Gerald McKelvey, a hard-boiled yet urbane Newsday reporter who helped put the newspaper on the map in New York City and then went on to a high-profile career in public relations, died March 16.
He was 71 and friends said he had been ill for some time.
McKelvey, who was born in Pennsylvania in 1943, had slicked-down hair and a trimmed mustache that gave him the look of a 1930s Hollywood movie character. He started out in journalism after college, working at The Philadelphia Inquirer and, for more than a decade, at Newsday. In 1991, he left to become a spokesman for Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau.
"He was liked by everybody I think, partly because he didn't think that he was smarter than everybody else," Morgenthau said Wednesday. "He was always a straight shooter with everyone. He didn't try to color a story or embarrass" anyone.
After nearly nine years as Morgenthau's chief media adviser, McKelvey, who liked dinners at Peter Luger Steakhouse and cold, dry martinis, was hired by public relations impresario Howard Rubenstein. "He was a true New Yorker. He knew politics well and could dissect a situation better than anyone I knew," Rubenstein recalled Wednesday.
An executive vice president at Rubenstein Associates Inc., from which he retired in 2013, McKelvey was an expert on crisis management. He was present when a number of the firm's clients had legal troubles, Rubenstein said. McKelvey also was part of the "Inner Circle," a group of city-based reporters who hold an annual dinner to poke fun at politicians by performing original musical-comedy material.
At Newsday, McKelvey was a reporter on Long Island and later helped staff up its New York Newsday edition, which ceased publication in July 1995. It was while working in Manhattan that McKelvey scored a big reporting coup and gave the newspaper a boost in visibility. He and police reporter Len Levitt wrote a major investigative piece in 1983 that Levitt said saved the career of Benjamin Ward, helping to pave the way for Ward to become New York City's first black police commissioner.
The essence of the story, Levitt recalled in his book, "NYPD Confidential," was that a secret police report McKelvey unearthed essentially exonerated Ward, who had been wrongfully criticized for letting potential suspects in the fatal April 1972 shooting of police Officer Phillip Cardillo leave a mosque in Harlem where the incident took place.
The news caused a furor in the city and the Newsday front page of the story was held up by then-Mayor Edward I. Koch the day he appointed Ward as NYPD commissioner, recalled Levitt, who writes a weekly law-enforcement column for amNewYork.
When a radio interviewer seemed to cast doubt on the story, Levitt remembered McKelvey's quick riposte: "Look pal, if I put it in the paper it is true."
"He was a piece of work" Levitt said Wednesday. "He was colorful and cultured."McKelvey also took religion seriously. Rev. Stephen Gerth, rector of Church of St. Mary the Virgin, an Episcopal church near Times Square to which McKelvey belonged, said McKelvey helped get the institution back on its feet during some hard times.
McKelvey is survived by his wife of 14 years, Maria-Liisa McKelvey, and three children from a previous marriage: Patrick, Nora and Jennifer McKelvey. A funeral service is Thursday, 10 a.m., Church of St. Mary the Virgin, 145 West 46th St., Manhattan.