Cablevision poised on Newsday bid; Al D’Amato’s role seen

 Cablevision Systems Corp. appears poised to make an end-around bid for Newsday this week with an offer expected to top two competing $580-million bids by media barons Rupert Murdoch and Mortimer Zuckerman, according to sources familiar with the matter.

But while Cablevision’s controlling Dolan family may be willing to up the ante, they apparently do not have the behind-the-scenes influence that News Corp. Chairman Murdoch has been employing to smooth the Newsday purchase with local politicians: former U.S. Sen. Alfonse D’Amato.

D’Amato, whose Park Strategies Washington Group Llc is listed as a lobbyist for News Corp., last week made introductory phone calls for Murdoch to Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi and Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), among others, both officials acknowledged.

“I’ve had several conversations with Al about this in the past weeks,” said King. “Al has great respect for Rupert Murdoch.” 

Since 2006, D’Amato and Park Strategies have been paid $160,000 to represent News Corp. before the Federal Communications Commission and Congress on “matters relating to telecommunications, media and broadcasting,” according to federal records. D’Amato’s firm declined comment yesterday, as did News Corp.

Unclear Monday was just how much the Dolans might be willing to pony up for Newsday, or whether the cable giant would move forward with an offer in conjunction with New York Observer owner Jared Kushner. Spokesmen for the companies declined to comment.

Cablevision and Observer officials are expected to meet again in the next few days to discuss their possible venture, one source said. The Observer, in any case, is not prepared to go it alone, the source said.

An expert following the bidding, who suggested Cablevision’s interest in Newsday would likely drive the sale price higher, into the low $600-million range, said its interest is as much about strengthening its local empire as locking out other media players.

“Make no mistake about it, the Dolan family does not want Murdoch or Zuckerman staking out camp in Melville,” where Newsday is based, said Kevin Kamen, president and chief executive of media appraisal firm Kamen & Co. Group Services in Baldwin. “They believe this is their market.”

Any escalation of the bidding could play into the hands of Tribune chief executive Sam Zell, who is working to amass cash for large debt payments tied to the transaction that took Tribune private. As such, Zell hasn’t set a formal deadline for bids but would like to receive them soon, said one source familiar with the Zell-Murdoch talks. “He doesn’t want to drag this out. After all, he and Rupert have already reached an agreement in principle for Newsday,” the source said.

Tribune spokesman Gary Weitman declined to comment Monday.

This story was reported by James T. Madore, Thomas Maier and Mark Harrington. It was written by Harrington.