The first thing you see in Kalman Sporn’s West 70th Street apartment is a picture of himself with the Pope. It’s odd, since the gay sons of Orthodox Jewish rabbis don’t normally hang with the Pope. But as a friend of Mr. Sporn’s commented, “It’s more about the Pope as celebrity, you know?” Because Mr. Sporn has only met the Pope on one occasion, he doesn’t yet include him in what he refers to as the Friends of Kalman (F.O.K.’s), a group that includes socialite Denise Rich, environmentalist Robert Kennedy Jr., Bear Stearns Chairman Alan C. (Ace) Greenberg and, most recently, Michael Jackson-or “M.J.,” as Mr. Sporn has a tendency to refer to him. But the Pope-just one of 4,900 names in Kalman Sporn’s Rolodex-may become an F.O.K. yet. Since Mr. Sporn met him in 1993, he has faxed him every Rosh Hashanah to wish him a happy New Year.
In Mr. Sporn’s living room hangs a framed album cover of the Miami Boys Choir under the direction of Yerachmiel Begun, a 12-year-old Kalman peeking out from the back of the group photo. Mr. Sporn likes to play visitors the CD of his solos. The Pope photo hangs opposite a small, immaculate kitchen, where a Juiceman Junior is joined by a framed photo of Mr. Sporn next to actress Judith Light at a Human Rights Campaign dinner. Next to that is a blown-up snapshot of Mr. Sporn-eyes shut-with Tony Blair in London. Judging from the numerous photographs with famous people that he has carefully arranged in albums, Mr. Sporn is a flash-bulb blinker. A couple of years ago, at the White House Christmas party, Hillary Clinton told Kalman Sporn that he looked familiar. Mr. Sporn told her that it was his second trip through the long photo line; he thought that he had blinked the first time around. Mrs. Clinton said that that sometimes happens to her, too-which is probably exactly what she said, since Kalman Sporn, his sister claims, has a photographic memory.
Pictures don’t lie, and judging from them-as Mr. Sporn seems eager to let people do-the 29-year-old redhead from Far Rockaway is propelling himself by pure force of will to become a macher in New York. He used to hand out business cards that described him as a Global Power Broker and says that he’s worth $10 million. “When I travel,” he likes to say, “I don’t get a kick out of going to the museums. I like meeting the people who run the countries.”
Kalman Sporn believes that his destiny is to be rich and powerful. And the power, he says, resides in the money the Republican Party represents. That’s why he became a Republican Eagle, a membership that provided him both with a coveted gold pass to the Republican National Convention and, he claims, the ability to get Trent Lott on the phone whenever he wants.
Not long ago, he was just another kid at Yeshiva University who’d gotten through his teen years having never socialized with non-Jews. Now he hosts charity events attended by people like Mr. Kennedy. Four years ago, he was licking his wounds from a personal bankruptcy and working in London for an obscure South African Investment bank called Investec. Now Kalman Sporn’s name is listed on Ms. Rich’s invitation for her Angel Ball, alongside the likes of Sir Howard Stringer, Goldie Hawn, Kathy and Rick Hilton, and Gabriel Byrne, who, like Mr. Sporn, are hosting a table. Just last week, he was at a friend’s house in New Jersey, watching a tape of the newest Goofy movie with Michael Jackson.
The sleepy-eyed Mr. Sporn, whose mat of flame-red hair has a tendency to stick up at random, was not blessed with beauty, money or contacts. He sometimes sounds like he’s memorized some of the things that he says, and eye contact seems difficult for him. Mr. Sporn is old enough to have been beaten down, but he somehow remains the last kid in America who truly thinks he can do anything he puts his mind to, including ballet. (He takes classes daily.) Kalman Sporn is sold on the idea of Kalman Sporn, Global Power Broker. Now he just has to convince the rest of the world.
