When The Brooklyn Eagle's Pro Bono Barrister columnist Chuck Otey received the Journalist of The Year Award last week at Steve Cohn’s Seneca Club dinner, at the Polonaise Restaurant in Greenpoint, Justice Joseph Levine delivered the following presentation:
By Hon. Joseph S. Levine
"When Chuck Otey was named to the Brooklyn Hall of Fame for Journalism back in 1971 — even though he was a prominent newspaper editor and columnist — I thought the honor may have been a bit premature.
"I had known him for a few years when he served as editor of the Home Reporter in Bay Ridge and was attending Brooklyn Law nights.
"At that time there were more seasoned Brooklyn journalists who were good friends — Owen Fitzgerald, Harold Harris, Charlie Richman, and later Fred Halla of the Brooklyn Record and Eagle. I had the good fortune — at one time or another — to know all of these legendary newspapermen while I served in the State Assembly and in later years.
"I often advised Chuck on New York State’s election law — many people may not know that he managed several successful judicial campaigns. At the same time, his 'Focus' column became the most widely read feature on politics and civic matters throughout all of Brooklyn.
"Most people also don’t know that Chuck — at the instance of Country Democratic Leader Meade Esposito — ran for a Democratic Bay Ridge assembly nomination in 1974. He lost, but Meade was so impressed with his run that Chuck ended up as a campaign coordinator for Democratic Congressman Leo Zeferetti.
"That's about the time when I introduced him to my outstanding law secretary — the gifted son of the late Hon. Harold Cohn, Seneca’s own Stevie Cohn — and it's been a mutual admiration society to the current day.
"I encouraged Chuck and Steve to join the New York Guard. And they both made me proud. Stevie rose to the rank of colonel, and Chuck became our official "press officer.” They did excellent pro bono work for hundreds of service members who were suddenly uprooted to serve in the first Iraq War.
"Meanwhile, Steve married the lovely Jana, who rewarded him with two beautiful children, Warren and Mariel, and launched a successful law practice with Richard Goldberg.
"Always putting others before his own interest, Steve became one of the state’s top pro bono lawyers. Not to be outdone, Chuck, for the past 13 years, has written "Pro Bono Barrister” for the Daily Eagle, a column regularly read by just about every judge in Brooklyn.
"On second thought, maybe Chuck did deserve our borough’s hall of fame back in 1971. After all, he did leave a good reporting job at the Boston Globe to become executive editor of the Home Reporter. By the time he entered the practice of law in 1971, he helped build that Bay Ridge paper into the largest community weekly in the city.
"Chuck always credits his first wife Sara and their four kids for inspiration. Sara, also a journalist, has been a good friend to both of us.
"And, 23 years ago when Chuck married the beautiful Verena on the altar of Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Bay Ridge, I shared in the ceremony as best man — and while beholding his gorgeous bride, thought to myself, 'How the h--- does this guy do it?'
"Well, however he does it, he’s finally earned the Seneca Club’s Journalist of the Year Award.”