Politicians, parades, tons of toys defined my 24 years at Vindy

Whenever anyone asks how I ended up in Youngstown, I tell them I answered an ad in the back of a magazine.

And it’s true.

In 1995, Editor & Publisher – then the newspaper industry’s go-to publication primarily because of its extensive job listings – had an ad for a reporter opening at The Vindicator in Youngstown. I was a reporter for seven years at three different newspapers in upstate New York before applying here. I had never been to the Midwest and I only heard of Youngstown from watching Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini fights on TV. It was far from home, but I convinced my wife that I should apply.

The name alone – The Vindicator – was exciting. I envisioned a newsroom of reporters and editors with the letter V on their shirts doing things to get vindicated.

Tony Paglia, then the senior regional editor, called me a couple of weeks after I applied and offered to either fly me from Troy, N.Y., where I was working, or pay my mileage to drive to Youngstown for a five-day tryout. I chose to drive as I would need a car for assignments during the tryout.

The paper put me up at the Wick Pollock Inn, which was an amazing place to stay. I thought I was in heaven, particularly compared to the Grace Burns Hom-tel, a boarding house in Watertown, N.Y., where the Watertown Daily Times had me stay in 1989 during my tryout there. Even after that experience, I took the job.

The five days in Youngstown went very well and Tony essentially told me I had the job. But I heard nothing – for weeks. I called, and he said to wait another week. Still nothing so I called again and he said I was hired.

When I started, I spent the first couple of weeks doing general assignment work at the main office downtown before heading to the Niles bureau, where I worked for more than five years.

One day in 2000, Tony called and said Mark Niquette, our politics writer and someone I worked with closely reporting on a scandal at the Mahoning Valley Sanitary District, was leaving and asked if I’d like to be his replacement. My response was brief: “No.”

I enjoyed my job in Niles and didn’t want to leave, but Tony politely didn’t take no for an answer.

The biggest knock against working at the main office at the time was talk that editors watched your every move and everything had to be by the book. I was somewhat of a free spirit with tons of toys on my desk and a habit of playing music loud – and of course, singing along – while I worked. It turned out the talk was largely just talk. Over the years, the toys remained, but I gave up the music. That decision brought much happiness to my co-workers though I’ve been known to sing a song every now and then, harmonizing particularly well with Ernie Brown and before she left, Denise Dick. Denise and I did a mean rendition of “The Facts of Life” theme song.

One of my first assignments as the politics writer was covering Ralph Nader, a third-party presidential candidate in 2000, at Youngstown State University. He didn’t like my line of questioning about capitalism and the next thing I knew he was yelling at me. I also covered the visit of Al Gore, the Democratic presidential nominee, to Youngstown and Warren. I was in a vice presidential motorcade – I would end up in more motorcades than I care to remember – and fed information to fellow Vindicator reporters at various stops so we could publish the latest news in the paper’s then numerous editions.

A few months later, I started writing a column. I initially had no idea what I was doing – and some would contend that’s still the case – but I think I got the hang of it. I try to mix news, analysis and occasionally some humor into the columns. And it was a good excuse to have my picture in the paper every week. Despite writing numerous stories, you’d be amazed how many people think all I do is this column.

Over the years, I’ve covered many politicians. I always want access. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t.

I made such a big deal out of being repeatedly denied access to Joe Biden in 2012 in a column that it was reported in Politico. The Republicans took notice and it resulted in me becoming the first Ohio reporter to interview the Republican ticket of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan.

I finally got a one-on-one with Biden in 2016 when he campaigned for Hillary Clinton during her failed presidential bid for president. He was engaging and we ended up talking extensively after the formal interview about Brooklyn, N.Y., where I was born and where one of his sons was living at the time. The funniest part of that discussion was his press secretary insisting the Brooklyn conversation was off the record as if anyone was going to care about it.

During my 24 years at The Vindicator, it seemed as though someone in Valley politics was getting indicted all the time largely because it’s happened so often. Many fellow journalists have told me I have the best newspaper job in the world. I won’t disagree.

As longtime readers of my column know, my favorite political event for years was the Austintown Fourth of July Parade. It became a game with some politicians to see if I’d include them in my column based on how much candy they gave me and in many cases, how much they could dump on me. Austintown trustees were particularly good at the latter.

While I came here as a stranger, the Mahoning Valley has become my home. I never get tired of people stopping me while I’m out to discuss politics or journalism, praise something I wrote or even take a little shot at my work.

Staying in the area

My wife and I raised two daughters here, and I have no plans to leave.

It’s very sad that The Vindicator as we know it ends Saturday. It’s been a thrill to work here with so many excellent reporters, editors, photographers, designers, copy editors and clerks.

I’m thankful that the Tribune Chronicle is expanding into Mahoning County and has hired me to continue reporting on Valley politics and Youngstown government.

I promise to continue to do my best to provide readers with articles, information and columns they find useful and interesting – and sometimes make them laugh.

If you want to contact me, my email is dskolnick@tribtoday.com.

Thanks to all of you who have made my stories a part of your life.