has lost touch, but it shows that any politician – and politicians know this Bill – they are vulnerable. Rob is going to be out there taking it to the Governor. Challenging him on issues and you just don’t know what can happen in an election.

William O’Shaughnessy:
Let’s go again to the phones …

Caller:
Good morning Mr. Cahill … first of all, good luck in your race. I wanted to ask you … Eric Schneiderman, has a reputation of being maybe a little too tough on businesses and on Wall Street. How would you approach the same kind of clientele?

John Cahill:
Thank you for calling … when I was DEC Commissioner I had similar responsibilities with respect to enforcement. I was obviously focused on environmental crimes and violations. But I always took the approach to be tough but fair. In New York State, we need a level playing field. That’s what people expect. We need to be the referee. But we don’t need people grandstanding on enforcement actions in order to help their political career. And frankly, I think we’ve seen that too often in the attorney general’s office. It’s been used to be an aspiring governor as opposed to attorney general. We need somebody, as Bill has mentioned, like Louis Lefkowitz who was committed to that office. I’ve said this once … I’ve said it before … if I’m elected as attorney general, I will not use that office to seek higher office. You can not have somebody in that position that the public, would question the motivation behind them, whether it’s an action behind the people’s interest or you’re serving your political interest. That is a crucial element for the office of Attorney General.

Caller:
I remember Lefkowitz. What do you think he brought to the table that you can bring to the table and be the anti-Schneiderman?

John Cahill:
I think he brought a sense of fairness to the office. He instilled a sense of competency and integrity in that office and no one, if I recall, every questioned the merits of him bringing an action on behalf of the People of New York. Because he was committed to that office. He was not seeking higher office. He did not have a political agenda. He had one agenda and that was to serve the public. And I think that’s a crucial element for anybody in that type of position. Another great New Yorker was Morgenthau, the district attorney of Manhattan. Yes, he ran for governor, but before he was elected to the office of DA … I guess in 1960 against Governor Rockefeller … he never used the office of District Attorney of Manhattan to seek higher office. And he was looked upon, and rightfully so, as probably the District Attorney, the law enforcement official of the country with the most integrity and the most capable office.

William O’Shaughnessy:
John Cahill … I still can’t figure out something. You have a nice family, a beautiful blonde wife. And yet you’re out and about … I see you constantly on Facebook in some cockamamie, obscure town that nobody’s ever heard of. First of all, you went to Elmira, and you didn’t go to the right place!

John Cahill:
Why is that?

William O’Shaughnessy:
I told you, the chicken wings at Bernie Murray’s! And Moretti’s.

John Cahill:
I went to Louie’s. It’s a terrific place in Elmira.

William O’Shaughnessy:
See, I’m a great advisor to Cahill. You really listen to me about chicken wings! When you’re in these awful, far-flung places, that’s my word – awful – you seem to like them.

John Cahill:
I love them. They’re not awful. They’re just wonderful people looking for a future for their towns and for their families. No different from my neighbors in Yonkers that are concerned if their kids are going to stay in the neighborhood. Are they going to be forced out because they need a job and can’t afford the taxes here in New York and they’ll have to move elsewhere. People have lived in these communities for generations. They want their communities to succeed. They want a government and an attorney general’s office that is responsive to the needs of these communities.

William O’Shaughnessy:
You mentioned earlier our mutual friend William Plunkett, Esq. He’s had a great impact on all our lives.

John Cahill:
He has …

William O’Shaughnessy:
He gets mad at me every time the New York tabloids quote me accusing Plunkett of being the most powerful man in New York State. He gets mad for about one minute!

John Cahill:
Yes … just a minute!
William O’Shaughnessy:
So, I’m not surprised he likes you. We call him “Monsignor” Plunkett! I think he’d prefer “Cardinal.” What about your Catholic faith? Is it important to you?

John Cahill:
Yes … it’s real important to me, Bill. As you mentioned, I grew up in an Irish-Catholic household. Went to Archbishop Stepinac. Fordham University. And actually when I met Bill Plunkett I was giving some serious thought to joining the seminary. I was teaching religion and coaching basketball, baseball and soccer at Stepinac. It has remained an important element in my life until this day.

William O’Shaughnessy:
Do you regret never becoming a priest?

John Cahill:
No. I have a wonderful wife and four beautiful kids. Bill was one of the ones who kind of steered me in that direction. Even though I decided to take a different path, my Catholic faith is and will always be an important part of my life.

William O’Shaughnessy:
What do you think of your new Pope? Francis …

John Cahill:
He’s a hero. A Hero. One thing that is remarkable is that you look at the leaders of the Catholic faith and when we really need a dynamic leader – which the Church desperately needed right now – we have this new Pope. He’s brought new energy, new excitement … he has just been a remarkable, remarkable leader. And Cardinal Dolan, who I am a big fan of here in New York … once again, we have tremendous leadership in our faith.

William O’Shaughnessy:
Cardinal Dolan, speaking of which, seems to be a big fan of your running mate Rob Astorino. Are you and Dolan pretty tight?
“The Times They Are a Changing …”

John Cahill:
Well, he’s been very, very good to me. I serve on a couple of boards for the Cardinal. So he has been very supportive. I think he’s been a great leader of our faith. I was very close with Cardinal Egan as well. I was the Governor’s “ambassador” to the Cardinal’s office. I’ve enjoyed a relationship with our spiritual leaders here in New York for some time, Bill.

William O’Shaughnessy:
How about ambassador to the Vatican? Wouldn’t that be a great gig?

John Cahill:
I only have eyes for New York. That would be a great gig. But I only have eyes for Elmira probably more than the Vatican!
William O’Shaughnessy:
Your Catholic faith, stick with it for a minute, John Cahill. Mario Cuomo said he prays for sureness. Sureness. Are you sure about your faith?

John Cahill:
I think all of us, whatever faith you believe in at points in your life, you question. I think it’s good to question. We’ve been taught to question our faith. It makes you stronger in your faith once you help find the answers to what you’re seeking. I do seek sureness. I guess I would say I pray for hope. I pray for opportunity more than I pray for sureness, Bill. Because I’m pretty sure, at this point in my life. I’m confident in my faith, but I really pray for the opportunities for other people whether they’re here in New York that they be given a life of meaning and worth. That’s why I want to get back into public service.

William O’Shaughnessy:
Mr. Attorney General Cahill … I’ve already got you elected! You’re the Attorney General. Office in Albany. Office in New York. The court says you’ve got to close down an abortion clinic. Or you’ve got to keep one open. What do you do?

John Cahill:
You follow the laws of the State of New York, Bill. It’s very clear. You leave your personal faith, your issues behind you when you take a Constitutional oath to uphold the laws and the Constitution of the State of New York. I recognized that when I got into this. I took that same oath when I served as Secretary to the Governor.

William O’Shaughnessy:
The oath says what?

John Cahill:
You will uphold the laws of the State of New York, the Constitution of New York and of the United States.

William O’Shaughnessy:
So help me …

John Cahill:
So help me God. I will do that as I have done. People might have criticized me for many things during my tenure in government, Bill. I don’t think anyone would have questioned me for ever, ever violating the oath I took in serving out my public responsibility. And I would do the same again as Attorney General.

William O’Shaughnessy:
That job of Secretary to the Governor calls for “the hammer.” Mr. No! Did you have a tough time being the tough guy?

John Cahill:
I think I tried to be tough in a fair way. I don’t believe that in order to be tough you need to scream at people. But you need to give people a direct answer as to what they’re seeking. I tried to represent the Governor in that position. I don’t think Governor Pataki was the type of guy who wanted people to be screamed at or yelled at. He was the type of guy who delivered and if we couldn’t do something, be direct and tell them exactly why and we’ll move on. That’s what I try to do. I didn’t have a problem saying no to people because by telling no that was often in the best interest of the State.

William O’Shaughnessy:
George Pataki … to this day do we really know him? What kind of guy is he?

John Cahill:
A remarkable guy. He really is. I mean he is a very regular sort of guy from Peekskill. A background in farming … at the same time he has an amazing intellect. Yale, Columbia. His mind works at a different speed than anyone I’ve ever met. He is a very kind, decent, smart guy who loved to serve the State with great distinction in his 12 years. I’m happy to have him as a friend and now I have him as a business partner as well, Bill.

William O’Shaughnessy:
Do you think he still looks in the mirror and sees a president?

John Cahill:
I don’t think there is anybody who served as governor of the State of New York who hasn’t thought of being president. And I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. When you’re elected by what I would say is the most important state in the country, you should think about whether it’s right with you personally to run for president. And once you have that one thought in your mind, you will have it for the rest of your life. So I think whether it’s Andrew Cuomo, Mario Cuomo, George Pataki, Nelson Rockefeller … I think New Yorkers expect their governor to be of Presidential timber.

William O’Shaughnessy:
Someone said Nelson ran too hard for it … and Mario wouldn’t run at all!

John Cahill:
It’s a hard decision … running for president. It’s hard enough traveling the State, Bill. Can you imagine going to Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, endlessly, for two years leading up to the Presidential primaries and caucuses? That’s a real demand on people’s lives.

William O’Shaughnessy:
We’ll take another call … Jimmy Breslin, the great writer, one of the great journalists of our time. I said to him, listen … I loved your stuff about Winston Churchill, Bobby Kennedy, Jack Kennedy. Why are you writing about these obscure guys? He said: Who’s to write about? So John Cahill, is there anybody on the political scene or the national – or even international – who you think has the great stuff? Any heroes?

John Cahill:
You mentioned President Kennedy … we had his picture in my house, Bill, until the day my mom passed away. It was a center point of our lives. I’ll never forget the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated. It was literally the first thing I remember in my life. I was four years old at the time and watching with my mother as she cried and we watched the funeral. Same thing with Bobby Kennedy. I remember my mom waking me up that morning and said get down on your knees and say a prayer for Senator Kennedy. So the Kennedys, even though they were Democrats, they were Irish and they were great politicians. They tried to change the world which is extraordinarily admirable. And I think if you would look at the political map today, I still think there’s the makings of political heroes. And I think we’re all looking for people to look up to … I was a big Ronald Reagan fan in my formative days back when I was in college. But I’m still looking for that leader who is talking about compassion and care. Jeb Bush, I’m a big fan of his because he’s open to Hispanics. He’s open to expanding the breadth of the Republican Party much as Governor George Pataki was. We need that type of leadership again … certainly in the Party and in the country.

William O’Shaughnessy:
I hate to throw you a surprise, but they’re talking about Romney again … drafting Romney.

John Cahill:
I don’t see that happening, at all. I’ve known Governor Romney, he’s a wonderful guy. I would be really surprised if the Republican Party would get behind Governor Romney again. I would be surprised if Governor Romney really was excited about running a third time for president.

William O’Shaughnessy:
Republican John Cahill … what about the guy across the river? The big guy! Christie?

John Cahill:
I think he’s done some really good things over in New Jersey. I think the “Bridge-gate” scandal will get behind him. Obviously it’s been a drag on his administration. A drag on the state. We hear he had no prior knowledge of it. But it’s going to be a challenge for anybody to run for president. He’ll have to deal with those issues and running a state that is very difficult state to govern.

Caller:
What do you think can be done about the rampant shootings in the schools, movie theatres and the malls?

John Cahill:
Good question … an important question. We talk a lot about gun safety and gun violence and we have the Safe Act that passed a few years ago, but we’re not really talking enough about the mental health crisis in this country. And I really worry that we are focused on guns, and I’m concerned about guns as well although I have some issues with the Safe Act that was passed without any serious debate. We really need to do more on mental health issues in our country whether it is the young that are being exposed to violence and recreating violence in these schools which is creating horror around the country. So I think we really need to take a comprehensive approach to these issues of violence and gun violence. Certainly tougher enforcement on illegal guns is important. But we can’t lose sight of the fact that many of these people doing these horrible things show there really is a mental health crisis in this country that we’re not properly addressing.

William O’Shaughnessy:
What’s wrong with the Safe Act you don’t like?

John Cahill:
The Safe Act … let’s talk about how it was passed. It was passed in the middle of the night without any debate on the message and necessity. On an issue that is so important to so many people upstate, we need to have a serious debate on the issue, Bill.

William O’Shaughnessy:
You mean, they like their guns?

John Cahill:
They do like their guns. They grew up in a culture of hunting and conservation. They are law-abiding citizens. These are not people who are violent. The law itself is flawed because it meant even police officers were carrying illegal weapons because it limited the magazine clip to seven clips whereas most law enforcers carry ten clips. So there wasn’t real serious thought put into the legislation, Bill. If we’re going to look at gun control we need to look at as a compressive issue that addresses what we are trying to achieve and that is to reduce violence in our schools. I think we can do better than we’ve done on the Safe Act.

William O’Shaughnessy:
Whose fault was that about the only ten bullets?

John Cahill:
You have to put blame on everyone that had to do with the passage of the legislation. From the Governor’s Office to the Legislature. If we had a serious debate on an issue, weaknesses in the Bill such as that would have been pointed out. And we could have done something I think would have been more beneficial on gun violence along with mental health issues.

William O’Shaughnessy:
Caller does that make sense?

Caller:
Yes it does indeed.

William O’Shaughnessy:
John Cahill … as I told you before, you’ve got the numbers against you. Can you raise enough money to beat this guy.

John Cahill:
I’ve been out there raising money and it’s been going well. It’s going to take a significant amount of resources, but I’m out there, I’m speaking with the donors … for those interested, I’m having a fundraiser at Zuppa’s on Monday in Yonkers. You’re welcome down to the Yonkers waterfront

William O’Shaughnessy:
How much does it cost to get in?

