Carlos Hernandez Gomez (1973-2010): WBEZ staffers share their stories

January 18, 2010

Carlos-Hernandez-Gomez_blogCarlos Hernandez Gomez passed away yesterday after a long bout with cancer.‚  He was 36. WBEZ‚  staffers were lucky enough to spend a few years with him and his career, as Carlos worked as our political reporter from 2002-2005. Back in our day, Carlos replaced David Schaper on the political beat and quickly became well-known for covering stories and for his colorful sign-offs. The station brass at the time were intent on teaching Carlos to slow down his delivery, because he had a knack for getting excited when he talked (who doesn't?). So he went to painstaking degrees to keep his delivery paced and patient, until he hit the sign-off, where he put speed and gusto into the delivery of his name. He worked the political beat tirelessly, which had him coming and going at all hours of the night, befriending staffers who worked different shifts.‚  He was as chummy with the overnight engineer as he was with the morning producers.‚  He also told a ton of jokes. And not of the knock-knock variety, Carlos liked to take office decorum and civility and push it to the edge. I loved him for it. I remember several instances where he would make me uncomfortable with the subject of conversation (this was around R.Kelly's arrest, mind you). But I really enjoyed watching him push buttons and create a lively, off-the-cuff, Chicago-style newsroom. The fedora helped. Later in our run together, I moved from sitting next to him in the newsroom to having my own office all the way on the other side of the building. I didn't see everybody as much. But Carlos would walk by and chat, talk about a story he was trying to get done or something personal, something he needed advice on. I did my best, but I could tell that Carlos just needed a shoulder. Not to cry on, but to laugh with. This blog post is long. But it is intended to serve as a toast...a toast to one of our own who is no longer with us. WBEZ staff and friends have contributed their Carlos stories below. Jody Becker: former WBEZ Reporter: From this day forward I will keep a picture of Carlos above my workspace to keep me moving forward. Carlos was the definition of character. From the first day he walked through the door at WBEZ, he exuded a personal warmth, singular dedication to his work and sense of self. He knew who he was, what his job was, and how to be. He cultivated his character, and he inhabited it boldly. He shouted his questions, asked follow-ups and didn't worry about how he sounded. He epitomized what Robert F. Kennedy described as the keenest critic: the one who loves his country the most. He was dogged, determined and unrelenting because he cared. He had a deep sense of justice built on a solid foundation of knowledge. He had a real love for learning, he was a true philosopher. He loved outsiders and insiders, and knew how to cultivate both. But most of all, he loved people. He talked about his beloved Myrna (mami), Papi (his grandfather), Dad and brother Jason all the time. He invoked their love, drew on his solid family and welcomed everyone he met into his family. He called me "esposa Judea" -- Jewish wife, "esposa de oficina" office wife -- and he pursued his rubia amors, mostly his beloved Randi, with real affection. His love was an embrace, his embrace was unforgettable, and his joie de vivre was like a heart on the sleeve, pant-leg and socks. It was everywhere. One final memory for me: Two summers ago, between stand-ups he insisted on meeting me and my girls and husband for lunch while visiting Chicago. He didn't just want to meet my daughters, 3 and 5, he needed to. He had never met these members of his family, and it was essential. Carlos was essential. He will be forever missed. Michael Puente, WBEZ Reporter: I'm not sure how I met Carlos. I just remember calling him about a job opening at WBEZ when he was still working for the station more than four years ago now. I, of course, knew who he was, and surprisingly to me, he knew who I was. So, we talked about the position and the chances of a newspaper reporter landing such a gig in radio. He told me he was planning to leave the station soon for a TV gig and for me not to say anything. Of course, I didn't (until now). We then spoke a little bit about our careers and families and he encouraged me to apply for the position. We spoke every once in a while or at events we were both covering. We both were at Barack Obama's rally in Highland, Indiana on Halloween Night 2008, Obama's last campaign stop before the presidential election a few days later. Carlos always greeted me as "hermano," Spanish for brother. I snagged a photo of us together a few months earlier at a Mexican restaurant in Schererville, Indiana on the night Hillary Clinton barely beat Obama in the Indiana primary. The results were coming in very slow from the Gary area. When CBS called the race for Clinton before counting the votes from Lake County, Indiana, Carlos looked and smiled at me and asked, "Too soon, Hermano?" I responded, "Too soon Hermano. Too soon." CBS was almost proved wrong that night. The journalism community is