“I was constantly amazed at how Kalman would appear, Zelig-like, in all these different scenarios and with all these different people,” said New York magazine deputy editor Maer Roshan, who said that Mr. Sporn had called him shortly after he’d graduated from college, asking for advice on starting a magazine-a project that never quite materialized. “Six years ago, when I met him, he was just out of Yeshiva, and then here he is literally calling me and saying, ‘Hey, Maer! Can you hear me? I’m in the Lieberman box at the convention!’ There’s something touching about him. Kalman has this remarkable capacity to reinvent himself and propel himself along, which is kind of a classical New York trait.”
Apparently, to play in the big leagues, all you need is a Web site and a plan. On Kalmansporn.com (formerly known as Globalpowerbroker.com), visitors find neat Flash graphics of Mr. Sporn’s name emerging from the clouds, and an image of a beaming Kalman Sporn hugging a glowing Earth as if he just won the planet at a ring toss. Then there’s the scrolling strip of photographs on the home page-Kalman with the Clintons, Kalman with King Abdullah of Jordan, Kalman and Australian magnate Richard Pratt, Kalman (in red bow tie) with New Jersey Governor Christie Todd Whitman.
Though the site states that Kalman- sporn.com was founded in April 2000, Mr. Sporn admits that he’s still in the process of collecting “seed capital.” He reckons the business, which he hopes to actually start operating outside of his apartment after the New Year, is valued at $10 million, even though Mr. Sporn may be the only man left in New York with the chutzpah to publicly admit he’s trying to start a dot-com. And he’s not exactly Jeff Bezos; after going through the analyst program at Helmsley-Spear, he did personal banking for the tiny Investec. He also claims to have raised about $3 million for an online janitorial business, Globalsupplynet.com. But he hopes to raise $3 million by selling a 30-percent share of Kalmansporn.com, issuing 600,000 shares at five bucks apiece. Though he wouldn’t specify how many people are in on the deal, he did say that there are still people out there willing to roll the dice. “The people who are investing, they’re investing in me, ” he said-and apparently in all of his powerful friends. As the site states, “Kalmansporn.com is a incredible collection of pooled personal relationships leveraged to help young companies make money.” Perhaps Mr. Sporn should take a break from pooling and put the finishing touches on the site; at press time, the “Friends of Kalman” section is still “under construction.”
Kalman Sporn says he goes out about six nights a week; part of his job is spreading the gospel of Kalman by showing up at every gay, Republican or Jewish organization he has raised a little money for, and anything else that piques his interest. He met Ace Greenberg at a reception for The Jerusalem Report Magazine -went right up and told him what he told everybody else, that his father was a Hungarian Holocaust survivor, that he was descended from a long line of rabbis. Same with Albert Reichmann, who used to be the world’s largest real estate mogul. Then he asked them for letters of recommendation. Mr. Greenberg wrote, “His people skills are remarkable.” Mr. Reichmann spoke of Mr. Sporn’s “Talmudist’s wisdom” and added that “he personally assisted me in coordinating and strategizing meetings with noted financiers, among them Bruce Wasserstein, Ronald Perelman, Donald Trump and Sumner Redstone.”
Since the seventh grade, Kalman Sporn has been plotting how, when he gets big, he will bury all his enemies. At the Yeshiva of South Shore, Mr. Sporn didn’t have as much money as the other Orthodox boys, nor did he have much in common with them: He harbored a secret crush on actor Ricky Schroder, was a confessed goody-goody and was known as “Little Michael” because of his Jackson-esque dancing prowess in the choir.
He had an epiphany after a student named Futersak punched him in the stomach in gym class. To this day, Mr. Sporn insists that Futersak should have been expelled by the dean of the school, Rabbi Benjamin Kamenetzky, but wasn’t because he came from a rich family. He’s distrusted rabbis ever since. (Mr. Kamenetzky, who didn’t remember the particulars of the Futersak attack, insisted that there was never favoritism at his Yeshiva, and that Kalman Sporn was always a little odd. “These perceptions usually go with a certain attitude,” he said, “and in my estimation he always felt, in a sense, superior … But these are all psychological issues I can’t explain.”)
