It was a sophisticated twist on the old cliché "It's not what you know, it's who you know." In fact, in Breindel's case it was both: It was what he knew and who he could tell it to. He was not only able to charm important people with his intellectual gifts but absolutely determined to do it.
In the process, Breindel gave up most of the trappings of an ordinary life. In the late eighties, NewsAmerica decided to spotlight several of its rising young stars by featuring them in the company's annual report. Breindel was one of those chosen to be profiled. The photographer sent to take his picture needed two photos -- one at work and one at play. But Breindel didn't play. He had no hobbies. Desperate, he finally remembered that he had once spent a summer in Europe reviewing roller coasters for a travel guide. He took the photographer to Coney Island and had him take his picture riding the Cyclone.
While Breindel's power base was the right-wing, pro-Israel, anti-communist, Rupert Murdoch nexus, neither his influence nor his orbit was limited to it. "Obviously, we didn't agree on a lot of issues, and he worked for a newspaper that consistently beat me to death," says Mario Cuomo. "But we had a terrific personal relationship. If you're an insider, there's nothing more valuable than knowledge. I loved talking to Eric because I always felt I was learning something or at the very least testing something I already knew."
Breindel was at his most persuasive behind closed doors, and never more so than during the 1993 mayor's race. He played a pivotal role in the election of Rudolph Giuliani that has never been reported. Though David Dinkins had not had a successful term, Giuliani, who'd never held elective office, remained a tough sell. In a close race, which this was, the Post could be crucial. But Rupert Murdoch wanted the paper to endorse George Marlin, the poorly known Conservative Party candidate, who had no chance of winning. "Murdoch hated Giuliani," says a former high-level member of the Dinkins administration. "He hated him because of the role he played as a U.S. Attorney in prosecuting his Wall Street friends like Michael Milken and Ivan Boesky."
Breindel, however, believed that endorsing Marlin was a huge mistake. In an election where the ideological lines were so clearly drawn and the results could even have an impact on urban policy nationally, Breindel couldn't let the paper blow it. The Post's obvious choice was Giuliani. But Breindel needed to convince the boss, a daunting task under any circumstances -- and at the time, Breindel was battling non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
Frail and weakened by the ravages of chemotherapy, Breindel flew to New York from the Boston hospital where he was being treated to try to broker a meeting. He was convinced that if he could get the two men together, Giuliani would turn Murdoch around. Breindel made an impassioned plea. Finally, a meeting took place at the Post. Much as Breindel hoped it would, the sit-down changed Murdoch's mind. The Post would endorse Giuliani. Quickly, the paper went to work as only it can, relentlessly promoting its candidate and dumping on his opponent with huge, often hyperventilating headlines and specious stories in its news pages as well as on its editorial page.
Just like their first battle, the election turned on only a handful of votes. But this time, Giuliani was the winner. It was a triumphant moment for the Post. Breindel's effort was, of course, something the new mayor would never forget; Giuliani was in the hospital, at Breindel's bedside, the morning he died.