somewhat small in Chicago and even smaller if you're a Latino journalist. I have to say that I admired Carlos not only as a top notch reporter, but as a top notch reporter who also happened to be Latino. I can't separate that. I looked up to Carlos, even if he was few years younger than I. There aren't too many of him at his level. We spoke about issues and shared information that you just can't bring up just to anyone. You need someone who you can relate to and Carlos fit the bill for me. He called me on my cell a few months ago and we shared a few laughs. He sounded great. I didn't realize he'd be gone not too soon after. I hope he's finding peace wherever he's at now and looking down knowing the lives he touched and those who love him. My prayer are with him, his family and wife, Randi. I'll remember some of his political stories. I'll remember all of his personal stories he shared with me. Mike Rhee, former WBEZ Reporter: Before I ever stepped foot into WBEZ's studios, I knew who Carlos Hernandez Gomez was. His stories would always pop out of the radio -- crammed with information, back story, delivered with breakneck enthusiasm and topped off with his signature outcue -- he was an on-air force. And then I met him. He was just like his news spots and then some. I remember his edits with me as an intern were never just about the work at hand, but inevitably included off-color jokes, Star Wars discussions, and always some kind of check-in on my personal life. The thing is, I don't really remember ever having a "getting-to-know-you" phase with Carlos, that's just always how it was. I loved that about him. Later on, I'd see him at press conferences and he'd inevitably call me by my last name, greet me with warm smile, and ask how things were goin'. The fact that he'd take the time to chat with a green reporter like myself at these busy events was just an example of how gracious and caring a person he was. I'll miss you, Carlos. Lynette Kalsnes, Arts Reporter: I still remember the first time I saw Carlos. It was at a party, and people were clustered around him three deep to hear him tell a funny story. There was this crackling energy around him -- it was the first time I heard the term "live wire" and understood it wasn't just a cliche. I thought to myself, Who is this guy? He was so larger than life. It wasn't long after he'd gotten hired at WBEZ, and he talked about how excited he was to be there, and how he was still a little surprised he'd landed the job. He had this amazing combination of humility and the old-fashioned swagger of a true beat reporter. Carlos always took time to help people out, even though he had the busiest beat imaginable. He helped a number of us make the transition from print to radio and was a constant source of information and contacts for the interns just starting out. It would be impossible to overstate his generosity. He truly was a walking and talking encyclopedia of Chicago history and politics. I asked him how he knew so much, and he said he got interested as a boy and kept paying attention. Again with the humility. He worked sources and his beat like journalists of old with a fedora and bow tie to match. He was phenomenal live and reporting from the scene -- he never needed a second take, not once. Years after leaving radio, listeners still ask about him. Carlos was so much fun to work with. He loved giving nicknames to people, making smart and edgy jokes, and riffing on pop culture (by the time I finally got to see "Chapelle's Show," it all felt like re-runs. Carlos had already done all the characters and voices, especially Rick James.) He loved giving advice about the best hot dog and hot beef stands in town. I know we all miss you already. Rest in Peace, CHG. Steve Edwards, Program Director, former Host of Eight Forty-Eight: Carlos was the kind of person who brightened every room he ever entered. He would practically bounce in, usually singing an old soul tune (slightly off key) or riffing on the latest skit he'd watched on Chappelle's show. When I'd join him for lunch at Gene & Georgetti's, it'd often take us 20 minutes just to get to our table. That's how many friends Carlos would stop and visit with along the way. He simply attracted friends the way some Chicago aldermen attract indictments: We just stuck to him. Carlos also was, hands down, among the best pure reporters I've ever had the honor of working with. He worked his beat and his sources like few others - and had an insatiable appetite for information. To put it simply, he was a dynamo. I'll never forget the night I received a call at home well after dark regarding former Illinois Governor George Ryan:
CARLOS: Edwards! ME: Yeah? CARLOS: Hey pal, it's me, Carlito. ME: Hey buddy, what's up? CARLOS: Amigo, Ryan's gonna be indicted tomorrow. We gotta go live tomorrow on Eight Forty-Eight with this. ME: Wait. Back up - how do you know? CARLOS: I've got it on good authority. It's gonna happen. Trust me. ME: How many sources? CARLOS: One for sure. I'm workin' on others. ME: I dunno know. You know we can't go with one source on this. You get two sources corroborating and we'll talk. CARLOS: Brother, I'm already on it.