John Cahill:
We’ll talk about that Bill! There are various levels but, listen, all are welcome. It’s not only the big donors, but certainly I want to have the grass roots support particularly from the people in my county and in my hometown to get them involved in the campaign. So I am confident the resources will be there, Bill. If I wasn’t … I wouldn’t have gotten into the race.

William O’Shaughnessy:
Don’t you hate to ask for money?

John Cahill:
You know, it’s hard. You have to think of it this way, Bill. My answer to that is yes. But you know what, if you believe in yourself and if you believe in the message, what you’re selling, you’re not asking for a contribution, you’re asking for an investment in the State. You’re asking for people to believe that you will make the State a better state and therefore what you’re asking for is not just a contribution but an investment.

William O’Shaughnessy:
So, you’ve got Cuomo against Astorino at the top of the ticket. And then for attorney general you have Cahill on two lines – Republican/Conservative against Schneiderman. Do you think enough people from the Democratic Party are going to come over for you?

John Cahill:
That’s certainly going to be the challenge. I recognize that Democrats and Independents and Republicans – I have to reach out to all of those groups. And I certainly plan on doing that. I do not believe people of this State are monolithic voters … that they just go down and vote Democrat. You can just look at the election returns last year, for instance on the Comptroller’s race, the Comptroller got 47% while the Governor candidate – Palladino – got 34%. People are willing – Democrats, Independents – are willing to look at Republicans based upon what their message is and what they are going to offer the State. We have a long history of ticket-splitting in the State. People want to balance government in Albany. I think Democrats and Independents will be there in November.

William O’Shaughnessy:
Is your wife, Kim, OK with this?

John Cahill:
Yes … she’s been great. She has supported me in all these crazy things I’ve done in my life.

William O’Shaughnessy:
Did you walk in one day and say guess what?

John Cahill:
Well this isn’t as bad as when I went to Albany in 1995 when I had four kids under four years of age and traveling back and forth to Albany commuting. At least my kids are older now and she has been my biggest supporter in life. She’s more private than I am, Bill. But she has been 100% behind me. I wouldn’t have done it without her.

William O’Shaughnessy:
So, does Kim Cahill like the rubber chicken dinners?

John Cahill:
She does. She loves meeting people. She loves talking to people. She is much more social than I am, thank God. So she’s going to be a real asset to me on the campaign trail.

William O’Shaughnessy:
What about your kids? How old are they?

John Cahill:
I have 23, 21 and twins that are 19.

William O’Shaughnessy:
Oh, they can put up a lot of posters …

John Cahill:
They sure can. They are my advance team! I had my daughter with me on the Southern Tier trip this past weekend. And it was great for them to see parts of the State they’ve never seen before. My oldest son put off going to law school to basically be my body man for the course of the summer.

William O’Shaughnessy:
What’s his name?

John Cahill:
John Patrick, Jr. I have my daughter Megan who just graduated from Fordham University. She’s is today heading down to my office working the phones with me. My son Jimmy has been traveling around the State with me teaching me how to do social networking. How to do Twitter and how to do Facebook. So it’s really been a wonderful family effort, Bill.

William O’Shaughnessy:
I wish we had television John Cahill. People could see the look of optimism and to use your favorite word … hope. I see it on your face. Again, I’ve got to tell you thought occurs … this guy is too nice. We like rogues! We like Spitzer-types!

John Cahill:
No … listen. When I think about political heroes, one of the guys I really admired growing up was Jack Kemp as a Republican.

William O’Shaughnessy:
Jack Kemp … the quarterback?

John Cahill:
The quarterback for the Buffalo Bills, a congressman ….

William O’Shaughnessy:
He was a nice guy.

John Cahill:
He was a wonderful man, a wonderful politician. And, as you mentioned, he was a nice guy with a vision about opportunity. About creating opportunity for those in the inner cities. He knew immigrants come to our shores looking for hope like my parents did. Let’s leave parties aside, we need to be as a society more open and find ways to bring hope and opportunity to uplift people in our society. I think we can do that better from the Attorney General’s office. That would, obviously, be a priority of mine as an elected official.

William O’Shaughnessy:
John, that’s the second time you bought up immigrants. The paper this morning, the lead editorial in our beloved New York Times – do you have a chance to get their endorsement?

John Cahill:
You know … I’ll certainly have a conversation with them. I’m going to be reaching to everybody. I believe I do have a chance because of the message I have of inclusiveness and a different type of view – ideology toward government. But, you know, that will be up to the New York Times. I’m not counting on it, Bill. But I will certainly have a conversation with them.

William O’Shaughnessy:
Speaking of immigrants, they say that 40,000 children have been picked up at the border and are now in custody. What the hell would you do with them?

John Cahill:
It’s a really, really tough issue. We need to have laws in this country. We need to protect our borders. That’s what defines a country … having borders. And clearly the idea of forcing these kids out of their homelands into the US shores is something that shouldn’t be tolerated – frankly – on either side of the border.

William O’Shaughnessy:
Who is forcing?

John Cahill:
The parents or the societies. Whether Mexican or from Central America coming up through Mexico and forcing these kids basically into the United States because they don’t see that there’s any hope in some of these countries. And I tell you, Bill, I’ve traveled to Central America and you see the poverty in places like El Salvador. You understand why they’re so desperate to get out of El Salvador and into this country. But that doesn’t mean we don’t need to secure our borders. But at the same time, we need to realize that these immigrants that are here, they’re not going back. We need to bring them into our society and we need to give them opportunities. I’ve been criticized for supporting the Dream Act which would give tuition assistance to children of undocumented aliens. I don’t believe in penalizing children because of the mistakes of their parents. I just really believe that society – we need to be more open, more inclusive. We need to absolutely secure our borders. That’s what defines us as Americans. But these individuals that have been here for decades now, we need to find a way to bring them into our society.

William O’Shaughnessy:
That’s a very compassionate, generous, enlightened view. It ain’t particularly a Republican view.

John Cahill:
Right … maybe I’m not the typical Republican. I’ll leave that up to others to define. When I think about being a Republican, it’s about opportunity. Whether that is a child of an illegal immigrant or my child, I want to give them the same opportunity. That’s what is going to make our country or our State better … by giving them the tools to succeed and having them as part of our society.

William O’Shaughnessy:
John Cahill, let’s take another call. I always get in trouble with the last call. You’re on the air the Republican/Conservative candidate for Attorney General of the State of New York … John Cahill of Yonkers, where true love conquers …

Caller:
Just kind of curious … since you were talking earlier about your political heroes, Mr. Cahill, who are some of the attorneys general from the past you thought did a really good job?

John Cahill:
Well certainly, we talked a lot about Louis Lefkowitz this morning from New York State. Again, he was the people’s lawyer. He was out there looking to build a better office to serve the people. Not looking for higher political aspirations. Bob Moragenthau, although he wasn’t the attorney general, he was the District Attorney here. Carl Vergari in Westchester County, another wonderful individual who ran a great D.A.’s office as did Jeanine Pirro … and I’m a big fan of Janet DiFiore.

William O’Shaughnessy:
She was a Republican who became a Democrat.

John Cahill:
Yes … but she is a very good, capable district attorney here in Westchester. I’m happy to say that. I think the world of Janet as a person and as the district attorney. Those are the type of people that are in those positions of law enforcement that use those offices for the betterment of the people and not for their own political interests.

William O’Shaughnessy:
Speaking of which, would you ever switch parties to get elected?

John Cahill:
No. I really do believe in the core principles and values of the Republican Party. And that is a party that looks to create opportunities. We talked a lot about why I’m a Republican. Why I’m not a Democrat is because I do believe the Democrats look to create dependency. So I’m just about opportunity. Call me something other than a Republican, Bill, I believe in those type of values that the government can do well, can create opportunities, and have us achieve more. It’s helped me in my life. I wanted to have government do that for others as it has done for me.

William O’Shaughnessy:
I’ll bet you right now that four-year-old John Cahill in Yonkers was the child of Democrat parents.

John Cahill:
No … that’s not true. You would think, my parents, coming from Ireland, and actually my dad was an immigrant. When he immigrated he was a Democrat because in order to get a job you had to enroll as a Democrat. He changed over time. He was very much a conservative guy by the time that he died. But he was, again, about hard work and opportunity. That was a more underlying basis of his political philosophy more than anything else. That’s what I believe. I follow that as the basis of my political philosophy: hard work and opportunity.

William O’Shaughnessy:
John Cahill … I don’t know if you can pull this off. But you’ve got a lot of people rooting for you. All of a sudden, I spend an hour with you and I feel better about politics. I feel better about the Republican Party. You’re a damn breath of fresh air.

John Cahill:
Well … Bill, thank you. As the Mets used to say You Gotta Believe! I can win this. And the polls may say something now and then in June or July, that doesn’t mean anything. What really means something is getting this message out across the State. I appreciate it. It’s been fun being on with you. I think New York can do better. That’s why I’m out there.

William O’Shaughnessy:
Who is more difficult, O’Shaughnessy or Fred Dicker?

John Cahill:
That’s not quite close.

William O’Shaughnessy:
We carry him … proudly … every afternoon at 4 on WVOX.

John Cahill:
I know. Fred and I go way back. We’ve had our conversations over the years … and listen … he’s a tough journalist up in Albany. It’s great to be on with you, Bill. You’ve been a good friend.

# # #

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 John Cahill.

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

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

William O’Shaughnessy Interviews Alfred F. Kelly, Jr.

William O’Shaughnessy

President & Editorial Director

WVOX and WVIP

Interview with 

Alfred F. Kelly, Jr.

President & CEO

NY/NJ Super Bowl Host Company

Super Bowl XLVIII

February 27, 2014

 

Alfred F. Kelly, Jr. ran Super Bowl XLVIII in 2014, the very first outdoor-cold weather gridiron classic in N.F.L. history.  He was a former president of American Express and as a young man had a very important post in the Reagan White House.  We spoke of his Catholic faith, his friendship with Cardinal Dolan and his Westchester family.  Kelly has been a class act in every season.  And he’s only 55.

Although the legendary sportswriter Jimmy Cannon once called Sports “the toys of a nation,” football, which resembles sanctioned violence (our Westchester neighbor Commissioner Roger Goodell will forgive me) has appeal for many of our neighbors. 115 million watched the extravaganza hosted by Kelly and his NY/NJ Super Bowl associates.

We were flattered that just a few weeks after the big event he came by his homet

own station for this interview.  We talked of many things – besides football.  Al Kelly is quite a guy, as you will see …

William O’Shaughnessy:

Good morning, Westchester … it’s what the Brits would call a “brilliant day” here in our home heath of Westchester.  For the next several minutes while we’re in your care and keeping – we have someone I’ve been looking forward to interviewing for a long time.  You’ve read about him in the public press.  This is his home heath as well, New Rochelle.  He grew up around here.  He’s an Iona guy.  He was an elder of Iona College.  He has enormous influence around that campus because he raises a lot of money for them.  But in recent years he had a career change.  You may have known him as the president of a small, tiny, little company called American Express … Amex, the huge credit card company – where he served for many years as president with our New Rochelle neighbor Ken Chenault, husband of Kathryn Chenault.  His name is Alfred F. Kelly, Jr.  And recently – you must know this – he’s been running the Super Bowl.  Al Kelly … are you glad you did it?

Al Kelly:

Good morning, Bill.  It’s a pleasure to be with you and the folks of Westchester County.  I’m delighted I did it.  It was a wonderful event for this region.  Considering the fact that Super Bowls have been played for almost five decades and 1/16th of the National Football League is in this region and calls this region home, in my mind it was high time this great game for American sports came to the greatest area in America and I think we put on a terrific show … this region has so much to offer.   It was really my pleasure to really play a bit of a “maestro” role in bringing tens of thousands of people together to make it a success.  But we’re really pleased with the way it went.

William O’Shaughnessy:

Was it a success, Al Kelly?

Al Kelly:

I do believe it was, Bill … on all accounts.  It was the most watched television show in television history. 

William O’Shaughnessy:

How many people?

Al Kelly:

111.5 million people.  It beat the Super Bowl of three years ago when the Giants beat the Patriots by a few points.  One of the reasons it did so well on television despite the fact it wasn’t a terribly competitive game, was because we were able to create an atmosphere where this really was – in this area – almost like either the Giants or Jets, or both, were playing in it.  And the reality is we had a 51 share in this market where a typical Super Bowl where the Giants or Jets are not in would get a 30 share.  And that’s because we got the region fired up about this great opportunity. There was a 21% increase in the number of credentialed media that followed this game.  6,400 credentialed media came to the Super Bowl and Super Bowl week.  One of the things I looked at from the very beginning – as did the Tisch, Mara and Johnson families – was that we wanted to take this platform of the Super Bowl and make sure we did some good for the community.  Typically a host committee would struggle to raise a million dollars for a single project.  We have raised almost 12 million dollars and we have initiated or completed or have in progress over 50 projects on both sides of the Hudson River, all aimed at school-age youth and facilities they use after school … in the evenings … on the weekends and in the summers.  We did a playground in White Plains, a brand-new playground from scratch.  We have done community center renovations.  We put new ball fields in place.  And these are things, Bill, that are going to last for decades.  And my hope is that people are going to say that in 2014 the Super Bowl was played here and this field, this community center, this playground we are enjoying today – five, ten, fifteen years later – came about because of the Super Bowl being here.  That “Legacy” element is the most gratifying work we’ve done.

