Two close friends of Mayor Edward I. Koch, including his chief city hall adviser, have put in a bid to buy The Village Voice, the acid-tongued weekly that has been sharply critical of the mayor.
The offer has received a cool reception from The Voice's owner, publishing magnate Rupert Murdoch, but it is prompting outraged cries from Voice writers who see it as an effort to silence some of Koch's media foes as he prepares to run for reelection this year.
"It's as if Bebe Rebozo tried to buy The Washington Post during the height of Watergate," said Geoffrey Stokes, The Voice's media critic.
"It's inconceivable that Koch did not know about and did not instigate this," said Joe Conason, a Voice political writer. "Koch hates The Voice . . . which is the one paper that has been consistently skeptical of his virtues. Now he is trying to shut down dissent."
Koch's chief aide, Dan Wolf, who founded The Voice in 1955 and was its editor for 20 years, said he had approached Murdoch with an offer "a couple of months ago" along with Howard Blum, a former writer for The Voice and The New York Times. Murdoch, who owns the strongly pro-Koch New York Post, bought The Voice in 1977, but has not interfered with its political leanings, according to writers there.
Wolf, who is paid $1 a year for his services for Koch and whom the mayor acknowledges as his best friend, said it was "nonsense" to assume the mayor was involved. "I didn't talk to Koch about it," he said. "I didn't want to put him in that position."
Wolf said Voice writers were showing the "garden-variety paranoia that existed when I was there. They have their political connections and anything that would unsettle them would be disturbing," he added, alluding to the close friendship between the influential Voice columnist Jack Newfield and Gov. Mario M. Cuomo, who defeated Koch in the 1982 Democratic primary for governor.
Asked if he knew about the offer, Koch said today, "I have no comment on the activities of my friends so long as they don't affect the governing of the city of New York."
A Murdoch spokesman said today, "No negotiations are under way and The Voice is not for sale."
Ironically, Koch owes a large political debt to The Voice, which boosted him two decades ago in his first political bid, for Democratic district leader in Greenwich Village. Koch at the time was The Voice's attorney.
Although Koch later went to Congress as a leading "reform" Democrat, he became more conservative, parting company with The Voice on issues such as the death penalty and the Forest Hills controversy over the integration of a public housing project in Queens. The Voice endorsed Cuomo for mayor in 1977 over Koch, former representative Bella Abzug and others.
Since 1978, Koch has refused to give The Voice an interview. This year the paper has been a chief organ for the "Dump Koch" movement among blacks, Hispanics and liberals.
Blum said the idea for the purchase came to him while writing a soon-to-be-published novel called "Wishful Thinking" about a city magazine "not unlike The Voice . . . that is taken over by a young guy . . ." He said he brought the idea to Wolf, who agreed to participate on the editorial side, and to a Wall Street investment banker, who agreed to raise the funds. They bid between $30 million and $40 million, he said.
Blum acknowledged that he is a close friend of the mayor's, but said, "Our motive was not political. It was intellectual. The Voice has become turgid and unimaginative. We wanted to make the paper more provocative and exciting."