Sure enough, he landed that second source in the wee hours of the night and he broke the story of the indictment of George Ryan on our air the next morning. At a time when local and national newsrooms were sniffing out what promised to be one of the biggest political stories in years, Carlos beat them all. How he did it, I'll never know. That he did it, still impresses the hell out of me to this day. I have to think that his work on that story, like so many others, was as much a reflection of his endearing personal qualities as much as his professional ones. Carlos loved people. And we the people loved Carlos. I thought about that as I walked to work this morning, reflecting on Carlos's rich life and untimely death, and the many fond memories we shared together. And as the clouds and fog rolled in off the lake, I couldn't help but think that Chicago was crying along with me. David Schaper, NPR Reporter (former WBEZ Reporter/Editor): It was October of 2001. It had just been announced in the papers that morning that I would be leaving my position as WBEZ's political reporter and news editor, when my phone rang. It was Carlos Hernandez Gomez, congratulating me on my new job and immediately asking, "Who's replacing you? Do you think I'd have a chance at the job? Do you know how I can apply?" I was, honestly, a little taken aback. I thought it a little brash to ask me about the job I was leaving before I'd left it. At that time, there'd been no position posted yet; no decision on if the station would replace me or when. I also thought he was a little too cocky for someone of little experience. I had met Carlos a few times before, out on stories and on a panel or two on WTTW's Chicago Tonight. I remember being a little impressed with his knowledge of some local politics, particularly in the Latino community, but I thought he lacked enough experience for the job and that WBEZ would be looking for someone strictly with radio and public radio experience (Carlos had only worked in print up until that point), and I told him so. Though I remember thinking there was no way he'd get the job, I told whom to contact at the station and wished him luck. Carlos was determined none-the-less. He went after the job with the same level of tenacity he would later go after the politicians he would cover. I sometimes wonder if my old bosses at WBEZ gave him the job just to keep him from pestering them so much. I openly doubted whether he had the journalistic chops to make the leap to the political beat at Chicago's only public radio station, a beat I cherished and worked long and hard to get. But you know what? Carlos proved me wrong; he did so more than once and on more than one account. He entered the world of public radio and WBEZ at a time of changing audio-computer technology, and he make his leap into the Illinois political beat in the midst of an election year. And though there were some early bumps along both roads, he worked doggedly hard to conquer both radio and politics in fairly short order. He wound up earning the confidence of sources I wished I had; breaking and reporting stories other reporters would envy. He did so well, his fine work quickly caught the attention of many others and he parlayed his relatively brief experience in public radio into a highly coveted TV job on the same, challenging beat. Carlos was bright and perceptive, determined and tenacious, witty and loquacious. And as cocky as he sometimes was, he truly respected both his fellow reporters and the politicians he went after, most of whom returned that respect. Carlos listened well and was eager to learn from others. But most of all, Carlos was a lot of fun to be around. He took his work very seriously, but never too seriously. He could light up, and lighten up, any room with ease, whether it was a serious press conference or a packed bar. And even in his often painful battle against cancer over the last year, he remained funny, witty, charming and as concerned about the well being of others as we were about him. To his wife, Randi, my heart goes out to you. Carlos often talked about how lucky he was to have you and your love and support. He was one of a kind and will be missed. Cheryl Corley, NPR Reporter (former WBEZ Reporter/Host/Editor): The thing that I remember most about Carlos is his joy for his job. When I first met him he told me how he used to listen to my reports when I covered city hall during the Harold Washington, Eugene Sawyer and early Richard M Daley years and he knew, young lad that he was, he wanted to do