William O’Shaughnessy:

Alfred Kelly, Jr. … you’re working for the Maras … and I’m reminded that Wellington Mara, of sainted memory, sat right at that very microphone, several times … and also the Tischs and Woody Johnson of the Jets.  How’s that different from working for a board of directors of Amex, where once you presided?

Al Kelly:

Well, interestingly enough, this is a job where I don’t think I’ve ever had more bosses. New York-New Jersey Host Company is a company.  In addition to being CEO, I was chairman of a board that had eight members on it.  The owners couldn’t be members of it because we were a “not-for-profit” organization and the Giants and Jets are “for profit” organizations.  So we actually had an “advisory committee” where I met with the owners once a month. 

William O’Shaughnessy:

Were they easy to deal with?

Al Kelly:

They were terrific.  I have to say, they were perfect bosses.  They were there when I needed them.  They largely left me to do my thing.  We called upon them tremendously as far as appearances.  I had them at many breakfasts, cocktails parties and unless they were traveling, they would never say no.  I couldn’t have asked for more.  I knew the Maras and I knew John Tisch a bit.  I didn’t know the rest of the Tisch family and I didn’t know Woody Johnson before I got into this and they really have been a real pleasure to deal with.  Interestingly enough, John Tisch and Woody Johnson, who were the co-chairs of this, were both born in New Jersey and today live in Manhattan.  And for them to share a New York-New Jersey Super Bowl was important to them personally because this was their home area and the fact they were able to show off their terrific new stadium to the world also gave them a real sense of pride.  And it is a beautiful facility they’ve built.

William O’Shaughnessy:

Alfred Kelly, Jr., head of the Super Bowl, do you think there will ever be another one around here?

Al Kelly:

Obviously, it’s one of the smallest, elitist clubs in the world, the 32 owners of the National Football League.  They determine where the Super Bowls go.  And as of the current by-laws in the League:  A:  It can only be in a region where there is an NFL franchise.  And B:, Bill, there is this rule that the commissioner allowed a one-time pass on which a Super Bowl can only be held in a region where there’s an average temperature in February of at least 55 degrees.  So, obviously, that was waived, even though we got pretty darn close to 55 degrees on February 2nd. 

William O’Shaughnessy:

You were bailed out by the weatherman.  What if we had a blizzard?  Would you be scrambling now to explain the weather?

Al Kelly:

Well, from the beginning, two things I knew I couldn’t control were the weather and who was going to play in the game and thus determine the competitiveness of the game.  Despite the fact that a lot of people paid a lot of attention to the weather, I never really worried about it per se.  I just made sure we were prepared.  We had great cooperation from Governor Christie and Governor Cuomo and Mayor Bloomberg and then Mayor DeBlasio who came in and was incredibly supportive in his early days in office.  We have great assets in this region.  We know how to clear snow.  In fact, both governors and the mayor were prepared to prioritize where the snow removal happened based upon the day of the week in Super Bowl week and what events were happening and where they were happening.  Truthfully, Bill, it would have taken the wrong storm at exactly the wrong time to impact the game because typically, even in a blizzard, we have a period of eight to ten hours where we’re paralyzed.  But after that you could start to get it cleared out.  There have been a couple of times this winter where it started to snow at 11 in the morning and it snowed until 10 at night.   Obviously, that kind of day would have been a problem.  But I invited Cardinal Dolan, a good friend of my wife Peggy and me, about six months before … and  I gave him the assignment of praying for good weather.  Unfortunately, the Cardinal ultimately couldn’t come to the game but I think the fact that if he’s ever up for sainthood, I’ll be able to say that he had a miracle by creating the best day in 2014 to date, including today, which was February 2nd.

William O’Shaughnessy:

I just got a note from him this week, His Eminence will claim credit for this, you know how he operates!

Al Kelly:

And he should … I’m happy to give it to him!

William O’Shaughnessy:

His name is Alfred F. Kelly, Jr. … he’s a Westchester guy, lives in Rye with his wife Peggy.  Didn’t you two fall in love right in our backyard here?

Al Kelly:

We did.  I grew up in the Crestwood section of Yonkers.  Peggy grew up in Port Chester.  I actually met her at her senior prom at Holy Child where she was …

William O’Shaughnessy:

Was she with somebody else …?

Al Kelly:

She was with somebody else!  I was a year older, a freshman at Iona College after four years at Iona Prep.  She was going to Iona College … so I was introduced to her at the prom and six months later, in December of 1977, I took her to an Iona College basketball game and that was our first date and we dated for seven years and September of last year, we were married for 30 years, so we’ve been together quite a while …

William O’Shaughnessy:

And you have a few children?

Al Kelly:

We do, we have five children.  Our two boys are graduates of Iona Prep.  Our two girls are graduates of the School of the Holy Child where I happen to be Chairman of the Board of Trustees.  And believe it or not we have this incredible gift of a fourth grader who is ten years younger than our fourth child and 17 years younger than our oldest child and she is an absolute gift from the good Lord and she keeps us as young as can be.  She is a fourth grader at Resurrection School in Rye. 

William O’Shaughnessy:

Al Kelly, Jr., you’re what I used to call a “Castle Irishman.” It’s a term of admiration, it’s not a pejorative term.  You remind me of another son of Westchester … Jim Comey, he’s got five kids.  And what does Comey do?  He’s head of the FBI!  Is this a Roman thing … you’ve got to have five kids?  Kelly … and Comey?  Or the Plunketts!

Al Kelly:

I don’t know … I’m the oldest of seven.  We never really set out, when we were engaged or in our early years of marriage, with a particular number of children in mind.  It is what it is.  There was no plan for us vis a vis children.  But we have five terrific kids.  The older four have gone to … Boston College and we’ve had four BC graduates.  Father Lahey, their president, told me our fourth grader is already accepted into the Class of 2026! 

William O’Shaughnessy:

So your faith – the Catholic faith of the Roman Church – means a lot to you? 

Al Kelly:

It does.  I grew up … my parents still live in the Crestwood section of Yonkers. My dad goes to Mass every single day at Annunciation in Crestwood.  I can’t quite be that loyal.  It does mean a lot to me.  I’m very fond of our current cardinal and he has me extraordinarily involved in the Board of Trustees of Saint Joseph’s Seminary.  I am on the Finance Council of the Archdiocese of New York.  I’m the Vice President of the New York Catholic Foundation.  So he’s a hard guy to say no to.  I have a lot of faith in him and a lot of faith in our Church.  It is an important part of my life.

William O’Shaughnessy:

Al Kelly, who better to ask:  What do you think of the new Pope?  I can’t get enough of the guy …

Al Kelly:

I do think he’s been an incredible breath of fresh air.  One of the challenges the Church has is that it has lost a great deal of people.  Not necessarily to other faiths or other churches … just the fact that they’ve lost them.  I think they can be brought back and I think Pope Francis has been a real evangelist and I happen to think Cardinal Dolan has that similar personality.  And quite frankly, Bill, not enough priests have this evangelistic personality and objective where they really need to understand the Church is about the people and we need to have the people there for the Church to be vibrant.  I think that message the Pope is sending is that we need people back and involved in the Church and I think he’s done a wonderful job of setting tone in his first year as Pope. 

William O’Shaughnessy:

Alfred Kelly … Mario Cuomo … father of our present governor, Andrew Cuomo, was rooting for your friend Cardinal Dolan to be pope.  Did you ever talk to the cardinal and say, did you want the job?

Al Kelly:

Well, I think he, like many people in that position, would do whatever you are asked, much like our incredible young women and men who serve in the military.  I’ve gotten a chance to witness some of these people in this role of running the Super Bowl.  These people are incredibly selfless and do what they’re needed to do and go where they need to go and I think people like Cardinal Dolan will do what is necessary and what is right.  And if the wisdom of the other 125 Cardinals would be that he should be the pope, I think he would gladly embrace that.  If the wisdom is that he should be the head of the Archdiocese of New York, he would be happy doing that as well.  That’s one of the great things about him: he’s living in the moment. 

William O’Shaughnessy:

Alfred Kelly, Jr. … I don’t want to patronize you, but you have neighbors … in Scarsdale, Bronxville, Rye and Bedford … places with a lot of “yuppie,” hedge fund guys who take and give nothing back.  Do you and Peggy ever get kind of discouraged when you look around you … at the lack of manners … the lack of involvement?  The selfishness?

Al Kelly:

We do what we do and we don’t look around at others or judge other people.  I think both of us feel extraordinarily blessed.  I’ve had success from a combination of hard work and good fortune and our big things are healthcare and Catholic education and that’s the real core or our focus from a charity perspective, Bill.  It’s something we believe: if we’ve had some good fortune, we should try to help other people where we can.

William O’Shaughnessy:

Second time I’ve mentioned him, but Mario Cuomo said he prays for “sureness.”  Your Catholic faith, you’ve spoken eloquently of it this morning … are you … sure … about all this? 

Al Kelly:

You have to have faith.  Without it, it kind of leaves a void.  Does that mean our Church is perfect?  It’s far from it.  And it has its warts like every other or many other organizations do and I think one of the things Pope Francis is trying to do is deal with some of those warts.  Whether you look at the lack of men going into the priesthood …  I don’t know what it’s going to be like for my kids.  Who is going to say Mass on Sunday?  I know there are many more priests retiring every year than there are being ordained and obviously it’s just mathematics!  So that certainly is a concern for me.

William O’Shaughnessy:

Did you ever think about being a priest?

Al Kelly:

I never did, no.  I don’t know why.  It is a calling … but it is not something I’ve thought about. 

William O’Shaughnessy:

Al Kelly, Jr., we’ve roamed far and wide.  Let’s get away from your soul and your Church for the moment and your friend the cardinal … and go back to the Super Bowl which you ran, in every telling and in every account, brilliantly.  What’s next?  You also ran that little company American Express, which has been so good to me, in every season.  Aren’t you also a director of Hershey and a big insurance company?

Al Kelly:

Well, I am not currently on the Hershey board anymore, but I am on the board of Met Life and  recently, in January, I joined the board of Visa in San Francisco and I’m on the board of New York Presbyterian Hospital where I spend a fair amount of time.  I think it’s a phenomenal facility and phenomenal organization.  I don’t know what’s next, Bill.  I’m going to take the next six – eight weeks and help them get things cleaned up and closed down, bills to pay, reports to write, tax returns to file, audits to complete.  And then I want to take some time.  I’m not looking to jump into anything.  I have to decide if I want to go back into a big corporate job or do a portfolio of things.  The thing I know for sure is I want to work full time, it’s just a matter of whether I piece together four or five or six different things that role up to a full time role.  Or whether I take a full time role in corporate America.  I also have to decide how strongly I feel about going back into financial services which is kind of where I have the most experience.  But it certainly has become an incredibly regulated industry.  

William O’Shaughnessy:

Football … Al Kelly.  I once had a conversation … again I summon the name of Well Mara, of sainted memory.  I once asked Mr. Mara:  isn’t it really sanctioned violence.  You seem like a nice, gentle guy.  Are you uncomfortable when you see them get knocked around and flattened on the field?

Al Kelly:

These folks are in incredible shape.  I’ve had the good fortune of  watching a couple of N.F.L. games from the field and from that angle and perspective, Bill, you really see how fast and tough the game is.  I think it’s one of the challenges and Commissioner Goodell talked about it.  One of the challenges for the  League is how to make sure these young men who play the game are as protected as they can possibly be.  But on the other hand, the roughness, the toughness of it is part of the attractiveness of the game.  I have to say that although I’m a football fan, I’m probably a college basketball fan more than anything else.  I didn’t take this job because of this dying love for football – or even of sports – I took this job because of a love for this region of the country where I grew up and seeing that this incredible, ultimate football game could be a catalyst for economic benefit, tourism, charitable legacy work for this region and galvanize people around the Super Bowl much more than just watching a football game.  And that’s what got me excited about this opportunity and has me feeling good about it now that it is over.

William O’Shaughnessy:

Flash … I’ve got a thought.  Have you ever thought … Al Kelly, Jr. … about politics?

Al Kelly:

There was a time, Bill … probably as little as ten years ago when I did.  My father dabbled in it a little bit in Yonkers …

William O’Shaughnessy:

What did he do?

Al Kelly:

He ran for the local city council in Yonkers.  I have to admit, I’ve been quite turned off, quite honestly.  To fix it, we almost would need a wave of people to come in at the same time with the same objective of saying let’s get rid of this nonsense and say what do we must do to really fix our problems.  It feels like whether it’s at the state or federal level, the country is paralyzed and I’m the kind of guy who likes action, likes closure and I don’t see a lot of action or closure in government right now, so that’s not something I see myself doing at this point.

William O’Shaughnessy:

Is there anybody out there whose conduct commends itself to your favorable judgment?  Anybody you admire abroad in the land?

Al Kelly:

Well I think Rob Astorino has done a terrific job as the Westchester county executive.  I know people see their property taxes going up.  But their taxes aren’t going up because of the Westchester tax.  Westchester County taxes are a small piece of it.  Rob, I think, has taken very much a business approach to this by not trying to make his job bigger, but to make his job smaller.  And to try to really focus on what’s important.  And I think he’s done a really nice job in Westchester. 

William O’Shaughnessy:

What about the governor he might run against?  Andrew?

