John Gotti's Early "Image Problem"

John Gotti became a mob icon in the New York media.
John Gotti, as New Yorkers remember him. This one, anyway.


John Gotti was once the focus of so much media attention, it's difficult to truly comprehend the magnitude, as well as the full ramifications if you didn't live within New York's boroughs.

Yes, Gotti's fame is international. But it's in New York where he truly was first a household name, where the pre-Internet media couldn't get its fill of the man. Most New Yorkers weren't sure what to make of him.

But all that came later. The Don from central casting had forgotten to assemble a press kit to be distributed immediately following his seizure of power on Dec. 16, 1985.




Paul Castellano went splat, and this John Gotti guy was suddenly a somebody (a mob boss, actually, but that level of detail isn't helpful here) however there was a problem, a seemingly insurmountable obstacle that the New York media faced alone in those early days when Gotti's fame was still primarily local, contained within New York's five boroughs.

The mob boss supposedly ready made for the media had an image problem.... Rather, the media had no image of him, and it certainly wasn't his problem.... It was the media's problem.


We can image the scene that played out in one or two newspaper bullpens, a reporter hiding behind maybe an upheld palm or two as a fearsome editor growled:  
"How the f--k can you write a f--kin' story about the new King of New York without a single frigging picture of him!?!?!?!?"


Hence in January 1986 David J. Krajicek, who wasn't even a native New Yorker (rather, he was a native of Omaha, Nebraska; this.... interloper!!) found himself huddled with Daily News photographer Paul DeMaria in a car outside Gotti’s modest split-level home on 85th Street in Howard Beach, Queens.

As he relays in Gotti and Me: A Crime Reporter’s Close Encounters With the New York Mafia (and we're kidding with that Nebraska crack;  in 1986, David most definitely was or wasn't an interloper, but in 2015, he's as native to New York as anyone else born here (or living here however briefly):


We sat in our little blue Chrysler 60 feet from Gotti’s driveway, with a view of both doors. DeMaria had a long-lens camera at hand. I sat behind the wheel with a notebook and mini-cassette recorder on my lap. 
At 7:10 a.m., as we sipped coffee and settled in for what we assumed would be a long day, a maroon Lincoln Town Car pulled up.




Two men got out and glared at us. They had planned to take their boss to his office, the Bergen Hunt and Fish Club on 101st Avenue in Ozone Park. 
We spoiled that plan. 
One of the men, a big dude with a military buzz-cut, stuck his hands menacingly into his coat pockets and marched toward us. Our car had press plates, but I rolled down my window and waved my orange press card in the air. I didn’t want to be mistaken for a disgruntled descendant of Castellano. 
He groaned and said, “You’re makin’ my job tough hee-ah. Dis is causin’ big problems for da fam’ly.” 
I used an old journalism trick: Blame the boss. 
“The city editor sent us to sit on the house,” I said. “Tell your guy to come out. We’ll take a picture and be on our way.” 
The lug replied, “Tell yuh boss yuh’ll be answ’rin’ to udda problems. I’m axkin’ in da nicest possible way. Do yuhself a favuh. Don’t take no pictuhs. I’m not tryin’ to be cynical.” 
He harrumphed and left, leaving Gotti pinned in his own house.
Twenty minutes later, a black Oldsmobile with tinted windows pulled parallel to our car, inches from my door. A window glided down, revealing the unsmiling face of Gotti’s son, Junior. 
He seemed angry.
“Listen, I don’t wantcha takin’ no pictuhs in fronta my house,” he said. “My mudda and brudda gets harassed again, yuh better bring a few friends hee-ah, cuz what I’m gonna do, yuh gonna need ’em.” 
Two chuckleheads in the car giggled in affirmation.
I told Junior we were doing our job and had no intention of fighting. I said we would leave after his father stepped out so we could get a picture. 
He replied, “I’m gonna start choppin’ off heads, I’m tellin’ ya. Print that in the paper. I wanna see that in the paper.” 
He added a weird coda: “I’m bein’ nice.” 
Mobsters say the funniest things. 
We reported the threat by car radio to the boss, who gave us the option to leave. We took it. 
I wrote a column in the News about my tête-à-tête with Junior. I called him a “baby mobster,” which an editor changed to “baby bully.” I ended with a kicker: “This baby bully has all the requisite skills and breeding to be a full-grown thug one day.” 
The column was published on March 2, 1986. Five days later, I got a certified letter at the News from Victoria Gotti, the boss’ wife, Junior’s mother. 
Today’s modern mobsters — and their wives, kids, cousins and in-laws — talk to everybody, especially agents, book editors and reality show producers.
 But the Mafia once had the quaint custom of keeping their mouths shut, and it was front-page news in 1986 when a mob boss’ wife wrote a letter to a reporter. 
Mrs. Gotti was angry — perhaps understandably. She was defending her son, after all. Now I had two Gottis mad at me.
“After reading that bit of trash you passed off as journalism, I’m not surprised that people like Sinatra, Madonna, and Diana Ross kick, punch and spit on you,” she wrote. “You are tantamount to vultures that will print anything, no matter how inaccurate, to sell a paper, or make brownie points with the boss.” 
She was offended that I had quoted her son speaking mob dialect. Oddly, she called him by his new Daily News nickname. 
“You know and I know that story was not true,” she wrote. “‘Baby Bully’ attended New York Military (Academy) on the Hudson. I don’t think he had a grammar problem. Anyone that knows ‘Baby Bully’ knows he doesn’t speak in terms of ‘mudda’ and ‘brudda.’”
She said her family was rich and didn’t need to steal. 
“In 1981, I inherited a little under a million dollars from a beautiful, hardworking lady whose family before her were also hardworking Russian Jews that came to this country for a better life,” she wrote. “That lady was my mother. The point — my husband needs nothing." 
She allowed she was “just a little overprotective” after the death of her son Frank, struck and killed by a car five years earlier. (The driver, neighbor Frank Favara, was abducted and murdered by Gotti cronies.) 
She probably wasn’t thinking of Favara when she signed off by writing, “Don’t criticize your neighbor until you have walked a mile in his moccasins.” 
So what happened to Junior Gotti, the family scholar? 
In 1989, a colleague and I profiled him for the News. The story began: “Three years after John J. Gotti strong-armed his way to the top of the Gambino mob clan, the boss’ son has been handed a generous stake in the family business ... Junior now is an influential Gambino soldier who heads a small crew that makes money for the family through construction extortion, auto crime, loan-sharking and narcotics trafficking.” 
He had followed his family destiny, as predicted.

This story is adapted from Krajicek’s Kindle e-book Gotti and Me: A Crime Reporter’s Close Encounters With the New York Mafia, available at Amazon.com, priced at $2.99, it's 48 pages..... sound familiar, smart asses?



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