that as well. I watched and listened to him as he, in later years, took on city hall himself. For Carlos covering politics was like a shot of adrenalin and he worked to be tough and fair with a Carlos flair. With his fedora and tough guy talk, he certainly had style and he certainly had substance. Carlos loved life, he loved journalism in all of its forms. We could talk candidly about his disease. He faced it head-on, defiantly and valiantly. That's the kind of man he was. Jay Field, former WBEZ Reporter: I did not know what to make of Carlos Hernandez Gomez when I met him. He was loud. He sang as he walked through the hallways. He knew and was friends with everyone. He was connected in ways I-- Chicago newbie and a transplant--would never be. He talked, with frequency, joy and relish, of his outrageous personal and professional exploits and adventures. He met me each day with a wide smile and a special greeting: Senor Field! Hola Juan! In the world of public radio, Carlos was an anathema. While I obsessed over style--my voicing, my search for just the right piece of tape and the right turn of phrase to make it shine--Carlos worked the phones. Non-stop. Relentlessly. Like a man possessed. And then, after consulting his legendary rolodex of sources, he would go on the airwaves, THE PUBLIC RADIO AIRWAVES and sprinkle his reports and 2-ways with references to the feds, the pokey, Rod, Richie, Big Jim, the machine, the outfit and on and on. My god, I thought to myself, self-righteously and more than once, what does this guy think he's doing? He's violating all the staid and politically correct principles we in public radio hold dear! When Carlos left for CLTV, we spoke less frequently. But we always caught up when we ran into each other at a press conference. Not once did we cross paths without Carlos asking after my wife Tam, and later, my kids. Carlos, you were true to yourself, always, and Chicago won't be the same place without you. Thanks for teaching me a few things about myself. May god bless you and sustain your family with love and strength during this difficult time. (You can read more at Jay's FB page.) Peter Sagal, Host, Wait! Wait! Don't Tell Me: I don't have much to add to the memories above, other than to nod and agree and remember. I don't work in the WBEZ news department, so never had the chance to collaborate with him... our relationship was one that happened in elevators and in the hallway and in the break-room. But here's the thing -- despite that, Carlos always treated me as if I was his closest friend. He shouted greetings from across the room, or clapped his arm across my shoulder if we were next to each other. This, of course, is how he treated everyone. He was always incredibly excited about what I was doing -- usually, more than I was -- and equally enthused about his own work. The only time he expressed anger or unhappiness was toward some malefactor in Chicago, doing something wrong... and even then, his anger was tinged with joy, because Carlos knew -- he was going to _nail_ that guy. I am a nervous, self-doubting fellow, and sometimes reacted with less than equal enthusiasm to CHG's kindnesses. It seemed odd to me that someone I didn't know well would express such happiness and interest in my company. I thought that this was some kind of flaw in him. I realize, now, the flaw was mine, in my misplaced sense of propriety, my doubt. What can you say about someone who greets the world, and the people he knew -- well or not -- with such outlandish pleasure, except we should all need to strive to be more like him. Starting now, before we lose anyone else we need. Julia McEvoy, Editor, Education and Humanities: In newsroom culture Carlos was a breath of fresh air, a "character", a throw back to those straight talking reporters he seemed to emulate-- the John "Bull Dog" Drummond type.‚  When Carlos first arrived at WBEZ I wasn't convinced he was the guy for the job.‚  Seemed he was trying too hard, talked too fast, was more schtick than substance.‚  I was wrong.‚  He lived and loved what he did and his on-air work for WBEZ was both insightful and entertaining.‚  Up beat and full of life, he tackled you with his enthusiasm in the elevator or on the air.‚ ‚  When Carlos came back to occasionally take the pundit's role on Eight Forty-Eight, his presence here injected a joy and an energy.‚  Today our spirit suffers.