It was a gamble. A big one. Question was: would I take the chance that could change my life – join the staff of a fledgling, first of its kind, student newspaper covering politics in the State Capital in Albany for the spring of 1978, or would I resolve to be just another second-semester sophomore studying English and Political Science at SUNY New Paltz? The decision to live my dream changed my life.
When I graduated from high school in 1976 my parents gave me two choices – study at New Paltz for four years or go to Ulster County Community College for two years. I wanted to go to Syracuse University, Maxwell School of Journalism, but there was no money or planning for that, so I chose New Paltz. When I arrived on campus I found out that there was no major or minor in journalism, just a few classes. So, I commuted from my parents’ home in Highland. I worked a part time job. But the dream to be a reporter burned within.
The first day of my second year at New Paltz I finally finished the prerequisites and enrolled in Intro to Journalism taught by Lee Heinze – the husband of my high school typing teacher. He talked about the glory days of journalism and working the beat. He also mentioned a new internship program that Alan Chartock was developing in Albany that would combine politics and newspaper writing. It was new, and had not yet been publicized. We in class were getting the introduction. I was hooked. I could barely sit in my seat until the end of class before pouncing on Professor Heinze with questions. He told me he had me in mind for the project. He helped me get my parents on. I paired up with a woman in my class that I barely knew, and together we found an apartment on Washington Avenue in Albany.
I don’t remember a whole lot about my first few weeks in Albany except that everything was new to me. I had never lived away from home. I’d never lived in a city. I’d never taken public transportation. I’d never even been to the State Capitol. I learned quickly. We met up with our core group of reporters.
It was a few weeks before we had a structure in place with an editor hired by New Paltz and weekly seminars with Professor Alan Chartock. Even with a faculty editor, Anne and Bob quickly emerged as the drivers of the program with Anne scouting out leads and Bob either dictating stories or handing out story ideas. Once we figured out the layout of the Assembly and Senate, the different committees, the leadership and the majority and minority parties in both houses, we moved on to the Governor’s Office.
We learned how to do newspaper layout at The Jewish World. We actually cut and pasted stories to the story boards and edited on the fly. It was an experience beyond just mere journalism – we were producing a newspaper from the bottom up.
We were living the dream. Somehow lucking into interviews with Assembly Majority Leader Stanley Fink and Minority Leader Perry Duryea, and Senate Majority Leader Warren Anderson and Minority Leader Manfred Ohrenstein. We went to Governor Carey’s press conferences in the Blue Room and watched as other reporters asked questions. We learned how not to ask questions that could be answered by a “yes” or “no.” We read the Albany Times Union and the Knickerbocker News to find out which stories we should be covering – unlike the dailies, we had the advantage of being a weekly and could spend some time developing a story.
My big fall came when I followed the death penalty debate a little too zealously. It was such an exciting time – we were not just watching politics in action, we were writing the stories as it happened. I always understood that the story was the most important thing, not the outcome of the vote. There was always talk that if both houses passed it and the governor vetoed it, the Senate would attempt an override. The Senate was just one vote short. Then, Olga Mendez won a special election in the Bronx, and although a Democrat, she was rumored (on good authority) to be the key vote that would make the override possible. I checked every source I could find, except Senator-elect Mendez. We ran with the override story. Front page byline. I had arrived. Dead stop.
Monday morning, as we were delivering papers in the LOB, we found out that Senator Mendez did not support the death penalty nor would she provide the necessary vote for an override of Governor Carey’s veto. I literally was called on the carpet by Senator Mendez. She taught me a valuable lesson – check, re-check, and triple-check your sources. And if all else fails, speak to the actual person before you go with the hot story because reputations can be ruined by incorrect reporting.
I went on to serve a second semester on The Legislative Gazette, as its co-assistant editor along with Anne Erickson, and as its principal photographer. It was the most fun I’ve ever had learning about government and writing about government. I went on to be a full time reporter with the Troy Times Record, and after a few years, went to law school and was a local government lobbyist for 20 years. I never left Albany. I have never worked more than two blocks from the Capitol. I still miss being a reporter. But even when I was a reporter, it was never comparable to the experience of The Legislative Gazette. The Gazette was the ultimate dream job, and I was fortunate to live it. The gamble paid off.