Capitol Career Had Oswego Roots

For more than 14 years, I walked the halls of the U.S. Capitol as the eyes and ears of the Watertown Daily Times, until the Northern New York newspaper became the latest to close its Washington bureau March 31. But my roots in journalism reach into the halls of SUNY Oswego, where I spent four years as a reporter and editor at The Oswegonian.

Marc Heller

Former Oswegonian editor Marc Heller ’90 walks down the Capitol steps. He was the Washington, D.C., correspondent for the Watertown Daily Times for 14 years before the bureau — the smallest in the nation — closed in March.

Much of my early, rough education in journalism came at the ’Gonian, at that time disconnected from any academic department and without a faculty advisor to guide our judgment.

After covering the Student Association Senate and other adventures, I graduated and started working at the The Palladium-Times. I covered City Hall until 1992, spent too many nights and too much money downing Molson beers at Old City Hall.

My sadness is personal when I lose a job. But I’m also sad for Northern New York, which loses the connection that comes with local media representation in Washington. The Times had a long tradition in Washington. Alan Emory was the correspondent from the Eisenhower administration to the Clinton administration. I tried to keep the Times on the radar in D.C., sometimes in a dignified way, and sometimes, well, not.

In 1998, when Charles E. Schumer, then a congressman from Brooklyn, was running for Senate for the first time, I took a trip up to the state to tag along on the campaign. I had to meet him and his staff at National Airport in Washington, and I was running a little late. I came into the terminal for private flights and was told our plane was already on the runway and I should get out there fast. So I lugged my bag onto the tarmac and huffed and puffed up to the plane, a puddle jumper with its propellers already spinning loudly and the door closed.

I yanked the door open, yelled that I was from the Watertown Daily Times, and saw Mr. Schumer and several aides turn their heads at me, stunned.

“You’re in the other plane,” one said — the press plane, it turned out — which wasn’t out there yet. “Sorry,” I said. I waved goodbye, closed the door behind me, and walked back to the terminal.

I’ve had fun stories over the years: the Amish being exempt from the national health insurance mandate; the odd proposal to use the Obama economic stimulus for a dairy herd reduction; breaking the story that Kirsten E. Gillibrand, then a House member, was Gov. David Paterson’s choice to replace U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

I flew on Air Force One with Bill Clinton when he came to Alexandria Bay to campaign for his wife in her Senate race in 2000. And I flew on Air Force Two a few years ago with Vice President Joe Biden, who came to Watertown to campaign for Bill Owens after U.S. Rep. John McHugh became Army secretary.

In 1994, the decision was made to send a reporter and photographer to Haiti with soldiers from Fort Drum who were to replace the Marines who had occupied the country after the coup against President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. When the reporter who was supposed to go realized his passport had expired, I — the reporter on staff with a valid one — got to go instead.

The danger signs for the Times’ Washington bureau started several years ago. We stopped covering the political conventions in 2004; like many small newspapers, the Times decided many hundreds of dollars spent for hotels, meals and flights didn’t justify the feature-type stories.

On the other hand, we carried on where many other papers larger than the Times gave up. When I arrived in 1997, newspapers in Fort Wayne, Ind.; Bangor, Maine; Portland, Maine; New Haven, Conn.; Allentown, Pa.; Norfolk., Va., and other cities all had one-person bureaus here.

The Watertown Daily Times Washington bureau outlived them all and has given me something to be grateful for.

Marc Heller ’90 now covers agriculture policy, legislation and regulation for Bloomberg BNA in Washington, D.C.

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