‚  R.I.P. Carlos, you are missed and remembered. Dan Bindert, Weekend Host: I'd mostly just like to echo all the many nice things everyone has said about Carlos. As Justin stated in the beginning of this post "He worked the political beat tirelessly, which had him coming and going at all hours of the night, befriending staffers who worked different shifts." That's the truth. On numerous occasions I ran into Carlos in the hallways of WBEZ at 1 or 2 am while I was doing a late night jazz shift. He would begin excitedly giving me all the details on a political story that he was going to break the next morning. At some point the conversation would turn to music, and with the same level of enthusiasm as he discussed Chicago politics he would begin expounding on Tito Puente, or some jazz artist that he loved (he was a noted Beatles fan, but his good taste in music went well beyond the Fab Four). Eventually the song I was playing on the air would begin to run out, and I'd have to race back into the studio in order to keep from having dead air. A few times he even called the studio from a cab late at night (on the way home from the Billy Goat) to ask about a song that was being played (the only reporter I ever remember doing that). Within 30 seconds he had segued into Chicago politics, giving me the inside scoop on another one of those stories he couldn't wait to report on the next day. You don't meet too many people who genuinely love their work more than Carlos did. His enthusiasm was real, and it was infectious. And work aside, he was just a really great guy, an unforgettable type of person. My condolences to his wife and family. We'll all miss him. Rob Wildeboer, Criminal Justice Reporter: Here's a memory from the first time I met Carlos. Just another day not at the office. When I was taking journalism classes at Columbia College I called up Carlos to see if I could spend a day hanging out with him, to see how he worked.‚  At that time he was the political reporter here at WBEZ.‚  He didn't know me but he gladly agreed. I don't remember what work we actually did that day... we went to a city council meeting or a press conference or something... what I do remember is that we went to Gene & Georgetti's for a steak lunch where he had them make up a special that's not on the menu, Steak Vesuvio.‚  I followed suit and I must say it was very delicious.‚  I've had it since and I recommend it highly. Sitting in a storied Chicago steak house in the shadow of the state of Illinois building, in a restaurant frequented by pols smoking cigars, this was where Carlos liked to work. After he filed his story for the day we left the station and went to the Billy Goat Tavern where we met with former Gov. Otto Kerner's son to delve into Illinois state history.‚  From there we went to a bar in Old Town where a prominent political consultant was hosting a party.‚  Carlos worked the room filing away names and information in that encyclopedic brain of his.‚  (He knew the most intimate details of even the least significant pols and mob figures in Chicago.‚  His memory was something to envy.) Eventually I got a job at WBEZ and I got to see Carlos working every day, but his best work didn't happen at the station, it happened at bars, and steak houses, and parties, something I learned the first day I met him. Tony Arnold, Producer, Morning Edition: By the time I started at WBEZ in 2006, Carlos had already begun reporting on CLTV. It wasn't long before our paths crossed when our respective groups were getting drinks at the Billy Goat under Michigan Avenue. I remember how much everyone anticipated his arrival when we would be out; he had a way of livening up the conversation in a seemingly effortless way. The same could be said for him at press conferences. What struck me was how, even when I was new to the Chicago reporting scene, he would take the time to see how I was doing and catch up, introducing me to the other, established reporters in town. He's truly one of a kind that I will sorely miss. Paul Friedman, former WBEZ Announcer & Account Exec: Carlos made the newsroom more Chicago. He had a thousand stories about the operators in City Hall and Springfield, each of which he was elated to share with you, sometimes more than once. He was the reporter from the old superhero movies, that should have had a card that read, "PRESS" affixed to the band of his hat. Always on the move, always shucking and jiving. I can't remember the photo, but it was in an old annual report, that showed all of Chicago's political reporters around a notable politician and there was Carlos, making sure the WBEZ mic flag was just in the right spot to be front and center amidst all the other commercial stations. That picture really made me proud. Ben Calhoun, former WBEZ Political Reporter: Other than my mother, Carlos Hernanadez-Gomez was the only person who's ever called me Benny--something he did all the time, and that, if I'm honest, bothered me a little at first. Carlos, for me, was always someone who was hard to sum-up in words.