Lewis Katz: I Really Thought Norcross Wanted to Own It, Didn’t You?

At a meeting with employees, he reveals he was as surprised as the rest of Philly that he won the Inquirer auction.

Philanthropist H.G. "Gerry" Lenfest, left, and businessman Lewis Katz arrive for a closed-door auction to buy the The Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News Tuesday, May 27, 2014, in Philadelphia. Katz and Lenfest are taking over Philadelphia's two largest newspapers with an $88 million auction bid. AP Photo | Matt Rourke

Philanthropist H.G. “Gerry” Lenfest, left, and businessman Lewis Katz. AP Photo | Matt Rourke

There were a lot of people shocked Tuesday when Lewis Katz and Gerry Lenfest emerged the winners over George Norcross in the bidding for Philadelphia’s two major newspapers. Among those who didn’t expect Katz to lead his team to victory? Katz himself.

That seemed apparent in the press conference right after the auction, when Katz and Lenfest repeatedly declined to answer questions about their plans for the papers. But Katz’s own statements in recent days have buttressed that notion that he expected George Norcross — who led a “majority faction” of owners — to out-bid him.

Instead, Norcross walked away, reportedly profiting on the initial investment made in the newspapers in 2012.

Katz? He won himself an $88 million turnaround project — an undertaking he wasn’t quite prepared for, if his own comments are any guide.

• In a Wednesday meeting with employees of the papers’ printing plant in Conshohocken, Katz admitted he was surprised by the outcome. (Audio of the meeting was distributed via email to employees of Interstate General Media, the company that owns the Inquirer, Daily News, and Philly.com.)

“I can’t tell you what our plans are, because my plan yesterday was to go home with a big check,” Katz said, to laughter. “And I kinda ended up going home with less than I walked in with. A lot less.”

Bill Ross, director of the Newspaper Guild union that represents the rank-and-file, said he spoke to Katz Tuesday afternoon after the auction, with both sides trying to mend hurt feelings from the bruising ownership battle that preceded the sale. “He is a gentleman,” Ross said of Katz.

In that conversation, Ross said, Katz also expressed surprise at having won the auction.

“What the fuck happened?” Ross asked.

“I really thought George wanted to own it,” Katz replied, according to Ross. “Didn’t you?”

• Both comments echoed reporting by the Inquirer that Katz had told newsroom employees he didn’t expect to be their boss.

“I did not expect this result,” he said, according to the Inquirer. “I would have bet anything that I would be cashing the big check today.”

Katz’s former publicity firm referred questions on the matter to Katz’s attorney, Richard Sprague. There was not an immediate response to Philly Mag’s inquiries.

Despite the unexpected turn of Tuesday’s bidding, though, Katz by all accounts plans to make the best of the project now facing him.

“We have to make it work,” Katz said of the newspapers, according to Ross. “We have to make it profitable again.”

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