Jack Newfield, a dean of New York City newspaper columnists, died around midnight Monday at New York Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center. He was 66.
A veteran of the Daily News, Post, and Sun, Newfield’s reputation is anchored in the 24 years he spent here at The Village Voice, chronicling the sins of New York’s powerful—judges, elected officials, landlords, boxing promoters, party hacks, developers—and the valor of some of the city’s lesser-known residents.
Newfield was also the author of 10 books, some of which stand out as classics of their type: City for Sale, which Newfield penned with Wayne Barrett, was a sweeping expose of corruption in the Koch administration; The Education of Jack Newfield, a collection of Newfield’s columns, is a handbook for aspiring urban reporters hoping to mimic Newfield’s quiet outrage.
Newfield’s critics scolded him for exempting figures like Mario Cuomo (to whom he was personally close) from that outrage, or subjecting the likes of Al Sharpton to too much of it. For his part, Newfield claimed an independence unfettered by politics (“Character is more important than ideology”) or psyche (“I have no liberal guilt because I had no advantages”).
In the introduction to The Education, Newfield quoted a description of the crusading journalist Jacob Riis that, Newfield wrote, “is a paragraph that when I’m 90, I hope somebody will say about me.”
The paragraph was: “He not only got the news; he cared about the news. He hated passionately all tyrannies, abuses, miseries, and he fought them. He was a ‘terror’ to the officials and landlords responsible, as he saw it, for the desperate condition of the tenements, where the poor lived. He has ‘exposed’ them in articles, books, and public speeches, and with results.”
Newfield was diagnosed with kidney cancer on October 14, and it spread to his lungs. He is survived by his wife, Janie Eisenberg, and two adult children, Joseph and Rebecca. A memorial service will be held at Riverside chapel on West 76th Street at 1:15 p.m. on Wednesday. Newfield will be buried at Beth David Cemetery in Elmont, Long Island.