Ebullient Maxwell hawks newspapers, stops traffic on first full day at News

March 23, 1991|By Thomas Easton | Thomas Easton,New York Bureau of The Sun

NEW YORK -- With a newsboy's apron strapped around his massive girth, new owner Robert Maxwell began his first full day on the job at the Daily News yesterday hawking the paper on a midtown street corner, bringing traffic at a major intersection to a halt and attracting hundreds, perhaps thousands, of amused New Yorkers.

A four-month strike kept the paper off of most stands, leaving only a desperate, rag-tag distribution force of homeless men who were handed the bundles for free. But Mr. Maxwell has already reached an accord with the unions and seemed pleased to spearhead the sales effort and sign up new peddlers.

With one massive hand he autographed the first Maxwell edition, which boasted a front-page picture of himself along with a signed editorial that began, "This is a great day for me, for newspapers, and above all, for New York" and modestly noted that had he immigrated as a young man to New York, rather than London, he might have run for mayor.

With his other hand, he directed a scattered stream of hopeful street salesmen to a man with a pen and pad.

"What's your name?" Mr. Maxwell would say to the nearest person. "Oh, Reilly, that's a proper Irish name. And who are you? Mohammed? Well, do you read the News? We're back, buy us."

He also took questions. A reader annoyed that the paper's cover price was raised a nickel to 40 cents asked if the boost was HTC justified. "I need the money," Mr. Maxwell roared in response. "I need the money. I'm the boss, and I need the money."

Many people paid.

The Friday fanfare followed a tattered inaugural moment Thursday evening at the News' plant in a decrepit section of Brooklyn.

The building is spattered with ink stains and contains massive, half-century-old presses. Missing his first deadline at the paper, Mr. Maxwellhit the yellow start key on the press 35 minutes behind schedule. Just as the paper began to roll, it tore. A second try produced a paper cut on the right side rather than the left, reversing the order of pages.

Undaunted, Mr. Maxwell took off for a tour of the plant. While he rambled through the multi-storied building to the applause of the unionized workers, altercations broke out nearby between those who were returning from the long strike and others who had crossed picket lines.

One of the incidents involved a Daily News editor, William Goldschlag, who covered the Maxwell tour because union reporters will not return until next Wednesday.

As Mr. Goldschlag stood next to a press unit, a young man snuck behind him, stuck a "scab" sticker on the back of his leather jacket, then darted away.

A moment later a cup of coffee hit Mr. Goldschlag, and a crowd of pressroom workers pressed around him, pointing and yelling, "Scabs must go."

As the crowd closed in and its anger rose, a union foreman dressed in a suit created a small passageway in the human wall and led Mr. Goldschlag away. On the way out, a punch appeared to land on the side of Mr. Goldschlag's head.

Shortly thereafter, several members of a small group of union pressmen riding in the plant elevator became angry when the car was boarded by others who worked during the strike. There was shoving and a fight seemed imminent, but the would-be combatants were separated by union leaders. Several other managers were harassed by members of various unions. Mr. Maxwell dismissed the significance of the melees. "It's just a little bit of high spirits; these are ordinary working people who have been out of work for weeks," he said. "I'd rather have that than them setting fire to the place."


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