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Abe Hirschfeld, Dead at 85

New York City has lost one of its most colorful nutcases.

gnomi pointed me towards Abe Hirschfeld's obituary in today's Boston Globe. (The Times obit is here.) For those of you who never heard of him, on the surface Hirschfeld was a real estate magnate, who made a fortune mostly out of buying Manhattan parking garages. I suppose if he had left it there he would be remembered simply as a successful businessman.

But he was a nut. And I'm not the only one who says this -- in 1993, he attempted to buy the New York Post at a time when it looked like the newspaper was going to fold. Afraid of having to work for Hirschfeld, the staff revolted and published an issue with articles all about Hirschfeld's nuttiness. The front page of the paper showed their signature Alexander Hamilton icon shedding a tear, and the page 3 headline screamed out "WHO IS THIS NUT?"

Why did he earn this reputation?

Well, let's see. From the Globe:

  • "But late in life, Mr. Hirschfeld crossed the line from laughable to loony. Inexplicably bitten by the publicity bug, he ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor of New York, Manhattan borough president, state comptroller, and the US Senate -- the latter against Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2000 and Senator Charles E. Schumer in 2004. "
  • "In June 2000, Mr. Hirschfeld was convicted of looking for someone to murder his business partner; two months later, he was hit with a $1 million penalty for tax evasion."
  • "Mr. Hirschfeld twice spit on a Miami Herald reporter to protest her paper's news coverage. And he offered Paula Jones $1 million to drop her sexual harassment lawsuit against President Clinton. She later sued Mr. Hirschfeld for the money, but a judge dismissed the case."

And from the Times:

  • On firing and then being forced to rehire Pete Hamill as editor-in-chief of the New York Post: "Perhaps the most memorable moment of it all came after a bankruptcy judge ordered Mr. Hirschfeld to reinstate Mr. Hamill and Mr. Hirschfeld planted a big kiss on Mr. Hamill's wincing face for photographers."
  • "In 1999, while representing himself in a tax fraud trial in Manhattan, he took the opportunity to tell Jewish jokes to the jury and to show off a model of his plan to revitalize Yankee Stadium. After the jury declined to convict him of tax fraud, he offered each juror $2,500."

There's more to it, of course -- words can't describe the expansiveness with which he approached people or presented himself. I remember his reaction to the Post's headline was to tell the staff how much he loved it and to walk around the newspaper offices congratulating them on such a fine issue. It was a little bizarre.

Anyway, rest in peace, Abe Hirschfeld. You made New York City a little more interesting.
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I hadn't heard of him. I heard of some of the things he'd done (the Paula Jones bit) but never put them together.

Actually, when I first saw your post I thought you were talking about caricaturist Al Hirschfeld...
I used to mix up the names too. But the caricaturist died a few years ago, sadly.
We shared a birthday. :)
I take it that, given the reference to firing and having to rehire the Post's editor in chief, that the paper's attempt to keep him from buying them didn't work?
A bankruptcy court gave Hirshfeld the paper for a period of only about two weeks, and the judge forced Hirschfeld to reinstate Hamill.

I forget who got the paper eventually -- either Murdoch or Kalikow.
I think Murdoch. I hadn't known about the Hirschfeld interval, though I do vaguely remember the hoopla over the bankruptcy.

BTW, if you want a cute piece of New York history, with interesting characters in it, look up the origins of the pooper scooper law. I heard it recently and it sounded like your sort of thing.
I don't know much about it. Got a reference for me?
Email hdavidow@kelleydrye.com and tell him you're a friend of mine and I told you to ask. :)
Email sent.

December 2016

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