‚  Thinking about him this morning, it's clear that he still is.‚  Carlos was many things--many of them conflicting.‚  He was in constant frenetic motion, but he was also patient.‚  He was tough, but frequently went out of his way to be kind.‚  He had a sense of humor that could bruise people, but could also heal them.‚  He often flew by the seat of his pants, but had an exacting photographic memory that flickered like a machine.‚  As I think of him today, and try to wrap my head around his loss, I've been thinking about what bound this all together. And I think, more than anything else, Carlos was admirably, courageously and unapologetically his own person.‚  Whatever he saw as right, wrong, meaningful, just, unjust or funny--he felt so deeply.‚  It was that part of him that honed his frenetic energy into a piercing question.‚  It was the common thread that connected his outrage at something unjust to a moment of joy over a Beatles song that he'd learned the chords to on guitar. I've tried--but I can't even single out a memory of him pressing a public official with a tough question--because to do so seems a betrayal to the loyalty to truth that constantly strove towards.‚  I can't single out a memory of him shining light onto a dark moment with humor--because to do so seems a betrayal to amount of light that he shared with all those he cared about.‚  I can't single out a memory of him pushing others to work harder with his own dedication--because to do so seems a betrayal to his constant commitment to ideals of what journalism could be at its best. The fact he was taken so young makes it hard to be grateful--and it seems fundamentally unfair.‚  Still, I am profoundly grateful today.‚  I'm grateful that Carlos shared a friendship with me.‚  I'm grateful for the passion, generosity of spirit, and for the unique sense of curiosity that he brought to my life.‚  I always will be.‚  Benny Tony Sarabia, Host of Midday and Radio M: Carols Hernandez Gomez was a one of a kind. He used to call me 'Papi Chulo' and loved the fact that one of his cube neighbors (me) was a fellow Latino. His cube was always in disarray but he knew where everything --every scrap of paper with a phone number--was located. He'd come back from covering a story and talk endlessly about the details -stuff that unfortunately wouldn't fit into a 45-second news report and that was always a treasure. He and I always enjoyed talking about famous Chicago food haunts like Manny's, Nuevo Leon and Jim's Hot Dog Stand. But he did love his Johnnie's Beef out in Elmwood Park, that's for sure. I will miss Carlo's excitability, how his thoughts would come pouring out of his mind sometimes faster than his mouth could handle. And his sincere admiration he had for me as a father will always stay with me; he always said I was lucky. Thank you Carlos for your presence! Gabriel Spitzer, Science Reporter: The first time I saw Carlos was actually on TV. It was my first day at WBEZ, which happened to coincide with the conviction of former Governor George Ryan. Seeing Carlos on TV was still a novelty at that time for people here, and my new colleagues all commented about how Carlos was fully in his element in the middle of a story like this. In the weeks that followed, stories about Carlos were so common at the station that it seemed like he still worked here. I got to know him over the next years at press events and social gatherings. I was always struck by how, like a politician, he knew and greeted everybody in the room. But unlike a lot of politicians, he actually cared about all those people he shook hands with. I later visited Carlos in the hospital in November. His body was wilted from sickness and chemo, but he managed to get himself up for a walk around the floor. He wasn't up for talking that much, but in that short circuit I saw the way nurses and others on the floor greeted him. I could tell that even though he'd been ground down by this ordeal, his charisma and uncanny connection with people were undiminished. Carlos was a blessing to all of us, and I'm grateful for the time we had him. Sonari Glinton, NPR Producer (former WBEZ Producer/Reporter): By the time you get around to this everyone