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One Man, One Beat: Michael Horowitz’s Lifetime As Co-op City’s Journalist

One Man, One Beat: Michael Horowitz’s Lifetime As Co-op City’s Journalist

Michael Horowitz makes no secret of his opinions. Talking animatedly from behind the piles of yellowing newspapers that hide him behind his desk and spill into mountains of printed words over the floor, he shares his thoughts on politics, journalism and Co-op City – the Bronx community he has been covering since 1974.

Journalist Michael Horowitz has been covering Co-op City since 1974. (Speri/BronxInk)

Journalist Michael Horowitz has been covering Co-op City since 1974. (Speri/BronxInk)

City News, the community paper he almost single-handedly authors every week, goes to print on Wednesday nights. On Thursday mornings, the 64-year-old Manhattan-raised Riverdale resident has plenty of time to discuss his passionate dislike for President Obama, health care reform and the “left-wing ideologue idiots” opposing calls for the privatization of Co-op City, the world’s largest cooperative housing development.

“Co-op City can use the capitalist system to its own advantage,” said Horowitz, who describes himself as a former leftist grown realistic. “Now that I’m in my 60s I have questions about everything.”

Horowitz arrived at Co-op City when he was 28, a naïve journalist responding to an ad in the paper, he said. His first story – about teargas guns sold in the mail to Co-op City residents – was followed by thousands more, an average of 15 stories he untiringly pounds out every week.

With the exception of a break from 1987 to 1998, during which he covered a different community in Brooklyn, Horowitz has been Co-op City’s one-man journalist, chasing one management scandal after another and writing about everything from rent strikes to charter schools, to the recurring problem of mold in many of the cooperative’s 15,372 housing units.

“Journalists spend too much time covering the seediest part of life, things we can’t do anything about,” said Horowitz, who makes it a point to use his journalism as a tool to instill action.

Horowitz passionately endorses calls for the privatization of Co-op City, despises the management’s bureaucracy, and thinks Obama’s “socialism” is going to the destroy the country. And when it comes to these or any of the many issues he feels strongly about, Horowitz admittedly blurs the line between reportage and commentary. Though he pens both news pieces and op-ed columns in his paper, the two often read similarly and his feisty voice and wholehearted dedication to Co-op City seep through all copy.

“Community journalism is kind of a cross between being objective and doing advocacy,” Horowitz said. “However we are less phony about it than The New York Times is.”

His readers have learned to tell the difference.

“Sometimes he’s objective and sometimes he editorializes,” said Al Shapiro, a Co-op City board member who has known Horowitz for more than 20 years.

“Sometimes I agree with him and sometimes I disagree,” Shapiro said, referring to the question of privatization of the co-op as an example. “I interact with him on a professional level but I consider him a friend.”

Horowitz turns to advocacy, he says, to attempt to reverse the general indifference that over the years has taken over Co-op City. The cooperative was founded in 1951 by the United Housing Foundation, a trust of politically involved soft-good unions who believed that workers needed more than just jobs but also a place to live. A largely Jewish community well into the ’80s, Co-op City is home today to a black majority, a large Hispanic population and an aging white one, a lower- to middle-income working community of 50,000.

While most residents work outside the 35-building compound, Co-op City remains somewhat of an insulated community from the rest of the Bronx and while faltering, Co-op City pride is not dead, Horowitz said.

“But there is a tremendous amount of apathy,” he added.

Reflective of national trends, the paper’s readership has declined over the years and though the front page still carries the 35-cent price for which the weekly originally sold, 16,000 copies of the City News have been distributed free of charge for more than 20 years and are paid for by ads.

“I think they read it, but there’s a problem with people reading things in general,” said Horowitz, who also teaches writing classes at Mercy College in the Bronx.

“I think our country is going down, the culture has been dumbed down,” he added.

Horowitz keeps years of old issues of City News stacked in his office. (Speri/BronxInk)

Horowitz keeps years of old issues of City News stacked in his office. (Speri/BronxInk)

Horowitz, who is married to Housing Court Judge Arlene Hahn, has two sons, one studying Chinese acupuncture in Arizona and the other a molecular biology professor in Indiana. When the latter recently won a prestigious fellowship, Horowitz turned from reporter to proud father and ran two stories about his son in City News.

His relationship with Co-op City, too, resembles that of a father and Horowitz, who criticizes current residents and administrators alike, also talks of the community with the affection of someone who has spent most of his life writing about this 320-acre corner of America.

“I have a love/hate relationship with this place,” Horowitz said, adding that he is not interested in living here but would consider investing in an apartment for his sons if the cooperative ever privatizes. His smile, however, shows only love.

Life in the co-op frustrates him daily, he says, from the close-mindedness of those suspicious of any proposed change to the endless fights with management “who think that if we put enough roadblocks on the way to solving them, all problems will simply go away.”

Horowitz has plenty of unpleasant stories to share. Not long ago he walked to his office, a slightly rundown space in the underground level of a local mall, to find feces in front of the glass door.

“That doesn’t happen when people care about a place,” Horowitz said, denying that the incident was intended as an attack but noting instead that when the community center closes at 10 p.m. so do the public restrooms.

“People in this country need ownership in order to care,” he drew as a lesson from the episode, reinforcing once again his call for privatization and his attack on the president. “If Obama thinks he’s going to change this, he’s mistaken.”

But like a loving father, Horowitz also speaks proudly of Co-op City’s achievements, like the power plant the cooperative’s residents have dreamed about for years, which is slated to open in weeks and will generate enough electricity to provide for the community as well as to export.

“One of the big customers of Co-op City is going to be Con-Edison, which is kind of ironic,” Horowitz said. “The savings in income will be probably between two and three million dollars a month.”
To Horowitz, Co-op City is both unique and a cross-section of humanity. His stories are populated with many of the housing development’s characters, the louder their dissent and the more eccentric their stories, the more space Horowitz dedicates to them in his writing.

One of them is Frank Belcher, who has been a “pain” for Co-op City’s management and a protagonist of Horowitz’s stories for many of the personal battles he fought, against everything from sex-offenders living in the development when they are usually excluded from public housing to the mold and humidity in his apartment.

“Michael is doing the people a service,” said Belcher, who regularly sends Horowitz letters to publish in the paper. “People call him about problems, they seek his help, everyone knows him.”

Belcher said there is a second newspaper in the community, run by the management, but praises City News for its fairness.

“Michael’s paper is the only voice people in the community really have. Management have their own paper, but they won’t print complaints, they won’t print anything negative, Michael Horowitz will” he said. “I wish we had a couple more people like Michael Horowitz here in Co-op City.”

Belcher also praised Horowitz’s for staying on top of issues in the community in a way management does not.

“In 2007 we had 19 registered sex offenders living here illegally,” Belcher said about one of his favorite issues. “Since Michael has been writing about this subject the number went down to four.”

Belcher and Horowitz are equally passionate people and the sympathy is reciprocal.

“He’s been in the paper for the past three weeks,” Horowitz said of Belcher, the way an author would talk of a favorite character in a book.

And for Horowitz, a book on Co-op City may just be the next step.

“I know more about this than anything else,” he said. “This is a fascinating place.”

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