Queens Rep. Gary Ackerman isn’t running for reelection, and the Queens Tribune seemed to be the only media outlet that knew why.
A column, penned by Tribune publisher Michael Schenkler, reported that Ackerman had signed on as a managing partner of a group of investors that had reached a deal to buy the New York Mets from the Wilpon family.
It sounded like a plausible explanation for Ackerman’s surprising decision to retire from Congress, and an interesting twist in the tale of the Wilpons, who lost big in the Bernie Madoff scam.
Or so I thought. At an overwrought editor’s urging, I started looking into the report.
It seemed a little strange that the paper posted the piece Thursday, yet no other media outlets had picked it up. Maybe no one has the Queens Tribune on their Google alerts, I thought.
I was halfway through putting out a round of phone calls when I found out the truth: It was all a (very) pre-April Fools Day joke.
The truth is: Ackerman is still retiring but he isn’t buying the Amazin’s anytime soon. (Given their perennial woes, that might not be a bad thing. But I digress).
The mildly eccentric Jewish Democrat, who wears a fresh white carnation every day and lives in a houseboat, told reporters that he felt it was time to move on. “I am tired of flying back and forth to Washington,” Ackerman said, according to a story in the Queens Chronicle.
Ackerman has served in Congress since 1983, making him long-serving in real terms but a newcomer compared to fellow New York City Democrat Charlie Rangel, who was first elected to Congress in 1971.
There was buzz that Ackerman could lose his seat during the lengthy and convoluted redistricting process that, like a game of musical chairs, promised to knock out two New York state incumbents. But Ackerman pulled through, winding up with a district that included turf he had represented in the past. He was expected to breeze through the November elections, settling in for another two years in a comfortable Queens district.
Instead Ackerman stepped back, leaving space for a potentially bruising Democratic primary in the new district between Assemblyman Rory Lancman, Assemblywoman Grace Meng, City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley, and potentially others.
All of this adds up to a small puzzle that the Queens Tribune story seemed to solve. Ackerman is a huge Mets fan who, last May, proposed a bill that would have protected the Mets’ current owners from the trustee in the Madoff bankruptcy, who was seeking to claw back profits that the owners had made on their Madoff investments. The Mets owners came to an unlikely settlement with the trustee earlier this week.
There’s also a back story to the Tribune spoof. Ackerman founded the newspaper before being elected to congress and the publisher is a longtime friend.
When I called Ackerman’s office about the story they referred me to an editorial published in the same issue which doesn’t seem to appear online, and which describes the column as the publisher “having a little fun at his friend’s expense with an early April Fool’s joke.”
Very early. Schenkler didn’t respond to an email and a phone call, so I couldn’t ask him why the paper ran a prank column on March 22, way before most discerning reporters would smell a prank.
Upon rereading the piece, there were clues. For instance, the last line: “[L]ook for the big formal announcement on April 1. You’d be a fool to miss it.”
Oops. I guess I’m the fool.
Josh Nathan-Kazis is a staff writer for the Forward. He covers charities and politics, and writes investigations and longform.