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Jim Dwyer, columnist who won Pulitzers at New York Newsday, dies at 63

New York Newsday's Jim Dwyer, surrounded by his

New York Newsday's Jim Dwyer, surrounded by his family, at a celebration after winning the 1995 Pulitzer Prize for commentary. Credit: Newsday / Tony Jerome

Jim Dwyer, a reporter and columnist who won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary and shared another for spot news while at New York Newsday before a long career at The New York Times, died Thursday at 63.

Dean Baquet, executive editor of the Times, and metropolitan editor Clifford Levy called Dwyer "a crusader for those facing injustice" in announcing his death to the newsroom.

He died from complications of lung cancer at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, said Dwyer's daughter Catherine Dwyer.

Dwyer has written the "About New York" column for the Times since 2007, which — like his prior columns — focused on New York City and its citizens.

In his last column in May, Dwyer wrote about the coronavirus pandemic, linking the 1918 flu and his own family history.

"In times to come, when we are all gone, people not yet born will walk in the sunshine of their own days because of what women and men did at this hour to feed the sick, to heal and to comfort," Dwyer wrote.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, during a conference call with reporters on Thursday, offered his condolences to the family of his longtime friend and said he visited Dwyer at Memorial Sloan recently.

"He had the same gift that I think Billy Joel has," Cuomo said. "Billy Joel is brilliant, but he has a gift of communicating in a way that people understand. He has a connectivity, capacity to connect. Jim Dwyer through a different medium, had that same ability. The ability to connect with New Yorkers to take complicated subjects, find the truth and then communicate it to New Yorkers in a way they understood. ... He's gone and I miss him and we going to be the weaker for it."

Before joining the Times, Dwyer also wrote for the New York Daily News.

Dwyer worked for New York Newsday from 1984 to 1995 after stints as a reporter in New Jersey for the Hudson Dispatch, the Elizabeth Daily Journal and The Record.

On joining New York Newsday, Dwyer covered courts in Queens and did investigative reporting.

"Jim was a reporter, first and foremost," said Deborah Henley, editor of Newsday and a colleague of Dwyer at New York Newsday. "He often broke news in his columns at New York Newsday and was constantly digging until he found the moments, the things, the individuals that, through his telling, revealed the real story. His work pulsed with passion and humanity."

In 1986, he became the "In the Subways" columnist and wrote about the New York City subway system. Dwyer’s coverage of the subway system became a Pulitzer Prize finalist in specialized reporting in 1990.

MTA chairman Patrick Foye said Dwyer's work "brought critical attention to the role that mass transit plays in the lives of New Yorkers and the critical work of transit workers."

"That reporting helped fuel a new cycle of investment in the system and many of the improvements from that era live on today," Foye said in a statement.

After taking a short leave in 1990 to write a book — "Subway Lives: 24 Hours in the Life of the New York City Subway," one of several he authored or co-authored — Dwyer became a general interest columnist. Those columns exposed hypocrisy and the corruption of business in New York.

Dwyer, along with other New York Newsday reporters, received the 1992 Pulitzer Prize for spot news for the coverage of a midnight subway derailment at Union Square that left five passengers dead and more than 200 injured.

Dwyer later won the 1995 Pulitzer Prize for commentary. In the submission for the prize, one of Dwyer’s columns included calling out then-New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner for the low rent he paid the city compared with the combined monthly rent paid by tenants living in public housing projects in the surrounding Bronx neighborhood.

In his final column for New York Newsday, which closed in July 1995, Dwyer wrote: "On many days, strangers appeared in these pages, having climbed through the window of the familiar: a voice, a face, a smile. And once the window is opened, it is easy to see that the souls are much like our own. And, so, we will meet again. We must."

In the fall of 1995, Dwyer joined the Daily News as a columnist. In 2001, he moved to the Times, where his work included coverage of the 9/11 attacks, politics and law enforcement.

While at the Times, Dwyer and fellow reporter Kevin Flynn wrote the book "102 Minutes: The Untold Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers," which captured stories of ordinary people who saved themselves and others during 9/11.

Born on March 4, 1957 in Manhattan, he was one of four sons of Philip and Mary Dwyer. He graduated from the Loyola School, a Jesuit-run high school in Manhattan, Fordham University in 1979 and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in 1980.

Dwyer’s columns relied on deep reporting. In an interview with Columbia Journalism Review in 2016, he cited columnists he admired over the years — Jimmy Breslin, Pete Hamill and Murray Kempton, who all did stints at Newsday with Dwyer — and what they taught him.

"From all of those guys, and so many more, I learned that you have to report," Dwyer said. "It might sound obvious, but that doesn’t make it less true. You have to report the hell out of a story. Then, maybe, you can write it."

In that same interview, he expressed his love for the work.

"A big part of my job is to talk with brilliant scientists, great artists, the amazing people you meet just walking around the streets of New York," he said. "What could be more fun than that?"

Dwyer is survived by his wife, two daughters and his three brothers. His family asks that donations in his memory be made to the Innocence Project, a nonprofit that works to exonerate individuals it believes to have been wrongly convicted, according to the note from Baquet and Levy.

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