“It was a turning point,” said Mr. Sporn, “because I then decided that I wasn’t going to take shit from anybody … I said to myself, ‘One day the head of the school is going to come to me and ask me for money, and I’m going to tell him to go fuck himself.’”
On a Thursday evening not too long ago, Mr. Sporn wore a blue pinstripe suit, his French-cuff shirt fastened with cuff links he said were a gift from Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore. He was methodically scooping bite-size pieces from a hunk of honeydew melon at the dining table of philanthropist Stanley Kaplan, the man who started Kaplan educational testing in 1938 and sold his business to The Washington Post in 1985. Mr. Kaplan has been an F.O.K. since meeting Mr. Sporn a couple of years ago at a charity dinner that had as its guests of honor a gay Catholic priest, a gay orthodox Jew and a Muslim lesbian. (Mr. Kaplan has been active in gay and lesbian charities since his son, Paul, died of AIDS in 1991.) Three weeks before, Mr. Sporn had impressed Mr. Kaplan by inviting him to dinner in his apartment with F.O.K.’s Agapi Stassinopoulos (Arianna Huffington’s New Agey sister), Newark City Councilman Cory Booker and Rockland County legislator Ryan Karben. (Mr. Kaplan thought the two college waiters in the tiny apartment were a nice touch.) When Mr. Sporn went off to find the bathroom, Mr. Kaplan said that his first impression of the young Mr. Sporn was that he was “a very pushy kind of guy, in a very positive way.”
When Mr. Sporn returned to the table, the two got down to business. Mr. Kaplan was hoping to arrange for a few powerhouse blurbs to put on the back cover of his memoirs, which Simon & Schuster plans to publish next fall.
“So, are you going to see your good friend Bill?” Mr. Kaplan asked.
Mr. Sporn was silent for a moment. “Who? Clinton?” he asked. “He’s not my good friend. We’ve only met on about four occasions.” Mr. Sporn mentioned that maybe with the help of his friend Mr. Karben-who, he said, helped get out the Rockland County Jewish vote for Hillary Clinton’s Senate campaign-they could get Senator Clinton.
“I don’t think she took the course,” Mr. Kaplan said, shaking his head.
“Why don’t you get Dershowitz?” suggested Mr. Sporn.
Mr. Kaplan’s face brightened slightly. “Yeah, I forgot about him,” Mr. Kaplan said. “He stood up once and said that I helped him get into law school.”
“I’ll get him on the phone tomorrow,” Mr. Sporn said.
But who Stanley Kaplan really wanted was Larry King, with whom Mr. Sporn thought he had an in. Mr. Sporn said that he had chatted with Larry King Live ‘s producer at the Republican National Convention when he ducked into the Larry King suite to get a quick photo with the man himself.
After it was decided that Mr. Sporn would begin showering phone calls down upon Larry King’s producer the following morning, Mr. Sporn looked at his watch and saw that he was late for dinner. He gave Mr. Kaplan a kiss that landed near his forehead. “All I’m asking for is Larry King,” Mr. Kaplan said.
A sand-colored town car that Mr. Sporn had hired for the evening idled outside. The car looked like it had seen better days, and smelled sickeningly of apricot air freshener. Slumped in the back seat, Mr. Sporn shook his head while he thought about Stanley Kaplan’s company, which began as a tutoring business in his Brooklyn basement. “Can you imagine taking 20 years and waiting for a business to grow?” Mr. Sporn mused. His phone rang. It was his mother, apparently inquiring about some tickets for a Broadway show that her son had secured for her. “Hi, Mommy,” Mr. Sporn said, his voice an octave higher. “Can you call me when you get home?… I wanted to see if my Dutchess of Kent picture arrived,” he said. There was some squeaking on the other end of the phone. “As long as it’s something with me and King Abdullah, it’s fine.”