Al Kelly:

Well, I think Governor Cuomo has done a good job as well.  He took on the courageous decision of doing something about the Tappan Zee Bridge and these are not easy decisions because of the fact that it takes years and years for these things to happen and you start these projects and you’ll never see them end on your watch.  And I know when I was at the White House, President Reagan initiated the new 747’s that would serve as Air Force One … but he was never going to fly on a 747 as Air Force One.  But those were courageous decisions to start something somebody else is going to get credit for.  That takes some courage. 

William O’Shaughnessy:

When you were at the White House, what did you do for President Reagan?

Al Kelly:

I was in charge of Information Technology for eight of the eleven agencies that comprise the Office of the President.  So I had the desktops, which at the time were word processing machines and I was converting over to IBM pc’s.  I was there during the email system profs which got a lot of  attention during the Iran Contra affair where John Poindexter and Bud McFarlane and ultimately Ollie North all had their … the history books will write that it is the first time people realized that – unlike phone calls that go away when they’re over – emails don’t disappear. … what really was the first instant of an email being a real zinger and capturing something that somebody did after the fact when the person would have thought it might have been private or might have gone away.  It was an incredible time for me as a young person to have a job of that stature and be able to enjoy Washington which is a wonderful city … a great place to live and we enjoyed the three years we were down there.

William O’Shaughnessy:

What did you think of Ronald Wilson Reagan?

Al Kelly:

I can’t say enough good things about him.  Again, a guy who had vision, tried to pull people together of all kinds.  We’ve talked about it, but it’s true … he and Tip O’Neill could get in a room together – their politics were vastly different – but let’s get stuff done.  It’s been so disappointing to me that President Obama and John Boehner can’t get in a room and put stuff aside and say: for the good of the country, let’s just get things done!  I’d be hard pressed for anybody to be terribly impressed with the list – or lack of a list – of things that have gotten done, unfortunately, since president Obama became President.  It’s not all his fault.  But it’s a short piece of paper.  It’s not a chapter in a book. It’s not even probably a full page in a chapter.  That’s because Washington has been really in a state of being paralyzed. 

William O’Shaughnessy:

What do you think about President Barack Obama?

Al Kelly

I did not vote for him … but when I watched him on Election Night and when I watched him on the first Inauguration … I said: you know what … this is going to be good for the country.  He is going to be a real breath of fresh air.  He’s going to bring people together.  He’s going to galvanize people.  I can’t tell you how disappointed I’ve been.  It’s been anything but that.  He’s been a bit too divisive and hasn’t really galvanized people.  And unfortunately, president of the United States is a humungous job and, quite frankly, if you look at his resume and his background, you wouldn’t hire him for president of practically anything. 

William O’Shaughnessy:

You would … not?

Al Kelly:

You wouldn’t … just on the merits of what he’s got on his resume!

William O’Shaughnessy:

Could he have run the Super Bowl like Alfred Kelly, Jr.?

Al Kelly:

I don’t want to get into that … I’m sure many people could have done a better job than I did.  I’m happy with what I did, but I don’t want to get into comparing who else could have done it.

William O’Shaughnessy:

I don’t want you to take this the wrong way, but as I think about all the information and computer stuff in your background … you don’t look like a “computer geek” … yet your were running the damn White House.

Al Kelly:

Well, you’ve got to remember, Bill …  I have a 1980 Computer Science degree from Iona College and today my 10-year-old runs rings around me.  You wouldn’t want me …

William O’Shaughnessy:

You’re kidding …?

Al Kelly:

Oh, my gosh!  It’s changed.  It’s one of the most incredible things about the last 30 – 40 years, the changes in technology. And the speed at which they are changing.  It is truly amazing.

William O’Shaughnessy:

Al Kelly … you’re a man of so many parts … I have to ask what you think of this NSA spying on our European friends? It seems everything you do these days, the government is watching …

Al Kelly:

Well, I think the government has to do its job of safeguarding us.  I think it’s one of the principal jobs of the Federal Government … to safeguard our borders and safeguard our liberty.  And I’m not smart enough, Bill, to judge exactly what we ought to do to make sure we’re safe.  That said … I do think some spying, some active listening, probably has to play a role in that activity of protecting our freedom and protecting our way life and protecting our borders.  Whether it has gone too far is not really – I don’t have enough information – to make that judgment.  I’m not sure there’s really anybody in the private sector that does have enough information to make the judgment if we’ve really gone too far.  I could tell you we’d all be very upset if the Federal government wasn’t doing the things necessary to protect our liberty … because at the end of the day the thing that makes our country the great country it is, is that it is a true democracy and we do live in true freedom where you have all kinds of states doing all kinds of things but we all do coalesce as one country behind our freedom!

William O’Shaughnessy:

Alfred F. Kelly … what does F stand for?  I’ll bet I can guess.

Al Kelly:

Francis …

William O’Shaughnessy:

You’ve been very generous to indulge my curiosity about you and my questions.  I’ve admired you from afar for a long time.  How old are you now?

Al Kelly:

55, Bill … a young 55!

William O’Shaughnessy:

But you’re not finished yet, are you?

Al Kelly:

No, I feel … I’ve got a 10-year old.  No, I’m not finished.  I honestly think there will be at least two more chapters to my life.  Probably three … I want to continue to have a very active corporate career over the next number of years, again in one job or in a portfolio of jobs.  I’ve had a dream that, in my first stage of retirement, I’d go teach at the college or graduate school level and that remains a dream I would like to fulfill.

William O’Shaughnessy:

What would you teach?

Al Kelly:

I would probably teach a combination of management, leadership classes as well as product marketing classes … not computer science classes!  And the third chapter would be to travel, enjoying grandchildren, continuing to catch up with friends and those kinds of things. 

William O’Shaughnessy:

Let me beg another moment, Alfred Francis Kelly, Jr., what makes a good manager?  Who better to ask?

Al Kelly:

Bill, I feel there’s a huge difference being a good manager and a good leader.  I think a good manager is somebody who makes the trains run on time and fixes problems and has good follow-up and runs good meetings.  I think a leader ideally does those things … but a leader sets a vision.  A leader makes sure their ego is in check and their most important job in the world is to get great people around them.  A leader is somebody who is incredibly empathetic to their people and doesn’t look at their people like an asset like a building or technology, but realizes their people are human beings and treats them as such.  For me, the ultimate test of somebody being a good leader is if someone will follow them to the ends of the earth and work for them and tell other people you should work for this person.  Those are kind of the litmus tests of what I think are great leaders and many of them are good managers.  Some great leaders may not be as good on making the trains run on time, but they’re smart enough to put people in place who do know how to make the trains run on time. 

William O’Shaughnessy:

He ran the Super Bowl, among many other things.  His name is Alfred F. Kelly, Jr.  He’s a child of Westchester, a son of our county and we’re so proud of him.  Are you going to write a book about all the pressures and all the people and all the pleadings and importunings visited on you for tickets to that damn Super Bowl?  And the parking passes, even worse!

Al Kelly:

I don’t think so.  I probably could write a somewhat interesting book!

William O’Shaughnessy:

Did a lot of people pressure you?

Al Kelly:

It wasn’t too bad.  I was amazed at the amount of … I wouldn’t call it pressure … but interesting was the amount of people who wanted to work on this effort.  I probably got a thousand resumes or inquiries and at its height I had 31 full-time people.   So, I don’t know whether that’s a sign of when I started … we were still – not that it’s great now – still coming out of the hangover period of the late 2008 – 2009 meltdown.  But I also think the N.F.L.’s got an incredible brand.  The Super Bowl is incredible.  This was a Super Bowl of many firsts and to that end people were very interested.  I got ticket requests like crazy, but we were able to manage through it. 

William O’Shaughnessy:

Would you like Goodell’s job?

Al Kelly:

Roger has done a phenomenal job and has many, many great years ahead of him and I root for him to do well for decades to come.  I’ll go do something else and let him do his job! 

William O’Shaughnessy:

One final, crazy question … you and Peggy courted at the Beechmont, the local saloon.  Do you ever go back?

Al Kelly:

We haven’t been back in a while, I have to confess.  It’s probably been four or five years since we’ve been there.  Bill, when we first got married we lived in Mount Vernon and then we lived in two different homes in New Rochelle and when we lived in New Rochelle we would go there.  But now we’ve been up in the Harrison-Rye section of the county for almost seven years now.  So we don’t necessarily come down.  We come down a lot for Iona College basketball games but I haven’t been to the Beechmont or a lot of the New Rochelle hangouts I spent a lot of days and nights at in my Iona College years.

William O’Shaughnessy:

You honor us with your presence.  I promised your office … I’m running late, and they’re waiting for you in Manhattan!

Al Kelly:

Bill, thank you.  It’s been a pleasure to be with you.

William O’Shaughnessy:

Alfred F. Kelly, Jr. is his name … it will be interesting to see what’s next for this guy.

 

# # # 

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 Alfred F. Kelly, Jr.

 

 

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Contact:

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

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

WO Interview w/ Roger Stone author of The Man Who Killed Kennedy … The Case Against LBJ

William O’Shaughnessy

President & Editorial Director

WVOX and WVIP 

Interview with 

Roger Stone

author of

 The Man Who Killed Kennedy …

 The Case Against LBJ

Also Reflections on President Obama … Nelson Rockefeller …

Mario Cuomo … Andrew Cuomo … Chris Christie … Richard Nixon

 

December 10, 2013

 

William O’Shaughnessy:

As the snow falls here in the heart of the Eastern Establishment, our first snowstorm of the year … we have with us this morning, for the next several minutes while we’re in your care and keeping, a man of politics and he’s also a man of letters.  You’ve see him on cable television. many, many times.  He’s been an advisor to presidents of the United States.  His name is Roger Stone.  His new book is controversial, for sure.  That’s no surprise.  Roger Stone, your book is called The Man Who Killed Kennedy, The Case Against LBJ.  Do you really believe in your heart of hearts that Lyndon Johnson whacked Jack Kennedy?

Roger Stone:

I really do.  Not only do I believe it, but my book goes far beyond theory or conjecture.  I make the kind of case you could take to court.  I make the kind of case that uses fingerprint evidence, eyewitness evidence to tie a man – Malcolm Wallace – who I demonstrate is a hit man for Lyndon Baines Johnson – I take him right to the sixth floor of the Texas Schoolbook Depository building.  I don’t argue that Johnson did it alone, I do think there was a – I hate this word – “conspiracy” to kill JFK.  I do think the Central Intelligence Agency, organized crime and big Texas oil was in it.  Indeed, I just named all the key allies of Lyndon Baines Johnson.  Johnson is the missing piece of the puzzle that’s been sitting in plain sight for 50 years.

William O’Shaughnessy:

Roger Stone … you even suggest Jack Ruby was an LBJ guy. 

Roger Stone:

Yes … the Warren Commission tells us Jack Ruby has no known connection to organized crime.  That’s an absurdity.  He’s a soldier for Carlos Marcello.  Carlos Marcello is the mobster who runs the mob in both Texas and Louisiana.  Marcello’s ties to Johnson are indelible.  Indeed, Marcello paid Johnson $55,000.00 month in a bribe to protect his illegal gambling operations in Dallas, Houston and San Antonio.  In fact, within days of Lyndon Johnson becoming president, the wire taps that Attorney General Robert Kennedy put on organized crime figures are immediately terminated.  So yes, I argue that Ruby had a long relationship with Marcello, and Marcello has a long relationship with LBJ. 

William O’Shaughnessy:

You counseled presidents, among them Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.  You have some fabulous quotes from Nixon.  Do you think Nixon really believed LBJ was the bad guy?

Roger Stone:

I don’t think he believed it initially.  I think he originally believed the story that the FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover told him, which was that Lee Harvey Oswald committed this crime … that he was a Communist … and that he acted alone.  Once Nixon saw Ruby blow Oswald away on national TV as millions of others did … Bill, I’m sure you remember that horrible day … he immediately recognized Ruby as a man who had been introduced to him in 1947 as a protégée of Lyndon Johnson.  And, indeed, Richard Nixon had put Jack Ruby – then known as “Jacob Rubenstein” – on the House Un-American Activities Committee payroll as a part-time informant at the behest of his colleague Congressman Lyndon Johnson.  The most telling quote though is Nixon … when I finally asked him, point-blank and he said: “That was the thing about Lyndon and me … we both wanted to be president … but I wasn’t willing to kill for it.” 

William O’Shaughnessy:

Roger Stone …  JFK … television has been awash with reminiscences of that awful day. The problem with all of them is they all end with a caisson and a riderless horse going down Pennsylvania Avenue.  Does it really matter who pulled the damn trigger … who shot him?  Does it matter?

Roger Stone:

Sure it does.  The American people have been falsely led to believe that, firstly, it was Lee Harvey Oswald acting alone and then that fell apart.  There are so many questions about the Warren Commission’s conclusions.  I don’t see how any person with any objectivity or intelligence can believe them.  Well then, the government falls back to the idea that it was an “international conspiracy” and that JFK was somehow killed by the Russians or Cubans of which there is not one iota of evidence.  John Kennedy was killed by a domestic conspiracy.  He was killed because he was trying to lead this country toward the exits in Viet Nam.  He was killed because he refused to invade Cuba again.  He was killed because he refused to assassinate Castro.  He was killed because he was making certain monetary changes in our money policy.  He was killed because he repealed the oil depletion allowance … the sweetheart tax breaks oil millionaires get.  I don’t think there is any question he was removed in a coup d’état.  And as the Latins say: the person who derives the greatest benefit from the crime is the person who committed it.  That would be … Lyndon Baines Johnson.

