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The Connection Man


Even without the apocryphal rendering of the breakup, the cynical view is that Breindel chose women the same way he chose his friends -- based on who could help him the most. Tamar Jacoby was the right woman for him at the right time, and when times changed, he found Lally Weymouth, Katharine Graham's daughter, far more useful.

"At first, I absolutely thought his relationship with Lally was a merger," says former Post editor Jerry Nachman. "It looked like an arranged marriage. But then I went to one of those soigné parties they threw in Southampton under a tent for Kay Graham. I stood around for a while looking at all the important bold-face names and all the nine-figure guys. And then Eric got up and spoke about Kay and Lally and Lally's daughters, and everybody knew this was for real. It was very moving and very touching and very personal," says Nachman, the prototypical tough-guy tabloid editor who is hardly prone to weepy, sentimental musings.

Living with Weymouth, however, did help broaden and intensify Breindel's relationships with powerful people, including, of course, the people he was ostensibly writing about. He told friends that the job of an editorial writer was to influence policy. What did it matter, then, if he did it over dinner? In the end, it was all the same thing. Still, surely he'd find it much harder in print to enthusiastically criticize a friend -- someone who'd been to his home -- than someone with whom he had only a professional relationship.

Breindel found himself in a difficult personal spot when the Post was on the verge of going out of business in the early nineties. He'd been working the phones and combing his network day and night to try to do something to save the forever-ailing newspaper. In 1993, at the eleventh hour, Rupert Murdoch, who'd owned the paper in the early eighties and then sold it, emerged once again as a buyer. But he'd need a waiver to get past the FCC regulation that barred someone from owning a television station and a newspaper in the same market (Murdoch owns New York's Fox station).

Governor Mario Cuomo, who'd gone to great lengths to help save the Post in the past, took up the fight one more time. But with Murdoch in the picture, Cuomo would be helping to save a newspaper that would undoubtedly begin to hammer him as soon as Murdoch took over. Regardless, Cuomo lobbied on Murdoch's behalf with Congress and the FCC. Murdoch got his waiver and bought the paper, and Cuomo had played a key role in the rescue. However, when Cuomo was fighting for re-election, not long after performing his good deed, a distraught Breindel called him to say the paper was going to endorse his opponent. Murdoch also called. "At one point, Rupert said, 'I like you, and I think you're sincere and hardworking. But I think you're wrong about the issues. I'm sorry you chose to run.' I told him I was sorry he was going to back my opponent, because frankly, as close as that race was, they could beat me. They're dynamite when they go to work," Cuomo says with surprising equanimity. "And as it turns out, the margin in the election was only three and a half points."

Breindel's friendship created a very uncomfortable situation for him. "Eric desperately tried to convince Murdoch to endorse Cuomo," says columnist Jack Newfield. "He nearly cried over it."

Though it is tempting now for people on both sides of the ideological spectrum to try to turn Breindel into some kind of one-dimensional stick figure to fit their agenda, it simply doesn't ring true. He was, in the final analysis, a tightly wound, complicated mass of contradictions. He was cold and calculating. But he was also warm and sincere. He was ambitious and in it for himself, but he really did care deeply about the Jewish people, the communist threat to America, and making New York a better city. He was the archetype of the loving, dutiful son, yet he got himself addicted to heroin. He was enthralled with proximity to power, but he was a giving, enthusiastic uncle who doted on his sister's children. And for much of his life, he harbored a deep wound over his own lost possibilities, but he was a loyal, generous friend, always willing to help others with their careers.

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