Anti-Catholic Slur in NYC

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New York Palace Hotel boss Niklaus Leuenberger gets the door after Ash Wednesday slur

BY Kerry Burke AND Oren Yaniv
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITERS

Wednesday, March 25th 2009, 10:00 AM

Niklaus Leuenberger no longer runs the New York Palace Hotel.

Niklaus Leuenberger no longer runs the New York Palace Hotel.

The manager of one of the city’s most luxurious hotels was given the boot after ordering a Catholic employee to clean up his forehead on Ash Wednesday.

“Wipe that f—–g s–t off your face,” managing director Niklaus Leuenberger told a bell captain at the New York Palace Hotel on Feb. 25, sources said.

The unholy ultimatum ended up costing Leuenberger his job at the Palace, a swanky 55-story tower on Madison Ave. across the street from St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

“As of Monday, March 23, Leuenberger is no longer employed by the New York Palace,” hotel spokeswoman Teresa Delaney told the Daily News Tuesday.

The incident was deemed so severe, Christopher Cowdray, head of the London-based Dorchester Collection, which owns the Palace, flew here to hand Leuenberger the pink slip.

“We take the well-being of our employees extremely seriously and that is why our CEO, Mr. Cowdray, went to New York in person to deal with this matter,” the company said.

The object of the manager’s insult, bell captain Mike Murray, said the cross of dark ashes was liberally applied to his forehead at his Long Island church.

“My priest did a real number on me,” he said with a chuckle.

Catholics receive the ashes as a reminder of their own mortality on Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent, a 40-day period of penance that ends on Easter.

“The [general manager] wanted it off, and he knows he was wrong,” added the observant Irish Catholic employee. “I’ve never been approached on a religious issue [before].”

The 893-room five-star hotel, where a posh suite with city views fetches well over $1,000 a night, combines Renaissance-style architecture with modern design and amenities.

The hotel leases its land from the Catholic Church.

It was the place where Leona Helmsley earned the title “Queen of Mean” in the 1980s when the hotel was called the Helmsley Palace.

Leuenberger was tapped as director in May 2007 after many years at the Peninsula Hotel.

When his appointment was announced, he was touted as “a 35-year veteran of the luxury hospitality industry” who was inducted into the “Hotelier’s Hall of Achievement” by Leaders Magazine in 2005.

Reached at his Warren, N.J., home, Leuenberger declined to comment, saying, “I don’t know what it’s about.”

Murray said he does not plan to sue.

“I’ve been working here for 25 years and I wouldn’t want to endanger that,” he said.

kburke@nydailynews.com

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