William O’Shaughnessy:

Roger Stone, tell us about this so-called LBJ hit man. What’s the story on this cat? 

Roger Stone:

Malcolm “Mac” Wallace is a person who worked for Lyndon Johnson throughout his whole life in a series of political patronage job.  He is an “expert marksman,” the highest honor the US Marine Corps awards.  Whereas  Oswald was merely a “marksman” which is the lowest rating they provide.  I tie Wallace and LBJ in my book to a series of eight murders in Texas.  Murders to cover up corruption.  Murders to cover up embezzlement.  Murders to cover up vote stealing.  Lyndon Johnson could order up a murder they way you and I could order up a ham sandwich.  Wallace is indelibly tied to Johnson again and again.  When he gets indicted for one of these murders – for first degree murder – he is bailed out by two of Johnson’s biggest fundraising fellows and he is defended at trial by Johnson’s personal attorney John Cofer.  He actually gets convicted – Wallace this is – of first degree murder, but he gets a five-year suspended sentence.  And I trace him to murders involving the Billy Sol Estes case where government informants who were squealing on Johnson’s corruption were murdered – at least three of them.  Henry Marshall, an Agriculture agent who was looking into Johnson’s relationship with Billy Sol Estes, the flamboyant Texas wheeler-dealer, was found murdered.  That’s another of Mac Wallace’s victims.  So I think this is the absolute key point people forget. In November of 1963, John Kennedy was not just going to dump LBJ from the ticket, Johnson was a man staring into the abyss.  He was facing Federal prosecution in two gigantic scandals of the time.  The Bobby Baker Scandal – Baker was the secretary of the Senate and essentially had accepted millions in bribes for Johnson.  But more importantly: the Billy Sol Estes Scandal where Robert Kennedy and the Justice Department are aggressively pursuing Johnson and they had leaked a package to Life magazine.  Life magazine has nine full-time reporters on the ground in Texas digging into Johnson’s corruption for a December 1st cover issue.  That’s the end for LBJ.  He’s not just facing political oblivion … he’s facing federal prosecution and the penitentiary.   And in November of 1963 it makes him a very, very desperate man. 

William O’Shaughnessy:

The book is called The Man Who Killed Kennedy … The Case Against LBJ.  We’re speaking to the author Roger Stone.  Roger, we want to ask you about some presidents you’ve known.  But I’ve also got to ask you … LBJ has some relatives around.  Have you heard from any of them?  

Roger Stone:

I understand that the Johnson Library Board, where two of his daughters serve, is not very happy.  I was booked by CNN to be on with Erin Burnett on their Crossfire program until Tom Johnson, the former chairman of CNN, who also happens to be a member of the LBJ Library Board, spiked the segment.  I find that disappointing because that’s Soviet style censorship.  I don’t ask you to believe my book.  I just ask you to consider it.  Read it and see what you think for yourself.  But for CNN or the Huffington Post, for that matter, or the Washington Post or the New York Times to come along and say: don’t read that … you shouldn’t read that … that’s censorship.  And it’s really very sad.  I’m happy to say that thanks to the interest of programs like this one, Bill, and talk radio and the Internet … and thank God for Fox Television in this case … my book has gotten more than enough exposure.  It is a New York Times bestseller.  It was number 19 last week in the nation out of the top 100.  It’s a USA Today bestseller.  It reads like a crime novel.  It a story of ambition and greed and politics and power and intrigue and  murder and cover-up.  It’s kind of a fast-moving thriller in a way.  And the political connections, I think, will astound people. 

William O’Shaughnessy:

It is a fast-moving thriller, all right.  Who the hell knew you could write!  You’ve counseled presidents … you’re a man of politics.  You’ve got a lot of pretty good research in here …

Roger Stone:

I’ve got a great research partner … Mike Colapietro.  But the truth is: I’ve always been able to read.  The problem is to write.  I’ve always been spending my time writing advertising copy for the various clients and causes I work for.  And, of course as you know, it’s a lot easier to write a book without limitation than it is to write, say a 30-second radio ad.  Or a 60 second radio ad.  It’s tough to get it into 60 seconds sometimes.  I have a book coming out in September which is really the sequel.  It’s called Nixon’s Secret.  It will explain the connection between the Bay of Pigs and the Kennedy assassination and Watergate.  They all are interrelated.  More importantly, it will explain the Nixon pardon by Ford and it will also explain the 18 1/2 minute gap.  So I think history has often wanted to know why were these guys breaking into the Watergate.  Nixon was 25 points ahead of his opponent.  Why did he need to do that.  Why in the world did Ford sacrifice his reelection and pardon Nixon?  That’s the next topic I intend to tackle. 

William O’Shaughnessy:

Roger … I hope this doesn’t sound like a silly question, but are you looking over your shoulder?  Are you concerned someone is going to whack you

Roger Stone:

That was a concern of my wife and my family when the book was finished.  But in all honesty, what I generally found when I went to Texas is that LBJ was a man who ruled by fear rather than by affection.  Now it’s very easy to find people who love Jack and Bobby Kennedy.  It’s very hard to find anybody who loved Lyndon Johnson.  People were for him because they feared him.  They feared his retribution.  Indeed one was with Billy Sol Estes, one of his closest associates who went to prison and kept his mouth shut. Sol Estes went to a Texas grand jury … and he laid out the details of eight murders before the grand jury including the murder of John F. Kennedy.  Billy Sol Estes writes to the Justice Department in detail accusing Johnson of the murder of John Kennedy.  Why?  Because Johnson was dead and there was no more retribution to be let out.

William O’Shaughnessy:

Roger we’ve followed you for years … how old are you?

Roger Stone:

61.  A spry … 61.

William O’Shaughnessy:

You’ve counseled presidents.  You shuttle between Washington, New York, Miami.  Give us your read on Barack Hussein Obama.

Roger Stone:

Well, I think he’s the worst president in my lifetime.  I am not surprised because his record in the US Senate did not indicate great achievement.  No great legislative achievements.  No great accomplishments.  He wrote two biographies.  But he didn’t write any major legislation.  I frankly think now we’re into a lame duck situation where he’s got three whole years, but his public credibility is destroyed.  These are the lowest unfavorable ratings since Richard Nixon and that was at the height of a national scandal.  So I don’t have the highest regard for him, and as you know, many, many times the most able men do not become president.  I always thought Nelson Rockefeller would have been one of our greatest presidents. 

William O’Shaughnessy:

Agreed!

Roger Stone:

He had the talent.  He had the capability.  He had the “big picture” knowledge.  But he could never get there.  I think that’s tragic that a country would elect somebody like Barack Obama.  But a man like Nelson Rockefeller – for example – would never become president.  I think Robert Kennedy would have been a great president.

William O’Shaughnessy:

Speaking of which … what about Mario Cuomo?

Roger Stone:

Mario Cuomo would have been a great president!  These are big men.  Big men who think big thoughts.  Mario had the “size” for the office.  Nelson Rockefeller had the “size” for the office.  Instead we’ve elected some men who I believe to be midgets when it comes to stature and kind of a “big picture” instinct when it comes to where they want to take the country.

William O’Shaughnessy:

Roger Stone … is there anyone abroad in the land today, 2013, that you admire who is fighting the good fight?  A good politician? 

Roger Stone:

I’ll tell you a guy who is very, very underrated is Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin.  Not only did he implement some serious, serious reforms to government and brought the government back into surplus from having enormous deficits, but he’s got a job boom going on.  He’s made really serious changes in the state’s public employee pension system to make it more affordable for the taxpayers.  He’s the one guy I think might be able to hold together the moderate wing and the tea party wing of his party or I should say the regular wing and the tea party wing.  Don’t get me wrong.  I like Chris Christie.  I like his “in your face Jersey style.”  I know it works in New York.  I know it works in Jersey.  I don’t know if it will work in Iowa.  I don’t know if it will work in New Hampshire.  I think it may be a regional thing.  He’s a very able man but it remains to be seen whether he can put it together.  I like Rand Paul from the point of view I like the things he stands for.  I don’t think he’s very attractive as a candidate.  He looks like he slept in his clothes.  He needs a haircut.  Ted Cruz.  No thanks … no thank you!

William O’Shaughnessy:

Roger … I can’t let you got without asking you point blank who is going to be the next president after Obama? 

Roger Stone:

You know I’ve been in this business long enough to know that in politics a year is a lifetime.  Never mind three years.  This is wide open.  Unlike previous presidential elections where there was a front-runner based on the fact they had run before.  So McCain runs and loses and then four years later he comes back and wins the nomination.  Romney runs and loses then four years later he comes back and wins the nomination.  It’s almost like you have to have a warm-up run before you can get there.  It helps you become well known enough in the country and helps you build a core of supporters around the country to help you get there.  There is no such candidate this time.  Everyone being talked about on the Republican side certainly is a first-time candidate.  It is not apparent to me that Hillary Clinton is going to run.  I don’t think she’s made up her mind.  Should she run, she’ll be very, very formidable.  But those who say, oh, she’ll walk right in, there’ll be no contest.  That’s what they said about her the last time.  It doesn’t work that way.

William O’Shaughnessy:

How about the son of Mario Cuomo, Andrew, the governor?  I’ve watched him grow in wisdom and age …

Roger Stone:

I have very high regard for Andrew Cuomo.  I think Andrew Cuomo has tried to take New York in a different and more moderate direction.  I am glad to see that the Moreland Commission is beginning to take on the Legislature on full disclosure.  If Hillary Clinton does not run, then the only giant left in the Democratic Primary is Andrew Cuomo.  I don’t see anybody else in that field.  I think that Andrew Cuomo has grown as a politician so dramatically since his losing race for governor … he’s a man who understands power and authority and how to use it.  He’s a man who understands politics.  He avoids overexposure.  He speaks when he has something to say, but he’s not out “hot-dogging” for the media every day just to get his name in print.  I had many fundamental disagreements with him besides the fact that he’s a friend of mine.  But he’s a tremendously able man. 

William O’Shaughnessy:

Roger Stone … we’re roamed far and wide.  You remain a fascinating character after 61 years. Are you still doing the best dressed list for Esquire?

Roger Stone:

Yes … this year’s Best and Worst dressed.  I try to compile the 10 best and worst dressed in the world.  It comes out on New Year’s Day.  And it’s retrospective.  So in other words, I will have to produce the list of the best and worst dressed people in the world for the year 2013.  And if you have any suggestions on either side of that … please shoot me an email.

William O’Shaughnessy:

Do you still wear a tie, Roger Stone?

Roger Stone:

You know, I’m the last guy in the entire State of Florida who actually still wears a necktie.  And I wear one every day as I have every day since I was in the first grade.  I think I was born in a suit!

William O’Shaughnessy:

When you go out for supper, do you wear a jacket?  A sport coat?

Roger Stone:

Sure, I wouldn’t go out for supper without wearing one. 

William O’Shaughnessy:

You don’t do Dress Down Fridays in Florida … ?

Roger Stone:

That whole philosophy to me is a mistake. There’s an appropriate way to dress in the workplace.  And I think dress good, look good, feel good is one of my basic rules.  I can go the Bermuda Look once in a while when it gets really hot.  I will wear a blue blazer and Bermuda shorts and knee shorts.  But by and large I’m not a very informal guy.  I didn’t own a pair of blue jeans until I was in my forties and my first wife bought them for me. 

William O’Shaughnessy:

So you’re still a spiff at 61.  And a hell of a writer.  It’s called  The Man Who Killed Kennedy.  The Case Against LBJ.  And, as I mercifully yield, you’re absolutely certain he was behind it …?

Roger Stone:

I think anyone who reads the book will put it down and say Guilty.  Guilty as hell.  There’s no doubt in my mind that he plays a significant role.  Let’s take the final piece of evidence.  When his car goes into Dealey Plaza, three car lanes behind the president of the United States as it makes the 120 degree turn, Lyndon Johnson before the first bullet has been fired – and that’s the key – hits the deck.  He’s on the floor.  How do we know this?  Photographic evidence.  We’ve got the exact time the photograph was taken because it’s a news photograph.  And therefore we’ve got the time of the first shot.  It’s clear Johnson hits the deck before the first shot.  There’s also the memoir of Senator Ralph Yarborough, he was in the car with Johnson.  He notes that Johnson abruptly hits the ground before the first shot.  And then there is Secret Service member Rufus Youngblood, who tells the Warren Commission that he heard the first shot and pushed Johnson to the floor.  But then after Johnson’s death, he recanted and said … well … having been shown the news photograph that contradicts that … I really only said that because the president told me to.  So Johnson is on the floor fiddling with a walkie-talkie in the middle of a motorcade where both sides of the street are filled with friendly people.  What does he know that we don’t know?  Why is he hitting the deck? 

William O’Shaughnessy:

Questions … they’re all in the new book called The Man Who Killed Kennedy.  The Case Against LBJ.  We’ll look forward to your new book coming out all about Richard Nixon and the Cubans.  What’s the name of that?

Roger Stone:

Nixon’s Secret.  It is the secret that not only allowed him to make the greatest comeback of all time in American history but also brought him low in Watergate.  And at the same time allowed him to avoid prison through a full presidential pardon.

William O’Shaughnessy:

I want to let you in on a little secret … you may know this.  But late in life Richard Nixon and Mario Cuomo became pen pals.  Did you know they had a mutual admiration society?

