(New York Jewish Week) — Room 9, the compact space designed for journalists inside New York City Hall, has held its share of personalities over the years. But none has spent as much time there as Stan Brooks, a Jewish radioman who reported on the city for five decades, covering six of its mayors and some of its most pivotal moments.
“He was like the dean of the press corps,” longtime colleague and friend Glenn Schuck told the New York Jewish Week about Brooks, who worked at 1010 WINS for almost his entire career.
“Every mayor kind of revered Stan,” Schuck said. “All the mayors liked him, would call on him, and made sure that Stan was an important part of whatever question and answer session they were having.”
A few weeks before Brooks’ death from lung cancer at age 86 in December 2013, the city’s outgoing mayor showed up at his bedside in Hell’s Kitchen with cookies. “Mike Bloomberg showed up, went up into his room — Stan was not well, he was very, very sick at that point — he sat with him, held his hand,” Schuck recalled. “That’s how respected Stan was. I mean, he had the ear and attention of a lot of people.”
And then, just days before Brooks’ passing, Bloomberg renamed the radio room at City Hall the “Stan Brooks Radio Room,” citing Brooks as the “longest-serving member of Room 9.”
That would not be Brooks’ only lasting mark on the city he loved. In 2014, his local city councilman — Corey Johnson, who would go on to become the council’s speaker — spearheaded an effort to rename the corner of West 43rd Street and 10th Avenue, where Brooks and his wife Lynn lived at Manhattan Plaza, Stan Brooks Way.
“He loved that neighborhood,” Shuck said. “His life was that building and that neighborhood that he lived in.”
Schuck recalled how people would always ask Stan, “You’re 80-something years old, don’t you want a house in Florida?” and his response was always no. “He wanted to be in Hell’s Kitchen, in his apartment, on a Saturday, walking through the neighborhood. That was his life,” he said.
Stanley Bertram Brooks was born Jan. 24, 1927 in the Bronx to Herman and Mildred Brooks. His father was a paper salesman and the president of the Young Friends Association, a Jewish burial organization, and his mother was one of 11 children, coming from a very close family.
Stan, who grew up in a kosher home and attended a Conservative synagogue, lived on the same block — Walton Avenue — as practically his entire extended family, according to George Brooks, one of his three sons. Stan and Lynn raised raised their family on Long Island where they belonged to Temple Sinai, a Reform synagogue.
“He was kind of spiritual in nature. I think he felt his connection to Judaism very much through his parents and his family — I would call it a family-based religion,” George said, recalling how his father said Kaddish every morning for the first year after his parents died.
Brooks went to City College before serving in the army and graduating from Syracuse University.
Brooks once spoke about being on “Kitchen Patrol” duty while in basic training and seeing stacks of pork chops being fried in lard and going outside and throwing up because he had never encountered pig meat before and was overwhelmed, George said.
That was the beginning of “opening his mind to the wider world. He really was taken from kind of a sheltered, shtetl-y Bronx upbringing to seeing all kinds of people that he would never have met,” George said of his father’s time in the army.
Before joining WINS as news director in 1962, Brooks worked for newspapers in Westchester County and was a reporter and editor for Newsday on Long Island for 10 years.
Shortly after he joined 1010 WINS, it became an all-news operation — the first of its kind in New York City and one of the first in the country. He helped lay the groundwork for the station and for all 24-hour news stations to come.
“Being the first news director of the first all-news station, everyone looked up to Stan, admired Stan. He was, you know, he really was a trailblazer,” Schuck said. “I mean, he set a lot of the things in motion that are now 24-hour news channels, whether it’s TV or radio, are in place today,” Schuck said.
One reason for hesitancy with 24 hour news channels was the concern that there couldn’t possibly be enough news to fill all that time. But Brooks “knew New York had enough stories to tell and he was just a really, really good storyteller,” Schuck said.
And Brooks certainly found enough to report on. He became a local reporter for 1010 WINS in 1970 and had a full reporting repertoire of 30- to 60-second dispatches. Even at 80, “he would always be the first one to get his stories done,” Schuck said.
“He would bring the story to life. He could go to an endless news conference and somehow he would know what the center of the story was immediately and he’d have the lead written before he got back to the desk,” Rich Lamb, a reporter from WCBS and one of Brooks’ colleagues said after his death.
Brooks was a man of routine. For almost 50 years, every morning he drove from Hell’s Kitchen down to City Hall where he parked in the same spot each day. He ate the same cheese sandwich made by his wife at his desk for lunch every day because he wanted to be able to work without pause.
He brought that steadiness to moments of high intensity in the news.
During the 1971 Attica prison revolt — when inmates at the high-security Attica Correctional Facility took control of the prison and kept guards hostage resulting in 39 prisoners and guards killed by law enforcement gunfire — “he was famously on a payphone in the middle of this prison riot and was so calm,” Schuck said. ”Stan made his name for things like that.”
Then, in 2003, City Councilman James David was killed in City Hall right in front of Schuck and Brooks just seconds after they had just shaken his hand. Brooks delivered a live report on the scene.
“Because Stan was with me that day, it allowed me to get through something like that, because I felt like, ‘I’m with Stan so I’m good,’” Schuck said. “He was more than a colleague to me, he was a mentor and a friend. Almost like a second father. I just always felt better when he was around and he led by example.”
When Schuck joined 1010 WINS in 2000, Brooks sat down with him to answer all of his questions and would do that for anyone. “He was very welcoming, willing to sit with anybody, even if you had met them for the first time just to kind of, you know, set you on your path,” Schuck said.
Throughout his career, Brooks frequently shared his wisdom and experience with younger journalists. “He was firm, but never rude. He would teach that to younger journalists, you don’t have to be rude to get your answers. He asked tough questions, but he was always nice about the way he did it. And that’s how he got his answers,” Schuck said. “He always got the answers he wanted, because he had the right tact and the way he handled himself. And if people wanted to tell a story, they wanted to tell it to Stan, I think that was important and he taught journalists by the hundreds how to do that.”
“He never really even saw it as a job,” Schuck added. “He just loved what he did. He wanted everyone to learn how to do the job like he did.”
Not only did he love what he did, but he understood the importance of his work — and did it until just a few weeks before his death, even when he could barely make it up the City Hall steps.
“I think that he felt very strongly about uplifting the downtrodden, which I think of as tikkun olam, giving people who don’t have a fair shake a fair shake,” George Brooks said. “That’s part of why he was a journalist, to tell the stories of the people who needed to be heard who might not otherwise have a voice.”
When he wasn’t working, all of Brooks’ time was devoted to his family — his wife Lynn, to whom he was married for 60 years before she died just months before him, and his three sons, George, Rick and Bennet.