Having known Wayne Barrett for more than three decades, a period during which we have been both colleagues and close friends, I can state unequivocally that the investigative reporter who sadly left the Village Voice this week is the most prolific and successful of his generation. Deploying a guerrilla force of interns, many of whom have gone on to illustrious careers of their own, Wayne has produced an extraordinary body of work, leaving many worthy political casualties of both parties in his wake. Occasionally impatient and temperamental, like many unusually gifted performers, he does his job so diligently and so well that many of his targets (such as former Mayor Ed Koch) have been obliged to acknowledge his integrity.
Over the decades, Wayne’s targets have included the crooked Democratic bosses of the five boroughs, the self-dealing legislative leaders in Albany, and the unknown but powerful city bureaucrats who exploit the public trust for personal gain. Always reliably nonpartisan in his reporting, regardless of his own progressive Democratic politics, he has exposed the dubious dealings of nearly every important political figure in New York; in any given election, he can be counted on to reveal the foibles (and worse) of any candidate. Last year, anyone wanting to discover the dark side of Andrew Cuomo, Rick Lazio, or Carl Paladino needed only to consult the Barrett archive.
The scope of his work is simply too broad to explore fully in a blog post. Over the years, his targets have ranged from the low-down “poverty pimps” ripping off health and job programs in the city’s poorest neighborhoods to upscale developer Donald Trump, with his penchant for exploiting public subsidies and tax deals.
The profound fact that every one of Wayne’s subjects has learned about him, often to their sorrow, is that he just never gives up. Together we spent many weeks on the trail of smarm and sleaze associated with Alfonse D’Amato in 1980, when the Hempstead hack first ran for the United States Senate. He won anyway, and then was reelected twice. But eighteen years later, Wayne was still on the case — and dug deep into the dusty files at the Hofstra University library to find the public records that ended D’Amato’s political career.
Departing the Voice at Wayne’s side was another old friend and tremendously accomplished reporter, Tom Robbins, who has put his investigative skills at the service of the city’s workers with unmatched coverage of the labor movement. Tom has also been a leading chronicler of organized crime — a topic that unfortunately is closely related to labor — and has written important stories on city government and politics as well. My favorite Robbins stories will always be his series giving the coup de grâce to the crooked Harding family and, by extension, the racketeering conspiracy once known as the Liberal Party that they controlled.
I am very proud to note that Wayne has now joined The Nation Institute as a fellow and will be working closely with Esther Kaplan (who is also a Wayne colleague from her Voice days) and me at The Investigative Fund. And we cherish hopes of luring Tom into working with us as well…