That was 17 years ago.
Editors looked at a young, unsure girl who was the first in her family to graduate from college and saw potential. And I, in turn, saw potential in Hartford, to tell the stories I grew up wanting to tell, of hardworking people who too often get overlooked.
Leaving after nearly two decades has been a difficult, sometimes excruciating, decision. And while I'm not sure what comes next, it feels like the right thing to do.
It just doesn't make saying goodbye any easier. I grew up at The Courant, where I was thrilled to report for duty four days after graduating from college. The paper and its inhabitants became my home, my family, in all their dysfunctional glory.
I worked in just about every department here. Features. Long-gone specialty desks. The magazine, when we had one — at least until I dramatically quit for one full day. The paper's editor at the time, in essence, told me to get over myself and come back. I did both.
I always felt most at home on the city desk. No matter what new beat I tried, Hartford beckoned. Growing up in New York and spending time in neighborhoods not all that different from ones here, I wanted to show kids that reminded me so much of myself that the world was bigger than their block. I wanted to push residents to demand more from themselves and from people and politicians who found it too easy to ignore and marginalize them.
As a columnist, that's what I tried to do. Through the years people who didn't like what I wrote often questioned my motivations. They came up with some doozies for why I went after popular but unethical or downright criminal public officials — especially when I called out fellow Latino and former Hartford Mayor Eddie A. Perez, now a convicted felon.
My motivation has always been the same: To try to keep the powerful honest and give those without power a voice. I didn't always succeed.
I've been part of many big stories at The Courant — the impeachment and resignation of former Gov. John G. Rowland, the deadly Cheshire home invasion. I even managed to get a sliver of the Pulitzer awarded to the staff for the 1999 coverage of the lottery shootings.
When I look back, though, it's the forgotten stories, ones that didn't make a huge splash, that I'm most proud of. Writing about a bus stop to a city housing project that was inexplicably slated to end. The stop was eventually reinstated. Pressing school and building officials to finally make good on their promise to fix Harford High's baseball field. Organizing a community clean-up in a struggling neighborhood that I will never forget.
There were also the agonizing hours I shared with a father in the basement of a Hartford funeral home after his son was burned in one of the city's worst fires. And the year I spent chronicling the anguish and determination of a mother whose son disappeared from the state's primary psychiatric hospital.
There's a lot of talk about the death of journalism. Too many people, including former journalists, take glee out of kicking their local newspapers when they're already down — forgetting how much we all lose if our watchdogs don't survive these turbulent times.
No doubt these are challenging days. I don't agree with much of what's being done in an attempt to save ourselves. But hear me well: Journalism isn't dead — and neither is the nation's oldest continuously published newspaper. I am leaving The Courant, but inside 285 Broad remain some of the most talented and dedicated journalists I've ever had the honor to work with doing important work on your behalf.
Root for them. Root for the paper, and for journalism.