Dominic Carter has covered New York City politics for more than two decades. As a political reporter for NY1 News since the cable channel launched in 1992, he has spent countless hours parrying with the likes of former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, current Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.). Now, with Bloomberg apparently weighing a White House run alongside Clinton and Giuliani, Carter looks to be in the catbird seat.
“I've had the opportunity to observe all three up close and personally,” he says. “It's a very unique position to be standing in, in terms of observing history.”
It's also a hard-won position for Carter, 43, who managed to escape a childhood of poverty and abuse rendered in heartbreaking detail in his new book, No Momma's Boy. Carter was reared in the projects in the Fordham section of the Bronx by his grandmother and a pair of aunts. His father was long since out of the picture, and his mother would disappear for months on end. Still, Carter didn't feel that he was lacking: “I was surrounded by so much love that I didn't even know that I was an illegitimate child,” he says.
A Voice for the voiceless
Yet he was exposed to unthinkable horrors. His mother, later diagnosed as paranoid-schizophrenic, sexually abused him as a child and even tried to kill him on more than one occasion. After she died in 2001, Carter set out to retrace her history; 620 pages worth of her psychiatric records became the basis of his self-published memoir.
Open about his past, he is quick to point out the positives, such as growing up watching the “legends” of New York news. It was newscasters like Roger Grimsby, Jim Jensen and John Johnson who inspired him to choose journalism as a way “to be a voice for people who didn't have a voice.”
That passion led Carter to study communications at the State University of New York at Cortland in 1982, where he met Ted Demme. Carter knew Demme as a kid from Long Island who worked on the campus radio station, not as the nephew of noted filmmaker Jonathan Demme. Sharing their ambitions with each other, Demme pushed Carter into radio, while Carter passed along his affinity for hip-hop from the projects. After graduating, Demme went on to co-create Yo! MTV Raps for MTV in 1988, which helped bring rap to mainstream America.
“I taught Ted how to be cool,” Carter says with a laugh, “and he taught me how to do radio.” (Demme, who went on to direct the films Beautiful Girls and Blow, died of a heart attack in 2002.)
After attending grad school at Syracuse's celebrated Newhouse School, Carter scored an unpaid internship at radio stations WBLS/WLIB New York and soon moved into an on-air job. Following Jesse Jackson on his presidential campaign in 1988 and scoring an exclusive with Nelson Mandela during his tour of the U.S. in 1990, Carter developed a reputation as a tough journalist who did his homework.
“What's special about Dominic is, he's very fair, he's very balanced, and he's knowledgeable,” says former New York City Mayor Ed Koch.
Present at the birth of NY1
When Time Warner Cable was looking to launch a 24-hour news channel in 1992, Carter's knowledge of Big Apple politics made him the obvious choice for the City Hall beat. As the channel has grown from a scrappy upstart with some rough edges into a staple of many New Yorkers' daily routine and a model for local cable news channels everywhere, Carter has become a local reporter of national standing.
In 1993, while traveling with then-Mayor David Dinkins to Japan, Carter scooped all television competition with Dinkins' comments on the World Trade Center bombing. He accompanied Giuliani to Israel and interviewed President Clinton at the White House. Last October, while moderating a senatorial debate in Rochester, N.Y., he prodded Sen. Clinton on her as-yet-unannounced presidential aspirations.
When Clinton acknowledged that the thought had crossed her mind, Carter—so used to being the interviewer—was thrust into the role of interviewee as media outlets from German television to Al Jazeera called to get his take. “I boarded the plane after the debate and started flipping through the channels,” he says. “There it was on CNN, Fox, MSNBC, the Today show. It had made international headlines.”
Right at home
While many reporters have used NY1—dubbed “The Little Channel That Could” by the New York Times—as a springboard to bigger gigs, the host of the nightly Inside City Hall program says he'll never leave. Should a prestigious network news department come calling, Carter says, he'd split his time between it and NY1: “That's how much I feel NY1 is my home.”
And Gotham politicos say it wouldn't be a true New York debate without Carterin the middle of it. “He's enormously good-natured and very human,” says Air America President and former NYC Public Advocate Mark Green, who lost the mayor's race to Bloomberg in 2001 and is a regular guest on Inside City Hall. “A lot of TV hosts are blow-dried, bloodless blowhards. That's not Dominic.”
Over the years, say NY1 executives, Carter has, in effect, become the face of the channel. “It would be hard to imagine NY1's political coverage without him,” says Senior VP/General Manager Steve Paulus. “No one at NY1 is indispensable, but he comes close.”
With his wife and two children—Dominic Jr. and Courtney, now studying broadcast journalism at Syracuse—Carter divides his time between homes in Rockland County, N.Y., Myrtle Beach, S.C., and the Poconos. He enjoys reading about real estate and watching the competition in the TV-news world. “I need to do more things; I really don't have hobbies,” he says with a laugh.
But Carter is walking with a lighter step since opening up about his childhood in No Momma's Boy. He even credits his troubled mother for the drive that has fueled his career. “It essentially rained every day of her life, but she never gave up,” he says. “Maybe that's where I get my perseverance from.”