It's the Political Currents One-Year Anniversary

From the Cuomo Files to Political Currents, this newsletter turns a year-old. Time flies, doesn't it?

On May 14th, 2020, I decided to start a newsletter on Substack. I don’t have to tell you what life felt like at that point. It was easily the darkest time any of us could remember, with tens of thousands getting sick and dying of a mysterious virus. We had all, collectively, slipped into a dystopia, and the most incompetent, incendiary president we could recall was flailing around, pretending nothing was wrong.

But my focus, at that moment, was not on Donald Trump. It was on a man who had become an American hero. Since March of 2020, I had been writing on how Governor Andrew Cuomo, who had grown famous through his daily news briefings, had actually failed New York, downplaying the threat of COVID-19, dismissing the idea of a shelter-in-place order, and attempting to gut the very hospitals that were on the front lines of the crisis. Most of my dispatches on Cuomo and coronavirus appeared in the Nation, and I also wrote on Cuomo’s failures in the Columbia Journalism Review, the Baffler, and City and State.

Whenever I had observations or opinions that didn’t quite fit a standalone story in any particular publication, I took to Twitter. But anyone who has spent time on Twitter knows 280 characters isn’t quite enough. With the pandemic raging and evidence of Cuomo’s failure mounting, I wanted to write as much as I could, and I wanted a place where I could react in real-time and share my extended thoughts.

Some of you might remember, in early May, I sent out a special newsletter from my old Mailchimp account on why Cuomo didn’t deserve the plaudits he was receiving, using it as a round-up for a lot of what I had reported and argued online. The one-off newsletter proved to be quite popular, and I wondered what I should do next with it. Keep tweeting? Send more newsletters? Nothing would stop me from reporting in mainstream news outlets, but I knew I also needed a home for some of my unfiltered thoughts.

On May 14, 2020, the Cuomo Files was born.

Originally, this Substack was going to be dedicated to writing about Andrew Cuomo. And I never really stopped writing about Cuomo—it’s just that, as we’ve learned, there are a lot of other interesting things going on, too. Lately, this newsletter, rechristened Political Currents last year—it’s all encompassing, right?—has been focused extensively on the race for mayor of New York City. The primary is almost a month away!

Writing this newsletter for you has been an incredible experience and I want to keep doing it. In just one year, more than 3,000 of you have signed up. Nearly 400 now pay to read, though I’ve still not imposed a paywall. In addition to the regularly reporting I do for a variety of news outlets and magazines, and my teaching duties at NYU and St. Joseph’s College, this newsletter has become a real part of my annual income. That’s really awesome. The goal is to keep growing, getting more of you to sign up and maybe even kick in money to support the project.

What I really love about Substack, having been a staff reporter at a couple of different newspapers, is how truly free of clickbait all of it is. Having lived through the 2010s hell of online digital media, where outlets chased empty calorie stories in the hopes of going viral to entice a few corporate advertisers, I am so excited that there is a new flourishing of newsletters. I don’t miss the old hustle. I love it here, where there’s a real community and you all take the time to read and digest what’s in front of you. I love the comments and the emails. I love the thoughtfulness of the discourse. I love that you take your time. I love that I can too.

Before social media, the internet was a warmer, smarter place. The blog culture of the 2000s, though derided at the time, relied on a degree of logic and debate. Authors who didn’t agree with each other at all decided that the best thing they could do was engage with the opposition and try to defeat it through argument. There was push-and-pull, a sense that our culture relied on open discourse. With the rise of these newsletters, my belief is we are slowly returning to that time. Disagreement is okay. Debate is a bedrock of democracy.

Here, I don’t need to write SEO-friendly headlines or stress about traffic numbers. I don’t have to worry about putting celebrities in my stories or hoping the Drudge Report or some other dubious aggregator picks up a piece. I merely have to write and hit “send.” It’s a nice life.

Yes, tomorrow is technically the one-year anniversary, but I wanted to get this piece out to you today. We’re all feeling a lot more optimistic in 2021, aren’t we? The economy isn’t in freefall and here in New York City, coronavirus is on the retreat. I’m out and about, enjoying the sunshine. I get to play my Sunday softball. I really can’t complain.

First, if you read for free and have not subscribed before, please considering subscribing to Political Currents. Your payment is so meaningful and quite literally helps to keep a roof over my head. The more subscribers I get, the more work I can do. It’s that simple.

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What’s next? More pieces, thoughts, essays—more of what you’ve been enjoying. I’m working on a piece about Kathryn Garcia. The first mayoral debate, on NY1, is tonight at 7 pm. This next month will be wild. And on June 22nd, primary day, my book about Andrew Cuomo—The Prince—will be unleashed into the world. Pre-order now and get 15% off. Pre-orders are crucial for authors.

Thank you, really, for reading and responding, supporting and subscribing. We’ve made it through the darkness. This year will be better than the last one. As always, stay healthy and stay safe.