Abdul-Hakim Shabazz: A tribute to writer and commentator Matt Tully

Keywords Forefront / Opinion

ShabazzThe last in-depth conversation Indianapolis Star columnist Matt Tully and I had was about a U.S. Senate debate in the Republican primary. Matt was writing a column about Todd Rokita and why he was backing out of the debate because I was the moderator.

When Matt called to ask about it, we did our usual routine whenever we talked to each other about politics. We’d go off the record first, and then if there was some information the other wanted to use, we’d work something out. There was never any concern that anyone would be taken out of context or misquoted. We’d always make sure the other side was cool with what we were reporting, even if we didn’t necessarily agree with each other.

And that was our relationship. It was one of mutual trust and respect.

Matt and I had a lot in common but we also had a lot of differences. He was from The Region. I was from Chicago. He was a big advocate of mandatory smoking bans. I fought against them tooth and nail, arguing the free market could best address those issues. His politics were left of center and mine were equidistant on the right side. He was a beer drinker, while I did scotch. And of course, our biggest disagreement that never got resolved was that he was a Cubs fan while my loyalties went with the Chicago White Sox.

When Matt was healthy, we’d try to connect on occasion (in a non-smoking venue) and talk about the issues facing the city and state. We’d talk about whether then-Gov. Mitch Daniels was too aggressive for Indiana, whether the citizens of Indianapolis would elect a retired Marine with no political experience as mayor (which they did, twice). We had our positions but we learned a lot from each other, and from time to time, we would give the other a nice little news tip.

Our relationship was more than two professional columnists and commentators. It was also personal. I will never forget the day he told me he and his wife were adopting. No one was happier for him than I. He felt the same way for me when I told him I was putting aside my bachelor days and getting married. And when he told me he was diagnosed with cancer, I felt like it had happened to my own brother. He felt the same for me when I told him my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

It’s been difficult coming to terms with Matt’s death. There aren’t a lot of us in the city’s political-writer/talking-head universe. And to lose someone like Matt is a big blow not only to our small community but the greater community at large. To do this type of job, and do it right, takes long hours and lots of work. And you can’t just sit and read the internet all day and call yourself a commentator. You have to get up from behind your desk, out of your office, and go talk to people.

Matt never hesitated to get out of the office and go interact with people to bring his readers a complete picture of what was going on. He felt he owed it to his audience, whether they agreed or disagreed. And in my opinion, that was one my departed friend’s greatest attributes.

Godspeed, my friend. I’ll miss you.•

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Shabazz is an attorney, radio talk show host and political commentator, college professor and stand-up comedian. Send comments to [email protected]

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