A.M. Rosenthal, who recently left the New York Times after a storied 55-year career, has signed on as a weekly columnist for the rival Daily News.

"I've had respect for him for 20 years," Daily News owner Mort Zuckerman said yesterday. "I'm thrilled about it."

Rosenthal, 77, was a dominant figure in Times history. A Pulitzer Prize-winning correspondent who served as executive editor for nearly two decades, he left the paper in November after writing an op-ed column for 13 years. Rosenthal made clear that his departure was not voluntary, sparking criticism of Times management for forcing him out.

"I would never comment on what the New York Times does in its wisdom, but we are the beneficiaries," Zuckerman said. "He's already made comments and contributions that have been helpful."

Rosenthal said in a statement that "I have been reading the Daily News for most of my life and it is exhilarating to think that after all of those years, I will be writing for it. I have a lot on my mind and I am buoyed by the chance to spread it out before the readers of the paper."

Asked if Rosenthal, who often writes about international matters, would be a good fit with the tabloid's readership, Zuckerman said he would write on local and national issues as well. Besides, said Zuckerman, "it's a little condescending not to think our readers are interested in foreign policy."

CAPTION: Abe Rosenthal, working for his former newspaper's competition.