Iconic New York Daily News executive John Campi — a marketing genius who enriched “New York’s hometown newspaper” with clever, blue-chip campaigns — died of a heart attack at a New Jersey hospital on Nov. 28. The former vice president and director of promotions was 75.
Campi retired two years ago after an illustrious, 50-year-old career that delivered heart-warming events to New Yorkers, including the Brighton Beach Jubilee, the New York Daily News Stickball Tournament at MetroTech, and the 1986 Daily News Great Blimp Race, featuring four hot air balloons in a 12-mile aerial jaunt along the Hudson River to celebrate the Statue of Liberty’s 100th anniversary — all of them with Campi cheering from the sidelines.
“Anytime we sponsored something, John wasn’t only behind it, but he went to it,” said John Polizano, the current senior vice president of advertising.
Campi was a visionary who built alliances with the city’s Dominican, Mexican, Colombian, West Indian, Ecuadoran, and other communities, and was hailed advocate of the year by the New York City Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. He also traveled to Trinidad in the mid-1980s to check out the Pan American Steel Drum Band and bring it to the Big Apple to perform at Daily News events, and later at Carnegie Hall, while boosting Caribbean Americans in Brooklyn.
“John was supportive of all things Caribbean that were newsworthy, whether it was a parade, giving out college scholarships, or working with community organizations,” said Jean Alexander, marketing director of the West Indian Day Parade in Flatbush that Campi often attended. “He was a decision-making person who had a decision for you by the end of your meeting, and you could take his word to the bank.”
Other former co-workers remembered how he loved a challenge. When prominent city hospitals balked at endorsing the News’ prostate cancer screening program one year, Campi brought survivors ex-Mayor Rudy Giuliani and baseball great Joe Torre on board to help promote the life-saving initiative.
“John would say, ‘We’re the Daily News, we can make anything happen,’ ” said promotions and community affairs manager Brian Adams. “He commanded respect, not demanded it.”
Campi was among the inaugural honorees inducted into the Golden Gloves Hall of Fame in the spring for rescuing the popular competition from financial ruin in the mid-1980s, and expanding it to include female contestants.
“His guiding hand made it the world-famous boxing tournament it is today,” said Daily News president and editor-in-chief Colin Myler.
Advertisers were similarly impressed by the dentist’s son who launched his career in the newspaper’s sales unit when John F. Kennedy was still president, rising steadily through the ranks to become the man to seal the deal on dozens of festivals, carnivals, parades, and other spectacles that celebrated the Big Apple’s multiculturalism and attracted critical revenue dollars.
“John was the Daily News,” Gary Richard of the P.C. Richard & Son retail chain told the newspaper. “In John’s life, there were no obstacles or hurdles, he just got it done.”
His lack of airs and graces captivated other grass roots gladiators. Guardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa, who met Campi after winning the paper’s “Newspaperboy of the Year” award in 1969, worked with him for 10 years on the annual “Stickball Classic” benefit for the Police Athletic League.
“He could deal with the average man or woman, and deal with the barons of a Fortune 500 company,” Sliwa said.
Campi’s high standards inspired underlings.
“John always came to work dressed to the nines,” said Yvette Reyes, who was his assistant in the mid-1990s. “He was an elegant man.”
“He did things right,” added Griselda Garcia, his personal assistant of 11 years. “Everyday was a learning experience for me because John was committed 100 percent to the job.”
Campi’s love of pranks was the stuff of office legend, said Polizano. He recalled how the good-humored bigwig pulled a fast one on former co-publisher Fred Drasner when Drasner began appearing in television commercials depicting the Daily News as a slick, urban tabloid and rival Newsday as a country bumpkin, complete with city scenes and barnyard animals.
“One holiday, John actually had a cow brought up to Fred as a gift,” Polizano laughed.
John Campi is survived by his wife, Rosemarie; children John, Joseph, and Lisa; and grandchildren Erin, Joseph, Andrew, Jack, and Harrison. He was cremated, and a funeral Mass was held at St. Therese Church in Cresskill, N.J.