‘Brooklyn Rail’ politics editor is out

Ted Hamm. (Julie Evanoff)
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Nicole Levy

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Since moving to Brooklyn in 1998, Theodore Hamm has spent no more than a week without thoughts of the Brooklyn Rail — the beloved free journal covering local arts, culture and politics — occupying his mind.

Hamm, 47, editor of the Rail’s politics coverage, will leave the magazine after the nonprofit releases 20,000 copies of its Dec.-Jan. issue, likely this weekend. (The Rail, which Hamm once delivered to Brooklyn bookstores, bars, cafes, museums, and galleries in a Ford Country Squire, “still has a D.I.Y. ethic” and operates on a “quirky” schedule, like Amtrak, he explained.)

He's leaving his job of 15 years, he told Capital, for two reasons: he plans to dedicate his free time — when he isn’t directing St. Joseph’s College’s undergraduate journalism and new media program — to an independent writing project; and he feels that, lately, his subject matter has been relegated to the corner of an art magazine.

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“If politics go from the Rail, it’ll be a different publication,” Hamm said. Local artists profiled in the Rail, he said, have expressed their appreciation for the political coverage in the magazine. To Hamm, the value of local political news is especially self evident: "What happens with the NYPD and schools in New York City directly effects most of us on an everyday basis."

Publisher Phong Bui said that come January the Rail might combine its “Local” and “Express” sections, which cover local and international politics respectively, under one new heading. Said Bui, “Political coverage in the Rail will continue in a different form,” involving more commentary and less event reportage.

The Rail was born out of impromptu salons in which Bui, Hamm and other founders discussed politics and culture at the Brooklyn Ale House in a pre-gentrified Williamsburg. Bui praised his colleague’s “cosmopolitan thinking”: “the way he conceived local politics and world politics as one … I’ve always admired that kind of synthesis,” Bui said. And “he did an exceptional job of recruiting writers,” Bui added — no small feat when a contributor can expect no more compensation than lunch and perhaps the opportunity to meet a local luminary from the journal’s advisory board, which includes novelist Paul Auster and photographer Chuck Close.

Protests against the Iraq War, the 2004 Republican National Convention, and Wall Street were signature topics for Hamm's politics report.

“I feel like we were a strong voice not just … to the opposition movements, but also to the right to protest," he said. "We advocated strong and forcefully on those issues."

Hamm can also say he nurtured writers like The Huffington Post’s Michael Calderone and The Nation’s Gabriel Thompson.

Now that he has, as he puts it, “done [his] share of editing,” and written his farewell Rail piece, Hamm is turning his attention to a project he prefers to keep mysterious: “It will be thematically similar to stuff I’ve been doing in the Rail, but it won’t have a whole lot of coverage of the art world,” he said, chuckling to himself.