by Abdul-Hakim Shabazz
The last in-depth conversation Matt Tully and I had was about the Republican primary U.S. Senate debate. Matt was writing a column about what was Todd Rokita’s deal and why he was backing out of the debate because I was the moderator. When he called to ask about it, we did our usual routine whenever we talk 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 question 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, respect, and admiration.
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 was 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 Cubs fan while my loyalties went with the Chicago White Sox.
When Matt was healthy, we’d always try to connect (in a non-smoking venue) and talk about the issues facing the city and state. We’d talk about whether then-Governor 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, just to name a few. We had our positions but we learned a lot from each other and from time to time would give the other a nice little news tip.
Our relationship was more than two professional political 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 me. 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 my own brother was being impacted. And he felt the same for me when I told him my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
But perhaps my favorite “Matt moment” had nothing to do with the government and politics that we covered, but a movie. We ran into each other on a Saturday morning at the movie theatre near 86th and I-465. We were both there to see the Batman; Lego Movie. Matt was there with his son and nephew. I was there because I am a total geek and my wife told me to get out of the house. We all had a great time, and I could tell Matt was having a blast creating that memory with his son.
It’s been a difficult week coming to terms with Matt’s death. There aren’t a lot of us in Indianapolis’ 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, it takes long hours and lots of work. And you can’t just sit and read on the Internet all day and call yourself a commentator. You have to get 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 and sources 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.
Abdul-Hakim is an attorney and the editor and publisher of IndyPolitics.Org. His opinions are his own.