Remembering Isac Weinberger, a one-man, pre-Internet chat room

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Isac Weinberger, a local-politics enthusiast who passed along political gossip the old-fashioned way—with a telephone and fax machine—passed away this morning at the age of 66.

Before Facebook and Twitter and Instant Messaging and emails and the Internet, there was Isac. An observant Satmar Jew who had a job somewhere in the city transportation department, Isac spent much of his timing calling one reporter after another asking, simply, "Vat's de latest?"

(As Nick Paumgarten wrote in a 2002 New Yorker profile, he "has a job at a department that he prefers not to name, it being unclear how much official business he conducts there. 'I have a desk and a phone,' he has been known to say.")

The first time he called me, I thought it was a prank. Why is he calling? Does he think I have information for him?

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But the more I got to know him, the more I appreciated him. He just liked to talk, and to know things, and to make it known that he knew. He was like a particularly valuable member of a chat room, but without the internet part.

Each time I switched jobs, and telephone numbers, I'd spend some small but unmistakably real amount of emotional energy on the question of whether Isac would bother to track me down again. He always did.  

Here, for those of you who never got the chance to meet Isac, are a few videos of him, on those occasions when he got out of the office and showed up at City hall.

It won't be the same without him. 

Isac explains why he's supporting Obama.

Isac offers advice ahead of Obama's trip to Israel.

And Isac, doing what he does best: passing along information he heard from "somewhere, I don't know where," about Obama.