Someone who owns buildings, magazines and newspapers, donates hundreds of millions of dollars to New York institutions is probably qualify as an influential New Yorker. Such is the case with Mort Zuckerman. NY1's Budd Mishkin filed the following "One on 1" report.
Mort Zuckerman is known as a billionaire, real estate magnate, media mogul and philanthropist. Another long ago chapter doesn't get quite as much attention.
One time co-founder of a Boston banjo nightclub.
"There were a lot of people who literally didn’t show up to work there so I ended up, really just as a waiter, showing people to the tables and I thought that put me in the right place,” Zuckerman said.
Zuckerman didn't have much of a career in banjo nightclubs, but his day job in real estate ended up working out pretty well.
His personal net worth is estimated at more than $2 billion.
Zuckerman is the co-founder, chairman and CEO of Boston properties, a billion-dollar developer with roughly 140 properties across major American cities, including New York.
He's the publisher and owner of The Daily News and the chairman, editor in chief and owner of US News and World Report.
He's been on a first name basis with presidents and world leaders and often serves as a pundit on cable news.
He’s donated hundreds of millions of dollars, funding a research center at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and a mind brain behavior institute at Columbia University
Not bad for a guy who says he came here from Canada without much money.
“I think this country is an extraordinary country and a country of unbelievable opportunity for people like myself who came here not knowing anybody, completely broke and I just had an amazing run,” he said.
Zuckerman came to the U.S. from Montreal in the early sixties to attend the Wharton Business School of Economics, then Harvard Law.
He eventually moved to New York in 1984.
He's been portrayed an icon of American business, but he still identifies strongly with being an immigrant.
“I came from a place where there was less energy, it was less open and less sort of egalitarian and opportunistic. So it was a wonderful feeling, I felt liberated when I came here,” he said.
Zuckerman describes himself as an "urban alcoholic."
"I decided I was going to get a job in real estate,” he said. “It was my way of getting involved in urban life and I've had a great run in the real estate business. I’ve also been a junkie for the media."
His media interest is clearly not about money.
"I didn't do it just to maximize my profitability, believe me that was not an ambition because it would've been totally unrealistic, to put it mildly,” he said.
He's long contributed columns to his own publications and others.
Zuckerman has occasionally been criticized for his forays into media as a wealthy man sating a hobby.
But he says his interest in the news is genuine.
“To me it was an entry into the world of public policy, which I was absolutely mesmerized by when I was a teenager. I read all the newspapers, Montreal newspapers, Canadian newspapers, and indeed newspapers about the United States,” he said.
Zuckerman is a frequent on-screen presence as a television pundit.
He's also been a relentless behind the scenes power broker, especially in the Middle East.
His work there recently earned him the scholar statesman award from the Washington Institute of Near East Policy.
"The lawlessness and chaos that prevails today in Gaza since Israel's withdrawal is a sorry indicator of what might happen in the west bank if Israel withdraws entirely,” he said at a ceremony after receiving his award.
In 1995, when President Clinton flew to Israel to attend the funeral of murdered Israeli leader Yitzhak Rabin, Zuckerman joined him on Air Force One.
"There was such a sense of loss, what a unique man this guy Rabin was,” he said. “I believe if he had he not been assassinated the Israeli-Palestinian issues would’ve been resolved."
He’s thought about getting into politics himself.
"If there could be an appointed mayor of the City of New York, I'm your man, but at this stage of the game, I have a young family and I didn't want to be away from them in a job that would do that and particularly a campaign that would do that. I think I could've run the office of the mayoralty, but all the politics of it would've been completely draining. I had two young children i just didn't want to be away from,” he said.
Zuckerman is the father of two daughters, was married once for five years and then divorced.
“I think I gave up some of the opportunities to have a family earlier because I was too caught up in this work,” he said. “If I had it to do over again and I had this choices that time I did have a choices I think I would’ve made some different choices in the sense of, I would’ve loved to have gotten married earlier and had more children. That is the great regret of my life that I don’t have more children. That’s the one thing that I kick my butt around the block for."
Mort Zuckerman may be on the inside of American business, media and philanthropy, but growing up in Montreal, he very much felt like the outsider.
As a Jew, Zuckerman felt that French resentment of English-speaking Canada was directed at Jews.
"We used to be attacked on the way to school by French gangs and that made me one of the fastest two block runners in the history of Montreal,” he said.
"I saw what anti-Semitism was, nor were you able for a long time to buy homes in Montreal if you were Jewish, so there was that kind of discrimination,” he said.
Perhaps that experience led to his decision to come to the United States, where he made a decision that affected the rest of his life.
Practice law? No thank you.
"To be honest with you, I never had a plan. I didn't know I would end up in real estate,” he said. “My job just escalated very quickly into something that was beyond my wildest dreams."
Zuckerman’s success has enabled him to donate hundreds of millions of dollars to found New York City institutions.
In 2006, he founded the Mortimer B. Zuckerman Research Center at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.
"There was an illness in my family and that illness was treated here and cured here. I felt a very special desire to give something back and research was in my mind the great focus,” he said.
His latest contribution to New York is a $200 million donation to Columbia University to fund the Mortimer B. Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute, with its own home in 2016.
But for many New Yorkers, Zuckerman's most tangible impact on New York remains “The Daily News.”
In his two decades with the paper, there have been some tumultuous times, including firings and layoffs. Like so many newspapers, “The Daily News” is trying to find its way through a digital landscape.
"The Daily News is in the print world and the print world is suffering these days from the loss of advertising,” he said. “So it's tougher, it was a very, very successful newspaper for a long time and I think it will continue to be successful but we've had to make a lot of adjustments because of the drop in advertising revenues."
He creates buildings, advises world leaders, appears on television, donates money to establish medical and scientific institutions.
It is a life he could not envision as a young boy in Canada and a young man in the United States.
"Mind boggling doesn’t even capture it. There’s no way I could’ve even imagined this. This is, I’ve always said, this is why I said, my life is better than my fantasy and my fantasies never covered anything like this,” he said.