After 14 years here, I’m heading into a new career. And City Limits is moving into an exciting new era.
When I was eight my parents took my brother and me from my hometown New Britain to New York City for a few days, and I fell in love.
It wasn’t the big buildings, fancy shops or famous museums that sealed it. It was the night when, having come down with a bad sore throat, I lay awake in our hotel room, and felt the living city around me: the sounds of sirens and people enjoying a night out, of a sax player on a corner, the vibrations from buses and garbage trucks prowling the streets. Across the street, lights blazed in an office building where the cleaning staff was at work. I understood then that I was part of something far larger than me, and I felt larger for being part of it.
For the past 14 years and change, City Limits has allowed me to exercise all the affection and fascination that was born on that family trip, metastasized when I came to the Bronx for college in 1994, and grew during my stints at the Hartford Advocate (where I got to cover a smaller city), CBSNews.com and the Village Voice.
Today, as I transition from roughly 25 years in journalism to a career in nursing, I’m grateful for the fact that, just like the city itself, City Limits has always been bigger than me. Even during the brief period in 2015 when I was the sole staff member, its existence reflected collective effort: reporters, photographers, partners, donors, board members, funders, readers, interns and the editors who came before me.
That story continues now. With Jeanmarie Evelly at the editorial helm and Marjorie Martay as executive director, and with the best team of reporting and supportive talent that this organization has ever assembled, its best days clearly lay ahead. I’ll stay involved as a contributing editor as best I can. As a longtime donor myself, I hope you’ll support the important work City Limits does by contributing generously.
I have too many debts of gratitude to tally fully here. I think my mom, Claire Murphy; my wife, Eileen Markey; and my sons Owen and Hugh know their fundamental role in making me work. I hope the friends and heroes that have passed on—Wayne Barrett, Jim Dwyer, Ray Schroth, Don Forst, Heidi Hynes, Ward Harkavy and the great Tom Murphy—had some sense of their importance in my story.
Like any skeptical reporter, I of course have regrets when I review the roughly one-third of my life I have spent here. There are stories I wished I’d skipped and others I shouldn’t have passed over. I’d love to rework dozens of headlines and re-do scores of interviews. And yes, I could have written everything a little shorter. But I don’t regret having my career defined by City Limits, even though that was not the plan back in 2007. I always figured I would in a year or two find the place where I’d go to do my best work. It turned out I was already there.
Many memories fill me with pride, especially my reporting on the bail system and stop-and-frisk, the big environmental stories and our intelligent coverage of homelessness. Our election work has been insightful and remarkably comprehensive, and our many in-depth investigations comprise a true public service. The partnerships with Gotham Gazette, BRIC, WBAI, MetroFocus, El Diario and WNYC were deeply rewarding, and I’m glad to have started the CLARIFY internship, Una Ciudad sin Limites, Age Justice, Art at the Limits, City Plate and other initiatives. Being an adjunct at Hunter, Fordham and the Newmark School was a true honor. Overseeing City Limits’ move from a parent nonprofit into fiscal independence, from print to digital and (with Fran Reilly and Mark Edmiston) from one-man-band to a staff of eight required skills I never thought I’d need. Whether it was fronting money to freelancers out of pocket, moving City Limits from one office to another in the back of my Prius, skipping my 10th wedding anniversary to cover Hurricane Irene, or editing from a hospital bed in 2019, I gave this job my all, and it gave everything back.
However, in all candor, the one achievement I’ve been thinking about in recent weeks was one of my shortest stories—just an extended caption, really. It ran in our now-defunct magazine in 2010, in a section where we told the tales behind interesting photos from our archive.
The picture, by George Cohen, is of Sensa Alomar and Elias Rodriguez at a homeless shelter in the Highbridge neighborhood in the Bronx in June 1985. Their daughter, Sensa, is in the crib. I managed to contact Sensa and talk to her briefly. She told me both her parents were dead by 1992. I sent her a copy of the photo. She had never seen a picture of her mother before.
Like every image and all stories, the photo is a little voyeuristic. It doesn’t tell us anything much about the people depicted in it—their complex lives, inner thoughts, the fate that awaited them. All it shows is a single instant of human feeling and contact. I find it moving, as silly and sappy as that might seem. I guess I’m proud of it because it’s the kind of thing only City Limits would publish.
And also, because of this:
Their tenderness amid hardship is the life force of this magnificent city. Our brawn, wealth, diversity and creativity all help—and yes, policy details really matter. But in the end, it’s our ability to find love and beauty amid the struggle that has sustained us. I suspect it will also get New York through the tough times that lay ahead, if we let it.
Here’s hoping we see each other in the crowd.