Roger Stone:

I did know that because Nixon always said there were politicians of poetry and there were politicians of prose.  Mario was a politician of poetry.  He was an orator.  Nixon admired his capability as a speaker and as an orator.  And I think Mario Cuomo admired Richard Nixon’s intellect, big picture intellect about China and Russia and international affairs.  I find that men who are enormously talented in politics are always attracted to each other despite the fact that they might be in different parties. 

William O’Shaughnessy:

Roger Stone … thank you.  What a tour you’ve taken us on …

 

 

# # #

 

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 Roger Stone.

Contact:

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

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

John Spicer Interview Re: Sound Shore Medical Center/ Mt. Vernon Medical Center Merger with Montefiorre Medical Center

William O’Shaughnessy

 Exclusive interview with 

John Spicer

President, Sound Shore Health System

Re:

Sound Shore Medical Center/ Mt. Vernon Medical Center

Merger with Montefiorre Medical Center 

May 29, 2013

WVOX and WVIP Worldwide

William O’Shaughnessy

John Spicer … President & CEO of our beloved, and it is that, Sound Shore Medical Center – you’re also President & CEO of Mount Vernon Medical Center – I guess this is an historic day for our medical center and local hospital.

John Spicer

Yes, Bill … I think we’re excited about this.  I think it’s a big step for the Sound Shore Health System because it positions us very well going forward into the future which everybody knows is changing very, very quickly.

WO

John Spicer … your new partner … we should put this on the table in front … is Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx.  What do you know about them?

JS

Montefiore is one of the leading academic medical centers in the country.  It has some of the largest and finest teaching programs nationwide.  They do draw their patients from all over the world.  They have one of the most highly regarded children’s hospitals in the country.  They are a very large facility – I think almost 1400 beds. 

WO

How many are you in New Rochelle … and in Mt. Vernon?

JF

Well, we’re about 270 in New Rochelle and 150 in Mt. Vernon.

WO

President John Spicer … is this a takeover?  Or a merger?  A partnership … or a wedding?  What is it?

JS

It’s a merger of the two facilities.  But when the dust clears, we are a part of Montefiore.  We will be part of the Montefiore Medical Center Health System and frankly, they’re the lead character here.

WO

You’ve gone uncharacteristically silent in recent days but we know from our sources that Mauro Romita, the oil baron and Richie Naclerio and a guy named Larry Luissi from Armonk and John Dooner from Pelham have been negotiating with Montefiore.  Do you think Montefiore will understand the culture and respect the integrity of Sound Shore and Mt. Vernon?

JS

You know, I think, Bill, it’s one of the real good things that has come out of this.  First of all, you’re right, that Board Steering Committee of ours that also includes Jeff Powers and a young fellow named Darren Diverna … I think they did a very good job and I think Montefiore is very sensitive to the fact we are community based institutions.  And they know it is extraordinarily important for us to be successful that our relationships with the community have to stay. 

So they are sensitive about that.  What form that will take, we’re not sure.  But they know that this is a little different for them.  That these are two community based institutions and they have to listen and pay attention to the wants and needs of the community.

WO

John Spicer … on this historic day for southern Westchester, what does Montefiore bring to the table besides a world-class reputation.  We understand … somebody told WVOX that they have $3 billion worth of assets.  How much of that did they bring to the table for this take-over or merger?  

JS

Bill, it’s hard for me to put a number on it.  But there are commitments to re-do both Emergency Rooms.  And to upgrade the physical plants for both institutions.

WO

In Mt. Vernon and New Rochelle …? 

JS

Yes … in Mt. Vernon and New Rochelle. 

WO

We’re going to get new Emergency Rooms, what else?

JS

A New Patient Care Unit.  A number of infrastructure improvements, meaning new boilers, new roofs.  So they’re committing a significant amount of resources to upgrade facilities – both at Mt. Vernon and Sound Shore.  We are going to go through a restructuring process and they’re putting significant resources behind that, in the $60 million-plus range.  So they’re committing a lot of money.

WO

So they put up $60 million on the table?

JS

A minimum, yes.

WO

How about your doctors, John Spicer, are they OK with that?  The local doctors?

JS

The more they are finding out … and we’ve become a little more public with everything, the comfort level is increasing.  Montefiore has said out loud that they are committed to the private practice of medicine and our voluntary attending physicians, Montefiore has a couple of mechanisms within their structure, meaning the Montefiore IPA – which is an Independent Practice Association – which helps doctors improve their rates with insurers.  And I think more and more our physicians are very comfortable with the entire process.

WO

Speaking of comfortable, how about Ken Raske, he’s a very powerful guy in your field, President of the Greater New York Hospital Association?  And incidentally, we found out that Dr. Steven Safyer, the chief of Montefiore, their president or chairman, is head of that group.  Is Ken Raske signed off on this deal?

JS

Bill, I think Ken is going to be ecstatic about this because he was instrumental in getting the two of us together.  I think he feels that given the current environment in health care, he wanted to protect his local hospital – which is us – and I think he’s going to be very, very happy and very supportive that this deal is done.

WO

We’re asking you these questions, John Spicer, because no matter the name, no matter the structure, no matter the shingle – if you’re scrambling or if somebody in your family is critically ill at three in the morning, we go to you.  Does Montefiore understand that?

JS

I think deep down they know this as well as anybody.  And I think it will be their mission to make sure everything here only gets better, Bill. 

WO

John Spicer, how about the labor unions, what do they think about this deal?

JS

Well … I think 1199 is very much on board and we’ve had conversations with the nursing union.  I think the employees are very supportive.  They see this as improved security for them.  And a better future for the medical center. 

WO

John Spicer … you succeeded the legendary Alec Norton, a colorful Runyonesque figure.  And George Vecchione, a different kind … low key, bookish guy.  You put your stamp on this medical center for almost 25 years.  Tell us honestly, how do you feel about this? 

JS

Bill, times have changed.  The healthcare industry has changed.  I feel we have put this institution in the best possible light it could be given.  I’m actually very, very happy that it wound up being Montefiore because they have the right strategy in place.  They have the right technology.  They have the right computer expertise.  They know how to manage the care.  This is going to be extraordinarily good for the community.  For the physicians in this community.  And for the Sound Shore Health System.   I’m actually very, very enthusiastic and very pleased that at the tail end of my 25 years here I can actually say to this town, we’re going to leave them with a gem of a healthcare facility.  This is going to be second to none in Westchester. 

WO

So you think, do you not, that the entity you’ve built, the community hospitals you built and sustained, you’re delivering them unto good hands.  You’re sure of that?

JS

Yes.  I’m 100% confident.  And everyday that goes by and everyday we talk to the Montefiore leadership, the more convinced I am that this the absolute right thing to do.  They are a step ahead of everybody else. 

WO

John Spicer, finally, you’re nice to share this exclusive talk with us on a busy day.  And we’re grateful to you and as always, you’ve been a good friend to this radio station. But just so nobody is confused … you flirted with, or they flirted with you, Westchester Medical Center.  That deal fell apart.  Is this deal going to fall apart in the final hours?

JS

No … this deal is done.  Everybody … it’s been a meeting of the minds.  The State Department of Health has been involved.  They’re very happy.  Everybody agrees.  This is good for Sound Shore.  This is good for Montefiore.  It has the makings of a great deal. 

WO

What are they going to call it?  If somebody gets picked up in an ambulance and says … take me to … ?

JS

I’m working on that … if I get a big enough donation out of you … I’m hoping that you’ll say take me to the O’Shaughnessy Pavilion.

WO

How much … $10 million?  What did Langone put up for NYU?

JS

He put up $200 million. But if you give us $5 … I can get that name changed!

WO

John Spicer … you’re highly respected in this community and in your own profession.  Are you going to stick around?

JS

Oh yes … I wouldn’t let this transition go without me being around.  I’m excited about it.

WO

Alright, sir.  Thank you very much.

JS

Thank you, Bill for the time.

# # #

 

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 John Spicer.

 

Contact:

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

“The Mendicant” – Interview with Father Paul Lostritto, O.F.M.

“The Mendicant”

William O’Shaughnessy

interview with

Father Paul Lostritto, O.F.M.

Re:

The Saint Francis of Assisi Breadline

“Franciscans Deliver”

December, 2012
WVOX and WVIP Worldwide

Three months after we broadcast this interview with Father Paul Lostrito, a Franciscan street priest from Manhattan, an Argentinean prelate – a Jesuit no less – born of Italian parents, stepped out on a cold, windy balcony overlooking Saint Peter’s Square in the Eternal City on the 13th of March, 2013 and proclaimed into the night air that he, Jorge Mario Bergoglio. having just been chosen by his brother cardinals and the Holy Spirit to be Bishop of Rome, would now like to be known for all time to come as Francis, a name taken from an Italian saint who loved the poor, the hurting and the forgotten. 

Standing on that balcony with stunning simplicity and stark humility, Bergoglio thus took the name of a spoiled young aristocrat of wealth and means who renounced the standing and stature and high estate of his prominent family to become Francis of Assisi, perhaps the greatest saint of an ancient religion founded by a carpenter’s son over 2,000 years ago.  The Pope from the Argentine had once said, “Saint Francis brought to Christianity an idea of poverty against the luxury, pride and vanity of the ecclesiastical powers of the time.”

And so now this new Pope Francis, the Jesuit, would stand midst the ornate pomp, ritual and ceremonia of a damaged, fading Church by reaching beyond the gilt and trappings for the example of the first Franciscan who spoke to animals and the birds of the air while ministering to the poor, the wretched.

I have long admired the work of today’s Franciscan priests at Saint Francis of Assisi Church on 31st Street in Manhattan.  It is where suburban Catholics, sinners like me, often repair for Confession loaded with guilt.  Mario Cuomo once said:  “They forgive us gently and generously.”

It seems no one is ever turned away or denied the love and healing of the Franciscans.  They have many names these marvelous friars:  Carnevale, McGrath, Cavoto, Carrozzo,, Jordan, Judge, Mackin … urban street priests who all hear the same music of service to the least fortunate, the lost and the hopeless. 

The Saint Francis Breadline which feeds hungry New Yorkers has been around for a hundred years.  And sometimes even Cardinal Timothy Dolan helps out in the early morning hours.

We invited one of the Friars – Father Paul Lostritto – to tell us about a new program to take the Breadline right into the homes of shut-ins.  But in a far-ranging broadcast we covered much more than temporal “bread and butter”(no pun intended) issues.

Surely the gritty, lovely music of the Franciscans on 31st Street would commend them to the favorable judgment of Francis.  The one now in Rome.  And the one from the hill town of Assisi … a mendicant who spoke to the animals and the birds while ministering to the poor. 

Interview:

 

William O’Shaughnessy

I’m a poor, struggling, faltering, weak, uncertain Christian.  But there’s something very special about the individual we’ll visit with for the next hour while we’re in your care and keeping. His name is Father Paul Lostritto.  He’s a Friar, a Franciscan.  The Order of Friars Minor is what they call them.  And he’s based in Manhattan where there’s a church called the Church of Saint Francis of Assisi named for the founder of the whole damn thing, the Order.  It’s down on 31st Street.  Today’s guest is a very special friar.  Some colleagues, some brothers of his, Joe Cavoto and others, tell me he is one of the craziest of the “monks” as they are sometimes lovingly called.  Saint Francis, himself, as you may have heard, was a real nut job – and today’s studio guest may be one of the craziest of his inheritors.  His name is Father Paul.  He’s a Franciscan.  And he wants to tell us today about Franciscans Deliver.

 

Father Paul Lostritto

It’s a new project.  At our church we started a breadline in 1930 and it is the oldest running breadline in the United States.  Every morning  – every day – we hand out between 250 to 350 sandwiches, juices and coffee to people who line up out in front.  Every morning.  365 days a year.  Since 1930. The only day we ever closed was for Hurricane Sandy

WO

Father Paul, are you a regular priest?  I know you’re a Friar …

 

FPL

I guess I’m regular … I don’t know.  Yes … I am a Franciscan Friar.  What that means is I’m a Roman Catholic priest.  But – it’s an Order – a Religious Order – so we follow Francis of Assisi‘s philosophy and teaching which basically is working with the poor. 

 

WO:

Saint Francis was – I hope I don’t get struck by lightning for saying he was crazy.

 

FPL:

He was …

WO:

He used to talk to birds and animals?

 

FPL

Yes … and they supposedly talked back!

 

WO:

Tell me about Francis.

 

FPL

He lived in the Middle Ages in Italy.  His father was what you would call in those days wealthy … a clothing merchant and did a lot of traveling.  Francis was this young rich kid.  A little spoiled.  His mother spoiled him. He was kind of a “mama’s boy.”  He had a good time in life.  In those days, the thing that made you really cool was if you became a knight.  And so that was one of the big things he wanted to do.  He became a knight.  And he fought the war with this town nearby – Perugia.  He was taken prisoner.  I believe in prison he began to have second thoughts about what the hell life was all about.   But eventually he had a major conversion in which he believes Jesus spoke to him and said … “Francis, rebuild my Church.”  And at the time the Catholic Church was pretty much in even more disarray than it is now. 

And so he thought the message from the Cross – this message to “rebuild my Church” – was to physically get stones and mortar and rebuild this chapel that was falling apart.  Until he realized that by rebuilding the Church – what Jesus was asking him to do was rebuild the spiritual life of the Church.  So here’s this little guy – he wanted to live with the poor like Jesus did.  He takes the Gospel very literally in terms of having no clothes – no anything other than what’s on his back.  He went around as a mendicant begging for his food and people were very attracted to his way of life because he was so filled with joy.  He was always singing. He was always happy …

 

WO:

But they thought he was nuts.

