After Accepting Buyout, Worcester Reporter Reflects On 39-Year City Hall Beat

Dec 9, 2020

A longtime newspaper reporter and columnist who covered the city of Worcester and its politics has said goodbye to his readers.

Nick Kotsopolous, 65, worked for the Telegram, and later the Telegram & Gazette, for a total of 43 years — the last 39 of those on the City Hall beat. He said the time was right to accept a voluntary buyout.

Over the decades, Kotsopolous saw and reported on change in the city — some of which was hard for him to anticipate.

Nick Kotsopolous: When I first started covering the City Council, it was pretty much an all white male bastion. All the elected leaders, all the high-ranking city officials at that time, were all white males.

And at that time, you didn't see the change that was coming.

"Every day was a new story. Every day was a new controversy. And that's what kept me going."
Nick Kotsopolous

There's been an increase in the number of people of color who serve on the City Council now. And that's also been evident in the high-level positions within the government itself.

That was good. It reflects more of the diversity. Worcester has become a very diverse city over the past 20 years and the government — it's taken time to catch up with that.

But they've made an effort, now, to make sure that City Hall is reflective of the city's population. And I didn't see that. I didn't foresee the changing demographics of Worcester happening the way they did.

But they happened. And the city government is now making an effort to catch up with that, to make sure government reflects its people.

Carrie Healy, NEPM: What initially attracted you to politics and the city?

Well, actually, I wanted to be a sports writer. I went to UMass in the 1970s, and I wrote for The Daily Collegian.

Unfortunately, at that time, trying to get a job as a sports writer at a newspaper was next to impossible. I was willing to take whatever I could, and there was an opening at the Telegram & Gazette in Worcester, which is where I grew up.

First, I started off as a part-time sports stringer covering high school games and college games, stuff like that. And then I covered the news, regular news, as a part-time reporter.

You know, I sort of got the bug there. And eventually, I was hired full-time in '79. Then the city editor in 1981 said, "You're going to cover the City Hall beat now." And I said, "OK, thank you very much."

And when I first started covering City Hall, there was so many media outlets. I mean the two newspapers, there were several radio stations and Worcester even had a television station at that time. And so for any meeting, that could be as many as 10 people covering the City Council meeting.

When I left my last meeting, I was pretty much basically the only one covering City Council on a regular basis. I mean, some others would drop in every now and then, but it wasn't like the old days, as they say, when you had to get to the meetings early to get a seat at the media table. Otherwise, you had to sit in the gallery.

So, you know, I think people lose out — the community loses out, and coverage is diminished, because if we're not reporting what's going on, and people aren't able to hear or read about it, it's a loss for them.

Do you have an anecdote about any quirky personalities that you met on that City Hall beat?

Well, that would take an hour, plus. There were many quirky personalities, and that's what made it so great to cover. People say, "How could you have covered that for 39 years?" Because City Council meetings can be rather on the crazy side.

But it was the personalities. There were so many interesting personalities that I covered over the years, and every day was a new day. Every day was a new story. Every day was a new controversy. And that's what kept me going.

Yeah, you had to cover the meetings, and that could have been a little tedious, but the issues that came out of those meetings is what interested me most.

And it started from Day One, when — at that time, in 1981, the City Council used to elect the mayor. And it was pretty much a cut-and-dried thing. And that year was anything but routine.

It took the council 28 ballots over two separate meetings before they elected a person. And that person happened to be Sara Robertson, who became the first woman to serve as mayor in Worcester. So my start-off on the city government [beat] was historic, in a way, in that I got to cover the first woman who served as mayor in Worcester.

Twenty-eight ballots?!

Twenty-eight ballots. Yes, well, there were nine members of the council, and there were four people, I believe, were running for mayor that time. And out of the nine councilors, one was boycotting, because he felt that the people should be electing the mayor, and not the City Council.

So we had eight people voting over four candidates, and nobody could get five votes. It was crazy, it really was. Nobody had ever seen anything like that.

When Sara Robertson got elected mayor, it came out of nowhere. I mean, she got very few votes before that. And all of a sudden, the next thing you know, here she is. She was so stunned that when I went to interview her after, she couldn't talk. She says, "I kept saying, I just can't believe it."

But that's what piqued my curiosity — I think I'm interested in a lot of things like that, that happened over the course of 39 years.