Prominent Local Political Reporter To 'Tell The Story Of Florida' To National Audience
The Miami Herald’s top political reporter will soon have a bigger platform.
Patricia Mazzei — who has worked at the Herald for a decade, most recently as its lead political writer — starts early next month as the Miami bureau chief for the New York Times. She’ll be based here in South Florida, after first working for a few months in New York City.
“We’re going to tell the story of Florida for people not just elsewhere in the country but elsewhere in the world,” she told Luis Hernandez, host of Sundial, WLRN’s new daily news show.
Mazzei was born and raised in Venezuela and attended the University of Miami before beginning her career at the Herald, which is a news partner of WLRN. At the newspaper, her first assignment was to cover hyperlocal news, including the cities of Key Biscayne, Palmetto Bay, Cutler Bay, Pinecrest and Homestead. She later reported on public schools in Broward County. She had led the news outlet’s political coverage since early 2015.
During a recent episode of Sundial, Mazzei sat down with Hernandez to talk about the state of the journalism business and describe her experiences covering major historical events while at the Herald. Here are some highlights:
The Charleston church shooting: In June 2015, Mazzei happened to be in Charleston, S.C., only a couple of blocks away from the church where white supremacist Dylann Roof murdered nine African Americans. She was there to cover former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign stop.
After checking into her hotel, she went to dinner with another reporter. When they returned, the hotel was blocked off with yellow police tape. They soon learned what had happened, and she remembers saying to her colleague: “I don’t think we’re going to be covering Jeb Bush tomorrow.
“When you write about nine people being shot dead at a church, it puts a perspective on everything else that you cover and everything that you do in life,” she said. “I’m never going to forget that night in Charleston — the feeling of, 'someone is out there on the run who did this, who committed this heinous act.”
In the course of her reporting, she attended a church service for victims. She and other reporters were in an area designated for press. But members of the congregation were there, too. They began singing “We Shall Overcome,” a gospel song and anthem of the Civil Rights movement. A woman grabbed the hand of another reporter, who was near Mazzei. He froze, feeling uncomfortable, because reporters are supposed to observe but not participate in events they cover. But he didn’t pull away.
She said, she would have done the same thing.
“You don’t lose your humanity, because you’re covering the news, and that’s especially true in natural disasters and horrible situations like this one,” she said.
Donald Trump’s presidential campaign: Mazzei attended a Trump rally in Nevada in September 2015, early during his campaign. She was in town to write about then-candidate Marco Rubio’s appeal to Hispanic voters in that state and decided to go to the Trump event to see what it was like.
“I got there, and the scene was nuts,” she said. “There was a huge line. It was like people were trying to get into a nightclub at 11 in the morning. They ran out of tickets. Tourists were coming up saying, ‘Where’s Donald Trump? Can I see Donald Trump?’ There was a Donald Trump impersonator. Someone jumped on stage to hug him.”
She thought, “This is really a movement for a lot of the supporters."
"And seeing it firsthand, so early on, really helped inform the rest of my coverage” of the 2016 election, she said.
Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico: This September, Mazzei was stationed on the island throughout the storm and covered the initial aftermath.
During her decade at the Herald, she hadn’t covered a hurricane, because South Florida had avoided a direct hit from a major storm for many years. She said she was struck in Puerto Rico by the importance of chronicling a national disaster.
“We were often the first people who were going into some of the towns in Puerto Rico, and we were the first outsiders they had seen since the storm. They thought we were FEMA. They thought we were the government, volunteers, anything,” she said. “So, you’re not just sharing information with the rest of the world. You’re also kind of bringing information to people — to tell them, how is San Juan doing?
"It really is one of the most important things that we do," she said.