Primary night 2005. The last phone call came in from a freelancer we had sent to bounce between the campaign parties in Spanish Harlem to get some color and election results from a Council race split between a former union organizer, a one-time Fox 5 newscaster-turned-self-styled beat poet, a local activist making her second run for office and a man who wanted people to know him as the rapping fireman.
Getting color was easy. And in the end, that race came down to a fight over about 100 ballots—but that end was a long way off. Four-and-a-half-hours after the polls closed, the freelancer headed home.
I looked at the clock: 1:33 a.m. I had just under three hours to finish writing articles out of all the strands of called-in quotes, Board of Elections results and short articles that had come in from the rest of the staff. That election night included four other open Council races, the nine-way borough president’s race, the first competitive district attorney’s race Manhattan had had in 20 years, a Surrogate’s Court race, and the citywide primaries for public advocate and mayor, which each featured two well-known Manhattan-based candidates.
Turning down the drinks from celebrating campaign workers at the victory parties—as well as the bigger ones from depressed campaign workers at the losing ones—had been a wise move.
The plan we had developed for that night was totally logical, and at the same time, absolutely insane. Our Town and West Side Spirit had been pretty much the only media outlets covering that very Manhattan-centric election year, filling many pages each week (all those campaign ads helped get us more space) with news, features, profiles and questionnaires which delved deep into the policy proposals and political ins-and-outs, probably further than most of the candidates would have preferred.
We had been the ones covering the races, so we wanted to be the ones to bring people the results. Small problem, though: The layouts were always sent to the printer Tuesday night, and never much after 7 p.m. But the polls did not close until 9 p.m.
For that one time only, we came up with a plan: I would hit the trail until midnight, gathering as much reporting as I could before heading back to the office. Everyone else would fan out to parties all over town, and then email or call articles in to me at my desk, which I would write up and have ready by 6 a.m., when Christopher Moore, then the executive editor, would arrive to give everything a final read. I was home and asleep by 7 a.m., when Charlotte Eichna, then the managing editor, arrived with coffee and orange juice relief for Christopher—and to make sure we used photos of the right people on the cover in the winners’ boxes, and that the captions inside made sense, as one bleary-eyed production staffer popped all the pieces into the pre-set layout.
Wednesday night, after a long mid-day nap, I went to the movies with a friend. I have no idea which movie we went to see. What I do remember, though, is not being able to concentrate on the movie or much of anything else until, after we left the theater, we walked over to a bright blue street box.
The copies were all there waiting, complete with the pictures of the union organizer and the beat poet former newsman who were neck-in-neck in that Council race, squeezed into the box on the cover we had reserved for the winner, their race marked too close to call.
A woman passed by us, reached inside for one and started flipping through the pages to see who won. She would not have been able to find the results anywhere else—the other newspapers around town that had skipped the campaign coverage mostly skipped the results, too. We, on the other hand, had transformed our news operation, and for at least a moment, transformed our production schedule. Sure, we had had a sleepless, nutty night to cap it all off. But we did what newspapers—especially community newspapers—are supposed to do.
Edward-Isaac Dovere, editor of City Hall and The Capitol, was a reporter for West Side Spirit from March 2005 to March 2006, when he became the city & political editor for the paper through December 2007.