Front Desk

Still the Home of 'Mean'

Back in the 1980s, the New York Palace Hotel (then known as the Helmsley Palace) was the home of the Queen of Mean, the truly despicable Leona Helmsley. It seems as though some of her meanness still lurks in the hallways of the 893-room luxury property in Manhattan. According to a story in today's New York Daily News, the hotel's managing director got fired on Monday for ordering a Catholic employee to remove the ashes from his forehead on Ash Wednesday. The story quotes the manager, Niklaus Leuenberger as telling the employee, "Wipe that f-----g s--t off your face."

The incident drips with both disgust and irony. Disgust, of course, that a hotel manager (or any executive) would be so stupid and insensitive to make such a remark. Irony, on the other hand, comes from the property's history, as those were the kind of remarks Leona was known for during her reign as head of Helmsley Hotels before she was sent to prison for 19 months for tax evasion. (She died in 2007.) I interviewed her several times at the hotel, and both times she interrupted the interview to scold some underling for a petty offense. Part of it was her inherent meanness. The rest was her showing a reporter that she was a tough broad. Like I was impressed. Hah!

Further irony comes from the fact that the hotel leases its land from the Catholic Church and is located across the street from St. Patrick's Cathedral.

I assume, of course, this is an isolated case and other managers wouldn't be so ignorant or callous to make similar remarks mocking someone's religion. I hope we're past that as a society and an industry.

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