Tim Russert, the Washington bureau chief of NBC News, died at age 58 today – By Sewell Chan

June 13th, 2008 Print Print Email Email

Tim Russert, the Washington bureau chief of NBC News, died at age 58 today; The Times’s Caucus blog has a complete report. Years before he entered the world of political journalism, in the mid-1980s, he was intimately involved in the New York political world. From 1977 to 1982, he was the first chief of staff to Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a New York Democrat elected in 1976. He was instrumental in Mario M. Cuomo’s election as governor of New York, in 1982, and was counselor to the governor in 1983 and 1984. (more…)

Tim Russert, the Washington bureau chief of NBC News, died at age 58 today; The Times’s Caucus blog has a complete report. Years before he entered the world of political journalism, in the mid-1980s, he was intimately involved in the New York political world. From 1977 to 1982, he was the first chief of staff to Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a New York Democrat elected in 1976. He was instrumental in Mario M. Cuomo’s election as governor of New York, in 1982, and was counselor to the governor in 1983 and 1984.

Maura Moynihan, the daughter of Senator Moynihan, who died in 2003, said her mother, Elizabeth, was devastated by the news of Mr. Russert’s death.

“She’s in an absolute state of total devastation,” Maura Moynihan said in a phone interview. “He was like a son to her. He was such a close friend of our family. My son called him Uncle Tim. He did the best Daniel Patrick Moynihan impression of anyone on the planet.”

Maura Moynihan, who is 50, said that Mr. Russert’s move from politics to journalism was not entirely a surprise. “He always loved journalism. He had been very proud of being a paperboy for The Buffalo Times.”

In 1976, during one of the most hard-fought campaigns in New York’s political history, Mr. Moynihan, who had been the United States ambassador to the United Nations, won the Democratic primary and the opportunity to challenge the one-term incumbent, Senator James L. Buckley, a Conservative. Mr. Russert was one of Mr. Moynihan’s closest aides, traveling the state with him.

“During the ’76 campaign at one point they were upstate, and at a mental hospital,” Maura Moynihan recalled. “Dad wanted to take a nap, because he was tired of campaigning. Dad lay down for a nap in one of the rooms and they locked him in. He woke up pounding and said, ‘I’m running for Senate,’ and the guards said, ‘Yeah, yeah, Winston Churchill was here yesterday.’ And Tim had to come get him out.”

Mr. Cuomo said in a statement:

The Cuomos were privileged to have known Tim Russert for more than 25 years. We are shocked and saddened by his sudden death while at work at the peak of his career. Our hearts go out to Maureen, Luke, and the entire Russert Family.

America has lost a vital source of information, analysis and wisdom when we need it most.

Tim’s extraordinary success was more than enough to earn him respect, but he added to that a genuineness as a human being that made him as easy to like as he was to admire. The son of a hardworking sanitation worker in Buffalo, New York, a middle class, polyglot, multi-ethnic community where people worked hard, went to church or synagogue, loved a good meal and a good ball game even more. He was reverential regarding his Father.

He was devoted to his wife of almost 25 years, Maureen Orth, the Vanity Fair journalist and author, as he was to his twenty-two year old son, Luke, who graduated from Boston College this year, providing him with the same kind of profound love given Tim by his own dad.

Tim never forgot where he came from. He never let us forget either, and we loved it!

His name will forever be recorded in the annals of great professional reporters and journalists… as it will be in our minds and hearts.

Martin J. Steadman, who succeeded Mr. Russert as Governor Cuomo’s counselor and communications director, said of Mr. Russert, “He brought Mario Cuomo to the attention of the national political press, there’s no question about that.”

Mr. Steadman recalled that Mr. Cuomo disliked the term press secretary and insisted that his top spokesman, Mr. Russert, hold the title of counselor — a reflection of the position’s importance. “Governor Cuomo understood one thing: that he should keep his counselor in the loop, before decisions were made. The governor understood that if you made the decisions and told the counselor later, that could be a disaster.”

When Mr. Russert left Albany to become a Washington journalist, Mr. Cuomo was “pleased and proud,” Mr. Steadman said.

Mr. Steadman, who was Mr. Cuomo’s press secretary from 1984 to 1987, said the two men kept an “arm’s-length” relationship after Mr. Russert left for Washington — not because of any coldness but merely because Mr. Russert’s role had changed significantly. (Mr. Cuomo considered running for president in 1988 and 1992, but decided both times not to seek the White House.)

Tim Russert was a national figure, but he was also larger than life in Buffalo, where he grew up. He talked lovingly about the city in his books and on the air, and Buffalonians were proud for the attention.

Most famous city elders are celebrated in stone. But long before Mr. Russert’s death, he was celebrated in wood –­ a 125-year old silver maple, to be precise.

