Abe Hirschfeld, Eccentric Tycoon Who Craved Publicity, Dies at 85

In 1993, Abe Hirschfeld took over the bankrupt New York Post for two weeks. He called himself the paper's
In 1993, Abe Hirschfeld took over the bankrupt New York Post for two weeks. He called himself the paper's "savior" but he was loathed by its employees. (By Andrew Savulich -- Associated Press)
By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Abe Hirschfeld, 85, the publicity-obsessed New York real estate tycoon whose prison sentence in a murder-for-hire plot against a business partner was merely one episode in a colorful, often-macabre career, died of cardiac arrest Aug. 9 at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan. He had cancer.

Known for his $2 ties and heavy Yiddish accent, the Polish-born Mr. Hirschfeld made his fortune in commercial properties, mostly multi-level, open-air parking garages. "Cars don't catch cold," he liked to say. Other Hirschfeldisms included, "Kiss! Kiss!" when greeting people and, "All I know how to write is checks" when describing his fifth-grade education.

Time magazine, he endlessly repeated, listed him among the "most influential business geniuses of the century." He failed to note that the magazine listed him with the eccentric likes of Howard Hughes and J. Paul Getty, under the headline "Crazy and In Charge," a title he lifted for his self-published memoir.

His money financed constant intrigues, which extended to gadfly politics (he ran for every office from Manhattan borough president to U.S. Senate); journalism (for 16 days, he tried to buy the New York Post, which ran the headline, "Who Is This Nut?"); and shameless quests for media attention (constant interviews when he was behind bars).

"Oh, yes, I love publicity," he told the Jerusalem Post in 1998. "The only difference is, everybody loves publicity and doesn't admit to it. I love publicity and admit to it."

That same year, he offered Paula Jones $1 million if she would drop her sexual harassment lawsuit against President Bill Clinton. She later sued Mr. Hirschfeld unsuccessfully when the money was not forthcoming.

There was no question of having money. He made millions of dollars as the "garage king" of New York, though some of his methods were unsavory. When a city environmental official refused to approve one of his garage plans in 1977, Mr. Hirschfeld and his associates locked her in her office and barred her from using the phone for more than an hour.

On the positive side, he said, he never tried to bribe her. He donated $25,000 to the United Jewish Appeal and paid an undisclosed sum to the official to settle her $16 million suit.

Other lawsuits flourished over the years, and his response was usually brazen. He once offered to pay jury members $2,500 each when they deadlocked in his 1999 tax-evasion trial. That resulted in a new state law that made it illegal for anyone associated with a civil or criminal case to reward jurors.

He made wild claims as an inventor, bankrolled a musical flop on Broadway, spat on politicians and reporters he detested, dropped his pants when really mad and saw himself as a world statesman without portfolio. He offered bizarre, complex plans for achieving peace in the Middle East -- a "snapped synapse with reality," in the words of one Israeli journalist.

Under various party affiliations, he ran for higher office in what often seemed like ill-planned stunts that brought chills to established New York politicians. "I only sleep three or four hours a night now," Gov. Mario Cuomo said in 1986. "How much sleep do you think I'd get if Abe Hirschfeld was elected lieutenant governor?"

In what was characterized as his boldest bid for respectability, Mr. Hirschfeld offered $3 million to buy the bankrupt New York Post in March 1993. He called himself the "savior and reviver" of the paper, but he was loathed by Post employees.

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