Maisel: Why I’m retiring after 38 years on the job in New York

Todd Maisel at a recent shooting. (Photo by Greg Mango)

Retirement from the profession that I have loved for more than 38 years is terrifying, but it’s time to pass the torch to younger colleagues. I’m stepping down as Breaking News Editor of amNewYork Metro, and I’m looking forward to telling my story.

It’s appropriate to ride off into the sunset now, given this was one of the most depressing years I can remember. COVID-19 swept our city and country, and I had it, too. I was lucky enough to recover, but so many good people died and many others got sick and are still getting sick. The smiles of friends and family are greatly missed and the loss of hugs of colleagues leaves me empty. The depression of being away from people, so opposite the nature of us New Yorkers, was painful.

Then, on top of a pandemic, we had civil unrest – the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis sparking  protests with vandalism, looting, disruption of services. The screams of the mob called for the heads of police officers, even though they had nothing to do with the death of Floyd, were tough to witness.

Still, the protesters were mostly peaceful — yet they were no less painted with that same brush by people like President Trump who called them “looters, vandals and anarchists.” Even more distressing was some of the protestors themselves threatening violence to the press and myself. Occupiers of City Hall Park nearly turned into mob violence.

The angry mobs even went after me with Trump’s favorite catch phrase about anything he disagrees with: I was called “fake news.”

Orthodox Jews protesting social distancing and synagogue occupancy limits chanted to me, a friend of that community, to be part of that fake news crowd. I corrected them — “I’m not fake, I’m flake.” I had them chanting “frosted flakes.”

But there were others there who were looking for a fight and it almost came to that. A mob of Orthodox Jewish teens in Brooklyn no longer saw me as a fellow Jew, but the “enemy.” Where did they learn that phrase? Never before had I ever felt in danger in Borough Park until that moment.

On top of all of this was the “summer of violence” as gun violence skyrocketed by 140%, homicides by nearly 50%. Gang violence raged even when many were seeking shelter from COVID-19.  Criminal crews were killing each other and innocent bystanders – including 1-year-old Davell Gardner, who was shot to death in his stroller in Brooklyn, a victim of a stray bullet fired by a monster. I wore a bullet proof vest for the first time in years.

Meanwhile, protestors were screaming to “defund the police” in the midst of a crime wave and in the  a pandemic in which 20 percent of the NYPD became sick, and cops, colleagues and fellow New Yorkers continued to die.

It’s appropriate to retire now and write the book. Life is one big book and it’s time people know what it has taken to get at the truth both in pictures and more recently in words. It’s not all pretty – no excuses.

The memory of those we lost on 9/11 continues to be a driving force for me. I witnessed firefighters and police officers who disregarded their own lives to save others – nothing short of inspiration and a message I’ve taken to heart to care for my family, friends, colleagues and treat everyone with the respect they deserve.

Telling their stories will continue to be my life’s work, and now, a new chapter.

I’ll always be a member of the media — it’s in my blood as a proud “enemy of the people,” as the outgoing president says. But I’m also, as St. Francis of Assisi would say, a determined “instrument of thy peace.”

And so shall I continue to be.