Carvings for a Cause, a nonprofit group in Buffalo, has for the past year been creating massive, 10-foot wooden statues of the city’s most famous and beloved. The group finds sponsors for the statues, which cost about $5,000 each and are made with chain saws. The proceeds from the sales are donated to tree planting efforts in Buffalo.

Mr. Russert’s statue, which sits on the waterfront, was the 11th to be carved by the group. (Frank Lloyd Wright and Millard Fillmore are among those who proceeded him.) Canisius High School, Mr. Russert’s alma mater, sponsored the statue. Mr. Russert even did a television spot on a local Buffalo station to help Carvings for a Cause, according to the group’s leader, Therese Forton-Barnes.

“Tim is loved by everyone,” Ms. Forton-Barnes said. “The love he had for Buffalo is the one we have for Buffalo, only he got to say it on national TV. The whole city is going to be in mourning.”

Former President Bill Clinton and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, Democrat of New York, issued a statement in response to Mr. Russert’s death:

We were stunned and deeply saddened to hear of the passing today of Tim Russert. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife Maureen, his son Luke, his father who we all have come to know as Big Russ, his extended family and all of his many friends and colleagues at NBC who have suffered a tremendous loss. Always true to his proud Buffalo roots, Tim had a love of public service and a dedication to journalism that rightfully earned him the respect and admiration of not only his colleagues but also those of us who had the privilege to go toe to toe with him. In seeking answers to tough questions, he helped inform the American people and make our democracy stronger. We join his friends, fans and loved ones in mourning his loss and celebrating his remarkable contribution to our nation.

Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, said in a statement:

It is hard to comprehend and even get your arms around the fact that Tim Russert has been taken from us so suddenly. Just about every American thought he was part of their family, sitting around the kitchen table on Sunday mornings, talking about the country and its politics. I first met Tim Russert when he was working for Pat Moynihan and even then it was clear he had a great mind, a big heart, and a twinkle in his eye. My thoughts and prayers are with his family today.

Western New York, in particular, will miss Tim Russert because he was in every way Mr. Buffalo. Even when he was interviewing presidents and heads of state, Western New Yorkers knew that his blue collar, Buffalo sensibility guided him throughout.

Gov. David A. Paterson of New York said in a statement:

Today I was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Tim Russert, a beloved native son of Buffalo, New York. A distinguished and dedicated public servant, he worked for New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan and in the administration of Gov. Mario Cuomo. He then transitioned from government to become a fair, tough and outstanding journalist, quickly ascending to one of the most respected in his field.

Tim never forgot his roots in Western New York, and his hometown has always celebrated his great accomplishments. A graduate of Canisius High School, he is still known as legendary Buffalo Bills fan. My heart and prayers go out to his family and colleagues, as New York mourns the death of this great American.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said in a statement:

I was shocked and saddened to learn about the death of Tim Russert. I knew him as most Americans did — as a political commentator, an accomplished author, and without a doubt, one of the most influential journalists of our time. I also knew him on a more personal level as a man of incredible character, substance, and wit.

I can only imagine the pain that his family must be feeling right now — and I extend my deepest condolences to his wife Maureen, and his son, Luke, who interned here at City Hall last year. Tim didn’t just report on American politics — he played an active role in protecting the freedoms we hold so dear: free press, fair elections, and vigorous debate. He was a champion for honesty and truth, and he’ll be dearly missed.

June O’Neill, the co-chairman of the New York State Democratic Party, said in a statement:

Tim Russert was a New York original, a die-hard Bills fan and an old friend to many of us in the New York State Democratic Party. A native of Buffalo, Tim was a local hero who I first got to know when he went to work for Pat Moynihan’s campaign and later on Mario Cuomo’s campaign for Governor. For all Americans he was a trusted voice on the issues of the day, but for New Yorkers he was like an old friend who we tuned into every night and on Sunday mornings. He had a wonderful sense of humor, was a true blue Democrat and just a great guy. On behalf of all New York Democrats, I want to express our deepest sympathies to Tim’s wife Maureen, their son Luke and the entire Russert family. Our thoughts and prayers are with them.

Representative Jerrold L. Nadler, a Manhattan Democrat, said in a statement:

The passing of Tim Russert is a great loss to this nation. While he may be best known for his work on “Meet the Press,” New Yorkers cannot forget his service as an aide to both the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan and former Governor Mario Cuomo. Tim’s passion and dedication to his work was clear and well respected, and he was an exemplary political journalist. My thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends and colleagues during this difficult time.

State Senator Joseph L. Bruno, the Republican majority leader, said in a statement:

Like all New Yorkers, I was shocked and saddened to learn of the news of the death of Tim Russert, a native of Buffalo, a New Yorker and a respected journalist.

Despite his rise to the pinnacle of journalism, Tim Russert possessed a common touch and a love for Buffalo and Western New York. We will always respect and appreciate Tim Russert for being a fine journalist, but most of all New Yorkers have lost a fine man.

Ken Belson contributed reporting.

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