FPL

They did … they really thought he was crazy! 

 

WO:

Francis of Assisi.   Have you ever been there?  Assisi?

 

FPL

Oh yes … a couple of times.  It’s a beautiful place … it’s a pilgrimage destination.  Many people love Saint Francis even if they’re not really into Catholicism.  Everybody knows him because he’s the patron saint of animals and ecology.  People love him.

 

WO:

Father Paul … why do they call him the greatest saint of the Church?  Do you know how many saints would love to be called the greatest?

 

FPL

He really … revived the Church.  Many people say he was like a second Christ, really.   He even had the wounds of Christ.

 

WO:

Now that’s almost blasphemy. 

 

FPL

He had the “stigmata,” the actual wounds of Christ.  A very holy man.

 

WO:

Do you believe that?

 

FPL

Yes … yes I do.  I used to be a skeptic about a lot of things.  I’m not anymore.  I’ve come to believe that a lot of the stuff we thought was sort of mythological … there’s some factual basis to a lot of these things.  So, yes.  I do believe it. 

 

WO:

Father Paul Lostritto … was recommended to our ear by Father Joe Cavoto and some of his friars down on 31st Street.  Again, what’s the difference between a friar and a priest? 

 

FPL

Well, we’re all friars.  The word friar – it’s like brother.  We’re brothers.  We’re a fraternity … brothers.  Some of us – like my self and Joe Cavoto – went on for Ordination.  Other brothers do not.  They can go on for other things.  Many different things.  Some are social workers, or even nurses.  We even have some lawyers,  artists … things like that.  We’re all the same too.  We don’t make any kind of distinction between he’s a “brother” … and he’s a “priest.”  Brother.  We’re all brothers.  It’s a brotherhood.

 

WO

I’m reminded … Alan Rosenberg, the great financial wizard, who was just on the previous show.  He’s also a friar … like a Frank Sinatra friar.  And Jerry Lewis.  That’s a different thing?

FPL:

Yes … that’s the Friars Club.  I don’t know where that comes from and how they got that name. 

WO:

Sinatra was the head Friar.  They called him Abbot.  He was like Saint Francis.  At lease he could sing damn good!  Father Paul … you came down from Boston recently and your fellow friars are very excited about Franciscans Deliver.  Do you also hear confessions?  You know a lot of suburban Catholics loaded with guilt, change their voice and go to confession at Saint Francis.

FPL:

Yes, I do know that.  I often hear confessions down there.  A lot of times.  In fact I have two hours this evening.  Notice the word have to.  It’s non-stop.

 

WO:

You seem like a nice guy.  Do you get very stern in the confessional?

 

FPL:

No … the whole purpose is for people to be freed up and to know they’re forgiven.  We all make mistakes and we try to learn from it as best as you can. But you’ve got to move forward.  If you’re feeling guilty and stuck in the past, you can’t move forward.  So the whole Sacrament is to help you feel  “freed up.”  You know you’re forgiven.  You’re human.  And so now go forward.  Free.  And do better with your life.

 

WO:

That’s a great power.  The power to forgive sins. 

 

FPL:

Yes … it is not mine.  I speak in the confessional as the Priest.  I am the voice of the Church.  And – not to get too theological – the Church is Christ.  And by that – People.  You know who we are, we are the Church.  And so I represent the People.  For example, if you were in the confessional and you harmed someone, I am the person who forgives you in their name, so to speak.  Does that make sense?

 

WO:

It does.  Mario Cuomo is a great admirer of the work of the Franciscans down on 31st Street.  He says you guys are great for Confession. He says you’re “three Hail Mary’s for a homicide” guys. 

 

FPL:

We’re kind of easy.  That’s what people tell us.  A lot of priests from all over the city – and from Westchester and the Bronx – come to us for Confession.

 

WO:

Priests come to you for Confession?

 

FPL:

Yes … sometimes we’ll get five or six priests in a row.

WO:

Do they have to say I’m a priest?

 

FPL:

I can tell immediately.  But they usually do say – I’m a priest. 

WO:

Do they sin?

FPL:

They do … yes, definitely.  I sin.  I won’t speak for them … I’ll speak for me.  I’m a sinner.  You know, we all are.  We’re all struggling together to make sense of this crazy world. 

 

WO:

The great Mario Cuomo says we all sin seven times, seven times a day.  Where did that come from?

 

FPL:

That comes from the Scriptures.  Somebody said something to me the other day that people who are very aware of wanting to do good with their lives – people who are on the right track with life – are very aware of their sinfulness.  They’re very aware of their faults.  Great saints were very aware.  Saint Francis would speak about what a great sinner he was.  So I think when you’re on right track, you’re very aware of what needs to change in your life.  You’re not always successful.  We always make the same freakin’ mistakes every day a lot of times.  But we’re aware … we sort of have a goal. We’re on the right road, so to speak.  Moving in the right direction, even if we fall off the road or get lost.

 

WO:

I can’t seem to reconcile … you’re kind of a street priest.  You come in with clogs … you’re a little scruffy.  I don’t put you in with the …  pomp and the “ceremonia,” as Governor Cuomo call it … the miter and the gold and the gilt and the hierarchy. 

 

FPL:

Well, Mr. O’Shaughnessy … maybe you’re going to get me in trouble, but let me tell you I don’t relate to it at all either.  Not just because I’m a Franciscan … we take a vow of poverty and we live it differently.  We vow to a different way of life than perhaps the pomp of the other Church.  But I do feel sometimes disheartened with what seems to be a chasm or a divide between the reality of the world in terms of what’s going on and the needs of the poor for example.  Even some of the stances the Church takes in terms of people of God … seems to be out of touch very often with what’s going on.  So, that can be a little disheartening, but I also believe that most of the Church – when I think of the Church – are very vibrant men and women, even in religious orders, who really make a difference.  They are making a difference and are out working with the poor.   And are out doing things to help people and take their life and their commitment to the Gospel very seriously.  But you don’t hear about them that often.  You don’t see them that often.  I had a couple of sisters – nuns – at the Breadline this morning and they bought a bunch of students to work the breadline with me this morning.  You don’t hear about people like that.  You wouldn’t even know they are sisters.  But … you’ll hear about the guys in the pomp and circumstance and all that stuff.  And when they say stupid things which often happens, it kind of reverberates down because they are the hierarchy, so people think they are the only voice of the Church. 

WO:

Your new endeavor called Franciscans Deliver has gone beyond the breadline to deliver food to people at home who can’t come to the breadline. 

FPL:

Correct.  When I got back to New York a year ago I was looking around and talked with people.  I had friends in buildings in the neighborhood and it was clear to me there are a lot of elderly people who are really being overlooked by our society.  You can just tell … the way they were living.  I started talking to people in the neighborhood.  They’re really struggling.  And it breaks my heart when I think they are my parents age.  They worked their whole lives and are struggling between food and medicine and what they can eat that’s good.  I talked to one lady who was eating cat food.   This is crazy for the United States.

 

WO:

Would you take some calls from our listeners?  I don’t know if they want to go to Confession.  Can you give a General Absolution to all our listeners?

FPL:

I could … I don’t know if it will work …

Caller:

Father, earlier you mentioned you used to be more of a skeptic in life.  Did that come about when you became a friar?  Was it before that?  What exactly did you mean by that? 

 

FPL:

I grew up in a Catholic family.  A pretty secular family.  We went to church on Sundays.  I don’t come from this “Joe Religious” family.  I had some personal experiences in which I really encountered stuff that made me stop and think what life was all about.  For example, I was in a coma.   I actually died … a number of times … when I was young.  I had a blood clot that went to my lung.  The experiences abound – what that did to the people around me.  I don’t know if I’m making sense.  But it was a profound experience that made me re-think what life was all about … the importance of life.  But also I have had experiences in which it does seem as if God is really there.  I’ve had experiences where I know Christ has been right there to guide me, to help me.  Personal stuff like that.  I don’t know if that makes sense. 

 

Caller:

How would you explain the presence of God in a way skeptics can identify with.  I know it’s very subjective and personal and spiritual.  But as far as leading other people toward that same light, how would you suggest one can pick up on that and be open to it?

 

FPL:

Well, one of the things I did with my life is work in hospice.  I’ve been at the bedside and with the families of people who are dying.  I really believe we find God most profoundly and experience God through other people.    The whole message of Catholicism is the optimism of the human spirit that we’re created in the image of God.  We’re good.  Therefore in and through us one can experience the presence of God … when we’re about really helping other people.  I run bereavement programs.  I always tell my folks you really know you’re on your way to moving on when you’re able to then reach out and help somebody else with their issue of loss.  And that really is where we often experience God when we’re out there reaching out to help somebody else.  So it’s definitely about – not navel gazing – I don’t think anybody finds God by navel gazing.  It’s really about – and I know people don’t like this word – but it’s about sacrifice and it’s about giving to other people what you experience about God.

 

WO:

Father … the problem with all that is that God speaks in whispers.  Why isn’t God a little clearer?  Or a little louder?

FPL:

You’re asking me hard questions.  I think – I won’t say I think – I believe that if you look at the world and the way it is, I’m not so sure God is speaking in whispers.  I think there are some profound things we’re either addressing or not addressing that are part of our human condition.  God gives us free will.  And so we have to make our choices.  If you ever really loved somebody you don’t tell them what to do.  So … we’re kind of in this to experience God and to be moved and motivated by God.  But ultimately we have the choice.  I believe that.  Look at this recent hurricane.    

 

WO:

Was that the product of a vengeful God.

 

FPL:

No … that’s a product of us human beings not paying attention to our environment. 

WO:

Do you really think so?

 

FPL:

I do … I think these giant storms are a result of global warming. 

 

WO:

What are you, an Al Gore?

 

FPL:

Not really … but there’s something going on if you look at pieces of glaciers over the last 20 or 30 years.  Something is definitely happening.  Like these storms.  This was a pretty big storm.  Yes … I do think we contribute to these things and we’re not listening.  I think God is kind of shaking us and saying, look, you’ve got to get your act together and pull it together.  And, of course, as human nature is, we don’t usually pay attention.  That’s just the way we are.  We give it a little nod and a little shake and then move on and hope it won’t happen again – which is already happening.

 

WO:

Father Paul, you sound like you’ve got it figured out.  I mentioned Mario Cuomo.  Our listeners know how much I admire him.  And he once said he prays for sureness.  Sureness … which he says is you’re on the road to Damascus, you get a lightning bolt, the Lord appears in all His or Her refinements and says get back on that horse.  Incidentally, your name is not Saul any more.  And one other thing … you’re a saint.  That’s sureness … a lightning bolt in the tush.  Do you  ever have doubts about this …?

FPL:

Yes … yes. 

 

WO:

What do you do, when you have the doubt?

 

FPL:

Well, when you have doubts often times you don’t want to pray or you don’t pray.  So you can’t even say you turned to prayer. 

WO:

Are you talking about Our Fathers and Hail Marys?

 

FPL:

Yes … or just even talking to God.  I think there are times in our life and my life when I’ve kind of said Enough!  You know, I’m not really interested in listening or talking right now. 

 

WO:

You said that to God?

 

FPL:

Yes … I know … but I’m being honest.  And I think most of us do feel like that at some point in our lives.  I find my way back, Bill.  I find my way on the road to Damascus very often through the words and things going on around me through other people.   That’s often where I will get back on track … or something will happen that will jar a memory and remind me … Oh, yes … this is what it’s all about.  It gets me kind of back on track!

 

WO:

You think God speaks to us through other people?

 

FPL:

Yes, absolutely. 

 

WO:

But don’t you encounter somebody who is a real pain in the ass?

 

FPL:

Yes …

 

WO:

That’s God still talking?

 

FPL:

No.  God can be a pain in the sense God never gives up on us.  God is constantly pushing.  But generally there is a lot of noise out there.  I think if we’re discerning enough we can sift out where God is speaking to us through other people.  It kind of hits you somewhere inside in your heart … and you say OK.

 

WO:

His name is Father Paul Lostritto, a Friar of the Roman Church.  A Franciscan monk.  They also call you “monks” as well as Friars.

 

FPL:

Yes … that’s kind of a word everybody uses, but we’re really not monks.  We’re mendicants.  Monks live in private.  They live quiet lives in solitude away from the world.  And the mendicant, the Franciscan movement, is all about being in the world.  It’s all about being amongst the poor.  That’s what Saint Francis’ early followers started and what we continue. 

 

WO:

We’re in the Golden Apple (Westchester) right now … let’s go again to the phones   You’re on the air with Father Paul …

 

Caller:

Father … we hear less and less about men joining the priesthood these days.  Why do you think that is?

FPL:

Well, there are a lot of reasons.  People are disillusioned with some of what we were talking about earlier.  I think the Church is a little out of sync with the reality of the world.  I’m not saying the Church has to change to meet the world.  But it seems as if a lot of the Church has lost its flavor.  And it’s kind of gone flat.  So that’s one of the things.  I think also, quite frankly, one of the things which was amazing for me was when I went to school at Washington Theological Union.  I learned theology down there.  And when you understand our theology, it’s mind-blowing.  It is so wonderful and so freeing and so exciting.  But what you hear from the pulpit very often in a lot of churches is this sort of very boring, dogmatic, unrealistic kind of preaching that doesn’t register.  And our young people especially can’t relate to it.  So that’s one of the big things.  The other is, quite frankly, that a lot of younger people, if they’re going to join religious life, they really want something with a real bite to it.  I know the religious orders that seem to be attracting people do a lot of real hands-on work with the poor in Latin America and places like that.  There are people joining.  Believe it or not, religious life is very much alive and vocations are very much alive and well in other countries.  But I think here, mainly, the Church, unfortunately – I’m probably going to be thrown out of New York City by the Cardinal – I think it’s out of touch and its lost its flavor. 

