Tales of the City

The 'Voice' bags the bad guys

Some left indelible marks on specific issues over years: Bastone, the mob; Hancock, schools; Lobbia and Robbins, housing; Stokes, media; Goldstein, gays; Hentoff, civil liberties; Noel, police brutality; Nichols, community preservation. Conason and Newfield covered this slice of the earth with far-ranging copy that spanned decades and proved that a strong will in print was sometimes enough to change the law or a political leader. "Ten Worst Judges" and "Ten Worst Landlords" became a staple of New York life, launched by Newfield and, in time, his 10 best collaborators.

There have been those who've faulted our coverage. We have been too white and too male for too long, earning the title of "white boys" thrown at us 20 years ago by our arts enemies within the paper who were fighting for front-of-the-book turf. Our attacks on the pols have mostly been right, but we haven't been as careful about praise, never fully acknowledging, for example, that punching-bag Koch had actually succeeded in transforming the housing stock of the city's poorest communities. We have been called predictable, which is a synonym for both boring and consistent, one of which can be a positive attribute. But there are story lines that run counter to liberal orthodoxy: Hentoff on abortion, Whelton on almost everything, and a persistent questioning by many of municipal labor unions.

Mostly, though, the Voice's city pages have taken readers down the road less traveled, spoofing the tabloids and taunting the Times. We have not so much presented an alternative New York reality as reflected one. When we were the only newspaper in the city to endorse Mario Cuomo for governor in 1982, everyone else spellbound by Koch ascendant, we were shocked to discover that we actually embodied a majority of New Yorkers. When we were the only newspaper to stand up to Giuliani for so long, we waited until the rest of the city caught up with us, as they did by September 10, 2001. We were the shrillest voice in the city on the local politics of two wars, one early in our half-century and one late, and eventually we became the mainstream.

Rudy Giuliani meets Rudy Giuliani at Madame Tussaud’s.
photo: Fred W. McDarrah
Rudy Giuliani meets Rudy Giuliani at Madame Tussaud’s.

If a newspaper writes the story of its city without compromise or calculation, it is as breathtaking as a ballet, each detail another artful step. Put us together as bound volumes in the memory of this grandest of cities and the Voice reads like a classic, ever passionate and principled.


Research assistance: Jessica Bennett, K. Emily Bond, Ben James, Lee Norsworthy, Xana O'Neill, and Nicholas Powers

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