Kalman Sporn knows that there are some people who are definitely not F.O.K.’s. He hopes to ask some of the people who have stopped taking his calls to find out where it all went wrong for The Art of the Schmooze , the book he plans to write with Kosher Sex author Rabbi Shmuley Boteach. (Mr. Sporn sees Schmooze as helping to remove the pejorative pall that has hung over the word, as well as a way to share his personal philosophy of balancing your three P’s-”professionalism, politics and philanthropy”-and “teaching people how to develop meaningful relationships and how to be authentic and how to be real.”) He said that he and Ken Sunshine, Barbra Streisand’s publicist, were at one time very friendly, and then something went awry. “He told me I was pushing too hard,” said Mr. Sporn. According to Mr. Sporn, he had thrown some publicity work with Globalsupplynet.com Mr. Sunshine’s way, and in return for the good deed, asked Mr. Sunshine if his mother could have a private audience with Ms. Streisand when she was in New York. “I have no comment on anything to do with Kalman Sporn and what he thinks he’s done for me,” Mr. Sunshine said. Of the Streisand affair, he said only: “A lot of people asked a lot of weird things of Barbra about the time she was performing here. I can’t remember, but it’s laughable to think that that was a serious request.”
Other F.O.K.’s that have left the fold include British stage producer Cameron McIntosh and film producer Howard Rosenman. “He used my name with someone, indicating that he was more of a friend than he was, and I felt uncomfortable with him at that time and decided that I don’t need this in my life,” Mr. Rosenman said.
Others take exception with the way Mr. Sporn sometimes shades the truth. When he says that he was a guest of Karenna Gore Schiff at the Democratic National Convention, he means that he was the guest of a guest of Ms. Schiff’s. While, yes, Mr. Sporn’s father was trained at rabbinical school and is technically a rabbi, he spent 30 years working as a social worker for the city of New York. Mr. Sporn somehow let a reporter from The Jewish Week print that he was one of 139 individuals and corporations in New York who have contributed more than $250,000 to the Republican Party, when he has personally donated only $1,100. Some people think that he is a little too eager to play up his Orthodox roots and his relatives’ experience in the Holocaust, as though it were (as one who knows him put it) a “poll-tested bio meant to push people’s buttons.” And the fact that he filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 1996 seldom comes up.
He knows what some people say about him, and he doesn’t like it one bit. “When you play in this world of very wealthy people, sometimes you get called into question,” he admitted. “‘What’s your role? How much do you have in the bank? Who are you fucking? Why do you have a reason to be here when others have spent more money, or give more money, or are worth more money?’ I demand a seat at the table because I’m young and I’m trying and I think people should be nice, and I think I deserve to go to the same things that people who have a lot more money go to because I think that I do good things with the money that I have, and would do more with more money.”
The town car let off Mr. Sporn on Central Park West, a couple of blocks from Nirvana, an Indian restaurant. He paid the driver in cash before calling the restaurant. “Hello, it’s Kalman Sporn,” he said, head up proudly. He explained to whoever answered the phone that he had been there at a party on New Year’s Eve (“We were in tuxedos”) and had spent a good deal of money, and that he needed a table for four on the fly. By his lengthy explanation, it seemed that the person at the other end didn’t have the foggiest. “I want the good table,” he said, quite forcefully. “I want the good music … I want good treatment.”
When he arrived at the restaurant, he again announced that he was Kalman Sporn. The Indian maître d’ stood there blankly before asking, “How many tonight?”
The restaurant was half-empty and quiet, and Kalman Sporn got his table. “Could you put the music on?” he asked the waiter. The dinner was music-less, but Mr. Sporn didn’t notice. He was busy telling the story of how, when he was in Israel with his friends, he managed to bypass hundreds of pilgrims who were waiting in line at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where Jesus’ body was said to be laid out, by saying that he was leading a very important delegation from the American Council of Young Business Leaders. They got the good treatment that day.