A Personal Remembrance of Tim Russert

Posted June 18, 2008 at 3:13pm

I first got to know Tim Russert during Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s 1976 Senate campaign, when I was the New York City-based candidate’s scheduler and Tim served as the upstate coordinator in Buffalo, N.Y.

We developed an instant rapport. Our daily phone calls in that campaign ranged from identifying which events mattered upstate and trading the latest political intelligence, to polishing our impersonations of the candidate (something both of us ended after the Senator learned of Tim’s unique talent and I was asked too often to perform my imitation too close to the Senate chamber for comfort).

Even this early in his career, Tim had a keen understanding of the political landscape, an ability to promote a message and a flair for connecting with people.

Just out of law school by that time, Tim had been counsel to the New York state Assembly’s Transportation Subcommittee on Railroads. He organized a train trip featuring former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis in an effort to dramatize the importance of saving New York City’s Grand Central Terminal from commercial enlargement and development.

As he did with later promotions in government posts and at NBC, he got his message across. Who knew that many years later one of his promotions would be presenting the Pope with a “Today” show baseball cap?

After Moynihan won the election, Tim came to Washington, D.C., to work for the New York Democratic Senator, while I opened a Washington liaison office for the state Assembly.

We had hit it off so well by then that Tim stayed on an old couch in the Capitol Hill apartment I shared with my better half (and now wife). Sometime soon after, Tim moved into his first apartment near the U.S. Supreme Court.

In those early years, Tim spent many hours at work in his Senate office, and it was not long before he had a well-deserved reputation as a “go-to staffer.” He often could be found talking politics in the evening at Capitol Hill bars and restaurants. Many of the regulars on those nights were Tim’s friends from the Senate and politics; others were reporters who covered the New York Congressional delegation. Tim was making his mark.

Tim loved to talk politics and delved into the details and personalities with relish. One night at my home, Tim and I read through the New York Red Book — the official biographical directory of legislators and state officials. We debated which officeholders had bright futures and which were already past their prime. For those readers who sensed Tim had an encyclopedic understanding of politics, I can confirm he did.

While Tim officially left New York politics after he served Gov. Mario Cuomo (D) and went to work for NBC News in the early 1980s, he never really left New York. As everybody is well aware, Tim brought Buffalo and his beloved Bills to Washington and to the rest of the nation. Every year, a “Buffalo Night” was held for transplants and friends in Washington. Those evenings of “beef on wek” and chicken wings were a big draw for the folks from back home. And “Meet the Press” gave Tim the opportunity to bring Buffalo to the world.

Tim’s friendship, guidance and encouragement left an indelible mark on my career. When I was uncertain about joining the state Assembly staff in 1976, Tim helped convince me that it would provide great experience. Later, he strongly encouraged me to go to law school. I took his advice. Now, three decades later, I’ve developed a career working for the state Assembly and Senate in several capacities and have developed a national law practice involving redistricting, voting rights and government law.

In more recent years, our paths crossed on Nantucket, a vacation island that he was the first to recommend when we were searching the New England coast for a getaway destination. You could often tell he was on Nantucket when NBC had a guest host for a summer “Meet the Press” Sunday.

Tim Russert will be greatly missed.

Jeffrey M. Wice is a Washington-based attorney who has worked for the New York state Legislature, Democratic National Committee, and state and local governments throughout the nation. He is also an adjunct professor at Hofstra University Law School in New York.