WO:

Everybody loves the Cardinal.  He’s a jolly, charismatic and articulate  guy.  He’s very attentive to his correspondence.  Every time I shoot my mouth off, I get a note.  The guy may even be the next pope …

 

FPL:

I wish we would also be a little more in dialogue with people who perhaps don’t fit into the mainstream.  For example, Gay people.  I mean, they often feel as if they want to belong to church.  There are good men and women who love God.  But they feel like when they go to church somehow they don’t fit into the group.  And so they feel ostracized.   And that’s wrong.  No matter how you look at it.  And I know Jesus would feel that way.  Everybody is welcome.  Everybody has a place at His table.  And I think we need to sit down and talk about these things rather than pass judgments or decrees about these things.  And that’s another thing that drives people nuts.

 

Caller:

Another quick question.  Do you think if priests were allowed to marry … would that get them to join?

 

FPL:

I think that would be a wonderful thing.  I think that would attract a lot more men to the priesthood.  Absolutely.  Let’s face it.  Marriage and sex are all very normal parts of life.  You know … priests in the Roman Church were married for the first thousand years.  It’s something that would definitely be a boost to the priesthood.

 

WO:

Father Paul, you mentioned the Gays.   Your particular branch of the Franciscans has done a lot of work in that area. At Saint Francis you have meetings … and didn’t you have a famous Friar who died at 9/11?  Father …

 

FPL:

Mychal Judge. 

 

WO:

Mychal Judge.  A legendary friar.  Did you know him?

FPL:

I used to go to him for Confession actually.  He was a great priest.  He was wonderful to confess to just because he was so normal and he was a sinner.  He didn’t judge.  Like all of us.  That’s the thing. I think he was very compassionate.  Very kind.  A very kind man.

 

WO:

Do you Friars still remember him?  He lived with you.  You still think about him?

 

FPL:

Yes …

 

WO:

Do you pray to him?

 

FPL:

I don’t.  I know people who do.  But he certainly was one of the greats …

 

WO:

M-Y-C-H-A-L … like the Irish!  Did he speak with a brogue?  He was chaplain of the Fire Department …

 

FPL:

No … not with a brogue.  But he was a chaplain.  His room, on 31st Street, at the Friary, is directly across from the firehouse.  His room is right on the second floor overlooking it and he was constantly involved with the firehouse and he used to bring me over there when I was younger and a student.  He was a hoot!  He really was.

 

Caller:

Father … I want to hear more about the work you’re doing.  The last caller sparked a question about fewer men coming into the priesthood.  On that same note, are you finding less and less people coming to church …  and going to Confession than years ago?

FPL:

You know, it’s interesting … but in some ways, yes.  And in some ways, no.  It depends where you are.  I was in Florida recently and, of course, you’re shocked to see the churches there.  These big, giant churches and they’re filled.  But, of course, they’re filled with elderly people.  You don’t see a lot of young people, so that’s doesn’t really tell us about where the Church is going in the future.  Where I am … we have Confession from 7:30 in the morning and we go until 6:00 at night … sometimes with two priests on.  I can tell you, and I hear Confession every day.  I never have a pause.  I never have a break … constantly have people coming in listening to their confessions.  We have 13 – 14 daily Masses.  We have Masses all day and they’re really very well attended.  But, again, not to say how great we are, but the Franciscans do offer a kind of a charism that attracts, for example, young people.  We have a Mass on Sunday night at 5:00.  Lots of young people.  We even have a sign outside our door:  “All Are Welcome.”  So everybody feels welcome.

 

WO:

What do you mean a charism that attracts …

 

FPL:

A way of living … a philosophy … of life and how we approach it and the people that come to church.  Like I’m doing the ribbon cutting next weekend  for this Franciscans Deliver.  I do yoga.  So a lot of my yogi friends are coming.  A lot of them are fallen-away Catholics.  A lot of them are Jewish.  A lot of them are Hindus.  So they’re all excited.  It will be great to see them in church.  And I know when they come, they’ll all feel welcome.  The Church of Saint Francis of Assisi is right near Madison Square Garden.  

 

WO:

This is the Church of WVOX.  His name if Paul Lostritto.  Father Cavoto, one of your colleagues, tells me you’re going to go beyond the breadline and get “rickshaws” … is this what you call pedi-cabs? 

 

FPL:

Yes, pedi-cabs are what you see people pedaling around in the city.  Now they make them with a place to put food or groceries.  So that’s one of the ways we’re going to be bringing food around … using a pedi-cab.  I like to use the word rickshaw because it sounds more exotic.  But it’s the same as a pedi-cab.

WO:

So where do you get the food you give out?

FPL:

That’s a good question.  Right now I have each of the groups that come to Saints Francis – the young adults, the LGBT groups, the secular Franciscans – they’re all bringing different food items and they’re all responsible for different things.  I also have some donors who donate food.  People have been very generous and  I’m going to have to rely on that generosity to continue to do this work.  It’s not coming from anywhere else but  our own ingenuity to find people and raise the money.  This will help us reach out to people who can’t get to the Breadline in the neighborhood.  Elderly people or shut-ins.  The idea is to bring them groceries once a week. 

 

WO:

We have another call for Father Paul …

 

Caller:

Mr. O’Shaughnessy … thanks for doing this program. Father, you mentioned that God speaks to us through  other people.  That happened to me.  This New York lady writer said … Jesus become transubstantiation at the Mass.  A really tough lady – she said if it’s not real, the hell with it. And in a shrewd, strategic and indirect way – that actually draws me in.  She was talking about the Body of Christ.  It’s when you least expect it.  That changed my life emphatically.

 

FPL:

That was one of the earlier questions … somebody asked me what made me less of a skeptic as I’ve gotten older.  It definitely is the Eucharist.   What we celebrate at Mass with the Eucharist … with that bread being changed … is absolutely … real.  I’m 100% convinced.

 

Caller:

Next time somebody comes up to me and says you’re praying all these Hail Marys … I’m going to hit them over the head with a Bible because I think you know what I’m saying.

 

WO:

You know … you talk about Saint Francis being the greatest Saint.  What about Mary Magdalene.  She was pretty cool.  All the sinners like me … they like her!

 

FPL:

Oh yes … she was pretty cool!  I went to her church.  There is a church dedicated to her in France in Vezelay where supposedly she ended up and her bones are in the church.  Very cool place.  And, of course, the Franciscans are there.  It’s their church.  We love Mary Magdalene.

WO:

Don’t you also have a church, Father Paul, in Venice?   There is a cool priest there …

 

FPL:

Yes … I stayed there.   I studied art and art history. 

 

WO:

Who is your favorite artist?

 

FPL:

I would have to say probably Michelangelo … perhaps Bellini.  In the chapel was this little Madonna painting and it was by Bellini.  I said Oh My God!  Just kind of sitting there!  That’s so typical Italian because there’s so much art in Italy that you do find these  little gems kind of squirreled away in these places.  Unbelievable!  Maybe I shouldn’t say this.  I hope nobody robs it now.

 

WO:

His name is Paul Lostritto … a Friar … a monk … he’s founder of Franciscans Deliver.  Aren’t you having a big “do” this weekend?

 

FPL:

Well … we open.  People can come in.  Next to the church.  It’s in our old school.  The pantry.  We used to have a book store. It’s in the old bookstore.  Right next door to the church.

 

WO:

And you also had a guy who used to make sandals!  Is he still around?

 

FPL:

He is kind of “retired.”  He lives in Washington.  He’s a hoot as well, a riot.

WO:

So who makes your sandals now?

FPL:

Well, mine are Crocs. 

WO:

I’m not worthy to loose the strap on your Crocs!  So go ahead, Father …

 

FPL:

There will be an open house, refreshments.  People come in to, look around.  And then I’m going to have a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Mass.  And once that’s done, we’ll start bringing the food to people.

 

WO:

Do you also preach … give sermons, homelies?

 

FPL:

Oh yes!

 

WO:

Do you get nervous when you get up there in front of people? 

 

FPL:

I do … but I love it.  I love getting up and preaching.  I never thought I would ever enjoy it as much as I do.  I like preaching a lot.

 

WO:

What do you have … notes?

 

FPL:

No .. I don’t use notes.  I don’t even prepare that much.  And I think if you asked people they would tell you I’m pretty good because I really try to let the Spirit move me and guide me and I get kind of fiery and I’m a little bit like a Protestant preacher when I get up there. 

 

WO:

How can you tell when you’re getting across?

FPL:

Oh … you can tell.  You know how that is Mr. O’Shaughnessy.  You’re there … you can hear a pin drop and they’re all looking at you.  And there’s something about the energy in the room. 

WO:

Well, we’ve all had moments, but I’ve got to ask you, do you ever get up there and say, I’m not getting across like happens to me?  You look out there and they’re blank!  Bored!  I get that a lot.

 

FPL:

Yes … that happens sometimes at weddings and funerals.  But weddings even more.  Let’s face it, people aren’t at weddings a lot of times because they want to be at church.  They’re at weddings because they want to have drinks and have fun.  So they’re not really paying attention.  They’re more interested in what they look like and which girl they are going to dance with or sleep with or whatever.  That’s what they’re thinking about!

 

WO:

Father Paul Lostritto … if someone wants to help your ministry … initiative.. scam?  What is it?

 

FPL:

Ministry … it’s a ministry.  An outreach ministry!

 

WO:

It’s called Franciscans Deliver.  If someone wanted to send you a check … what would they do? 

 

FPL:

Yes … Franciscans Deliver and then just write underneath it, “The Saint Francis Breadline” because it’s part of the Saint Francis Breadline.  You can send it 135 West 31st Street, New York, New York  10001

WO:

You say you’re mendicants.  If somebody gives you say five dollars, do you have to turn it over to the other friars?

FPL:

We do … but not five dollars.  You know … I wouldn’t think that even makes much of a difference today.

WO:

If someone gives you $5000.00?

 

FPL:

That’s totally different.  Even $50 dollars.  You turn it in.  We get a stipend every month.  And it’s adequate.  We have our health insurance.  We have a few cars if we need them.  We have a lot so it’s not hard to turn the money in to contribute to the life we have. 

 

WO:

You do yoga.  You preach.  You hear confessions.  You’re an artist.  You run Franciscans Deliver to the shut-ins in Chelsea.  Do they – the elders of your Order –  sort of let you do what you want?

 

FPL:

Not really.  I’ve always been sort of fortunate in that I put together a real good proposal as to why I want to do what I wanted to do with this Franciscans Deliver and they went with it.  I’ve been doing Yoga for a long time.  I’ve always kind of done my own thing.  They have to take the whole ball of wax, you know? 

 

WO:

You’re a Lostritto.  A lot of vowels there.  And there’s a Cavoto, our friend.  There’s another one, Carrozzo.  What does he do?

 

FPL:

Carrozzo was our provincial which is our “head guy.”   We elect our head person for a period of time and he is …

 

WO:

Do you think you’ll ever get to be provincial?

 

FPL:

Oh … I hope not.  I hope not. 

 

WO:

Let this cup pass …?

 

FPL:

Yes … exactly. 

 

WO:

It sounds like you’re having too much fun! 

FPL:

I have a lot of fun.  I also have a studio.  I’m a painter.  So I paint a lot.  I do a lot of portrait painting.  I have a good life.  I have a great life.  I really do.   Some of my paintings are going to be on prayer cards and they are going to be out and printed soon.  That’s kind of exciting.

 

WO:

But then you’ll go down and hear confessions today?

 

FPL:

Yes … 4:00 – 6:00.

 

WO:

What do you give out to real  bad guys like me?

 

FPL:

You know … I don’t usually do the Penance thing that much.  I would say things to people more practical … if somebody is fighting with their wife a lot I would say: for your Penance go buy her some flowers or tell her you love her.

 

WO:

Father … we’ve admired your Franciscan colleagues for many years.  A lot of friends of this station – Mario Cuomo and others, Peter Johnson, Jr., the famous lawyer and FOX News host, among them –  have great regard for what you do.  I was educated by the Jesuits.  What’s the difference between the Jesuits and the Franciscans?

 

FPL:

Oh there’s a lot.  We’ don’t have enough time, Mr. O’Shaughnessy.  The Jesuits are wonderful.  I love the Jesuits too!  Let’s just say they’re “brainy.” 

WO:

I was just going to use that word. They teach the kings and princes.

 

FPL:

Exactly.

 

WO:

Look what became of me thanks to a Jesuit high school!  Were you insulted when I said the Franciscans were a little crazy?

FPL:

We’re kind of known for being crazy!  No … that’s true.  And for having fun.  The Franciscans are kind of gettin’ down with the people and having fun.

 

WO:

Like Francis, I guess.   You even have your own prayer, don’t you?

 

FPL:

Yes, we do. 

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

Where there is injury, pardon;

Where there is doubt, faith;

Where there is despair, hope;

Where there is darkness, light;

Where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,

grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled,

 as to console;

to be understood, as to understand;

to be loved, as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive.

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,

and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

Amen.

It is kind of in that idea that we find God … not so much in seeking for ourselves, but doing for others … which is basically the hope and prayer and counsel of Saint Francis.

# # #

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 Father Paul.

 

 

Contact:

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