else will have said that Carlos loved reporting and being in the fraternity of reporters. Others will say that he was a proud Catholic, Chicagoan, and Puerto Rican. That said, I loved how consistently, ridiculously, and hilariously inappropriate he could be. Sometime in 2004 he took to calling me DARKNESS (the caps are necessary-he never whispered the word, also I'm a dark skinned black man). He was referring to me as Darkness ala Dave Chappelle as Rick James. Whenever he'd see me whether it was a county board meeting, a city council meeting, a gubernatorial or senate debate I'd brace myself to hear him say...no shout "DARKNESS is spreading." He'd even introduce me as DARKNESS. Whenever I chafed at being called DARKNESS, he'd looked at me and said "Who's always had your back?!" He was so generous with me! Trust me he's the only person who could get away with calling me DARKNESS. Cate Cahan, Metro Desk Editor: Everyone is going to talk about the glasses and the hat. His costume that wasn't a costume because it was really him. Yes, his trademark hat and thick, dark-rimmed glasses made Carlos stand out. But what I will remember--what impressed me when I first met Carlos--was the sparkle in his eyes. That gleam that said "ain't the world a wacky place, and ain't life grand?" The energy that Carlos brought to tracking his beat is legendary. And I wrote 'beat' instead of 'politics' for a reason. While Carlos was fascinated and knowledgeable about the history of politics in this town, the ways and wiles of its politicians, he really saw his role as much broader. He was out on the street, in the backrooms, at the city council, at Gene & Georgetti's for all of us. He wanted to know things--the reporter's love of finding out stuff. And much, much more central to who he was, Carlos wanted to tell the rest of us, to share not only what he'd found out but what it meant and why it mattered to our lives. We'll miss him for that drive to help us understand the powers and powerful who affect so much of how things work. And we'll miss those animated eyes and the true character behind them. Lisa Labuz, Morning Edition Host: When I first met Carlos, I wasn't quite sure what to make of him. He was so friendly and loved so much to talk that I actually had to develop a tactic to begin slowly and politely walking away when I needed to get back to work. He was easily the friendliest person here and no matter how busy, Carlos always had time to ask about you and your family. He had sweet nicknames for many of us. I loved that he would take the time to stop by the studio to say 'Hello.' Those visits always put me in a better mood. I'm going to miss those visits. I saw him a couple months ago and gave him a ride to wherever he was headed. We had a nice chat and he told me he was determined to fight his cancer. I wouldn't have expected any less from Carlos - always looking up and forward. Alison Cuddy, Host, Eight Forty-Eight: Carlos was - and may still well be - the only reporter I ever met who wore flip flops and a guayabera shirt to work. Somehow he was able to combine a pit bull approach to Chicago politics with the laid-back attitude of a guy just headed out for a stroll on the beach. I'll remember him best as an inimitable guide to Chicago's political history. I didn't grow up here and as an outsider, the utter dedication many politicos have to the tiniest details of a history that most people have long forgotten can at times seem puzzling, even perverse. Carlos made each of those moments matter, turning them into full-blown stories, full of larger than life characters who seemed by turns to both disgust and elate him. Still, with all his passion for the game, and for the world of the Chicago way, he remained in but not of the spectacle: a trenchant and often angry observer, a keen wit, a bull-sh*t detector without compare. Aurora Aguilar, Senior Producer, Eight Forty-Eight:‚ It's hard to believe that when I first met Carlos, he was 28 years old. He already knew exactly who he was and what he was brought on this earth to do. He loved being a reporter and embodied all of the best traits of the lifestyle. He was tenacious yet fair, shrewd yet untainted by the corruption and dishonesty that surrounded him. He was bigger than life and said throughout his illness that he was unwilling to let his body stop him from working the beat or from reaching old age next to his beloved wife. It's unnerving to think that much spirit and strength could be extinguished so quickly. The shock of his loss is making me cynical