Longtime WCBS/2 reporter Pablo Guzmán was known to a generation of...

Longtime WCBS/2 reporter Pablo Guzmán was known to a generation of New York TV news viewers. Credit: CBS/John Filo

Pablo Guzmán, the longtime WCBS/2 reporter who left in 2013 after one of the most interesting runs in New York journalism history, died Sunday of a heart attack, the station said Monday. Guzmán was 73.

Best known to a generation of New York TV news viewers throughout the '80s and '90s, Guzmán was a collegial and popular screen presence who helped define local TV news during an era when the five big stations — Channels 2, 4 and 7 in particular — scrapped hard for scoops, breaking news and viewer loyalty. Street cred was important in that pursuit and, after a while, so was the clear sense that the person on screen actually reflected the community from where he or she was reporting.

Guzmán almost seemed to represent much of the city in all its variety, from East Harlem, where he was born, to the South Bronx, where he was raised. He was on the scene of countless stories, from fires to water main breaks, from shootings to mob hits. Over those years, New York TV news — much criticized, often ridiculed and compulsively watchable — was symbolized by a few figures who best captured its glorious chaos. Guzmán was one of them.

But long before that memorable run on TV, Guzmán was a revolutionary, and along with Felipe Luciano, a co-leader of the New York chapter of the Young Lords in the late-1960s. Modeled on the Black Panthers, the Young Lords also accumulated weapons, or at least gained weapons training, in preparation for a revolution that would lead to independence for Puerto Rico and end "police occupation of Black and brown communities," in the words of its spokesman, Pablo Yoruba Guzmán, a teenager still enrolled at SUNY Old Westbury at the time.

In a phone interview, Luciano said Yoruba — "which we all called him" — "was incredibly intelligent and incredibly funny." He was also strategically savvy, he added. Before confrontations with the police, "he would call [TV reporters] Gil Noble, Gloria Rojas, 'Positively Black,' the folks involved in the ethnic press and have them arrive at the same time the cops were coming. His timing was impeccable [because] do you know how many times we could have been beaten or killed?"

Juan González, also a Young Lord before his run as a columnist for the Daily News, told the podcast "Democracy Now!" on Tuesday that "Pablo grasped from the start the critical importance of any people's movement to control its own narrative," and as the Young Lords' press conduit, he used "humor … Guzmán was an extremely funny guy, and thanks to his approach, the Young Lords received the most sympathetic press coverage of any 1960s revolutionary group. He was the first great public relations expert of the U.S. Latino community."

A handful of Young Lords — including Luciano, Guzmán and their lawyer, Geraldo Rivera — went on to celebrated careers in journalism, or as Jimmy Breslin once quipped, "the Young Lords produced more journalists than Columbia." 

TV renown did not arrive immediately for  Guzmán, however. After graduating from Bronx High School of Science, and attending SUNY Old Westbury, Guzmán remained with the Young Lords for six years, as editor of its weekly newspaper, Palante, and host of a show for WBAI/99.5 FM. In the early '70s, after refusing to report for his draft physical, he was convicted of draft evasion and spent nine months in prison. He later said the FBI targeted him because of his ties to the Young Lords, but in an online biography for Ch. 2, he said that FBI agents and members of the NYPD later became his "best contacts'' as a reporter.

According to the biography, "Pablo once asked one of the officers why they were now talking to him, and was told, 'because we realize now that what you did was for your community. And besides, we know you. You're not one of these twinkies they drop in from outta town.' "

Guzman worked at Ch. 2 from 1995 until 2013, when he left due to health reasons. He had shorter runs at WNYW/5 (1984-92) and WNBC/4 (1992-95). During the 1970s, Guzmán was also a radio and print reporter, notably for the Village Voice, where he was a music critic. He also hosted talk shows for WMCA/570 AM and WLIB/1190 AM.

Guzmán is survived by his wife, Debbie Corley Guzmán, daughter, Angela, and son, Daniel.

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