today. But I hope that in the days to come, I and other reporters who learned just by watching him, will work a little harder to make him proud. Adios, Hermano. Ammad Omar, City Room Editor: On one of my first days as an intern at WBEZ, I was sent out to a press conference related to former Governor George Ryan. Before the event started, Carlos spotted the Chicago Public Radio logo on my bag, introduced himself, asked if I was new and how everyone was treating me at the station. We chatted for a few minutes, and he gave me some words of encouragement. Over the next few years, he was the one person at press conferences that I felt excited to talk to, and it seemed like he had that same effect on everyone he met, from governors to mayors and green interns. He's the guy that knew everyone, and put a smile on their face. No one worked the room better. Although I never worked with Carlos directly, I felt like he was one of the few people that cared closely about my work and career. I have no doubt that many other people feel the same way because that's the type of selfless and passionate person he was. Kristin Moo, Producer, Eight Forty-Eight: I had been an intern for Eight Forty-Eight for probably just two months when Carlos left WBEZ, and yet he still made an impression on me. I remember the going-away party of Italian beef from Portillo's, and I remember the thrill throughout the whole newsroom every time we saw him on TV in his fedora. Afterward, I had the privilege of being the producer most often charged with booking him for his appearances on Eight Forty-Eight. It intimidated me at first--calling this legendary reporter on his cell phone! But, in his rapid-fire way, he was always gracious, and ready to come back with his always witty observations on Chicago politics. "Hey, howsitgoin? Lemme checkwithmyeditor and I'll callyourightback, 'kaydear?" You know, anyone else calling me "dear" would probably have been condescending. But that's the thing--you knew that everyone was dear to Carlos, as he was to us. Torey Malatia, General Manager: Carlos thought of Chicago as an unfinished process. He felt it was the job of you and me to see that it finished well. He loved the city's achievements and lamented its failures. He reveled in its history and decried its corruption. He knew every current political alliance, those that made us stronger and those that shamed us. As a journalist, he believed he was part of a tradition of road blocking the bad guys from completely having their way. He hoped to hone his craft to be remembered someday as a guardian of the common good --like Royko, or Fitzpatrick or the handful of other journalists from Chicago's print history that he saw as the watchdogs, the truth tellers. When Carlos worked at WBEZ, we would lunch frequently at Gene and Georgetti's, one of his favorite restaurants and people-watching perches. One day, Carlos looked around and realized he knew every patron in the room. He whispered all their names to me and what they did--journalists, lobbyists, politicians, city officials, syndicate big shots. As we left, and he grabbed me with his customary warm bear hug, I thought, good Lord, this man was born to be a reporter. My last lunch with Carlos was last spring. He looked great. He said he was feeling better and he wanted us to think about some ways he could be involved with WBEZ again. Both ideas pleased me immensely. Our plans to bring him back periodically to WBEZ had only begun to evolve. Chicago Public Radio has always been blessed with the best talent in the nation. It is what sets the station apart from every other media outlet in Chicago, and every public radio station in the country. It is why young people move thousands of miles to start a job with us. Carlos was one of those great, zealous, gifted people who built his career here attracted by the professionals here and soon he himself became one of the admired individuals that others saw as a symbol of WBEZ's excellence. When he left and went into television, he flowered even more and became a trusted and vigorous conveyor of the real story of Chicago political and civic life to millions more than he reached when he was with us. But he always remained a friend to CPR, a supporter of our best work, a thoughtful critic of our shortcomings. He was a living reminder that we in news media have a role that rises above mere entertainment. Reporters hold the public's trust, he would say. In his memory, those are words we must never forget.
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