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Our Longreads Member Pick:
A Look Back at New York Woman Magazine



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Introduction

This week a debate erupted about "serious journalism" in women's magazines—and as part of this discussion, several magazine editors reflected fondly on the work of the late, great magazine New York Woman and its founding editor, Betsy Carter. New York Woman was published from 1986-1992; Carter went on to work for O, the Oprah Magazine and write books including Nothing to Fall Back On: The Life and Times of a Perpetual Optimist. She also just finished her fourth novel. 
 
We asked Carter to share a story from the New York Woman archives, and she chose "The Jogger D.A.," by Victoria Balfour, from 1991. Carter explains: 
 
"It was the harrowing New York crime story of the late eighties and every woman's nightmare: a twenty-nine-year old female investment banker brutally beaten, raped and left for dead in a remote area of Central Park. Eventually, five teenage boys from Harlem were found guilty and sent to jail. As a monthly magazine with a three month lead time on a story that was in the papers nearly every day, New York Woman decided to focus on 'The Jogger D.A.,' the prosecutor in the case, Liz Lederer, a young newcomer to the DA's office.
 
"Now, twenty-two years later, the story has re-emerged with the discovery that the five young men were wrongfully convicted, and Liz Lederer has been vilified for coercing false confessions from those men. This piece revisits the hysteria that surrounded that crime, and the pressure on the woman in the DA's office to get it solved. It's also an example of how, at New York Woman, we tried to find our own take on a story of the moment, and how we gave it the kind of time and space it warranted.
 
"The goal of New York Woman was to speak to women of the city much as they would speak among themselves. We did investigative pieces, cartoons, reviews, fiction, humor—using the best writers in the city. No topic was off-limits. We tried to capture whatever was in the air and give it a unique spin that spoke to our readers."
 
Our thanks to Betsy and Victoria for sharing this story with Longreads Members.

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The Jogger D.A.Victoria Balfour | New York Woman | June-July 1991 | 15 minutes (3,856 words)Illustration by Kjell Reigstad
For Elizabeth Lederer, prosecutor of the Central Park Jogger case, 1990 was a rough year. First, she had to give up running, her favorite sport. Then she started to smoke again. Living on black coffee, aspirin and diet Pepsi, she dropped fifteen pounds from her already tiny, five-foot-two-inch frame, and she developed dark circles under her eyes from too many sleepless nights. She was called "bitch," "slut" and "KKK" by total strangers on the street. Walking into the courtroom on a day that two of the defendants were to be sentenced, she was met by a row of their angry supporters brandishing signs that read "We Know Where You Live." In spite of all this, Lederer doggedly worked on with a crusader's ferocity and single-mindedness, determined to win justice for her jogger, the twenty-nine-year-old investment banker who was brutally beaten, raped and left for dead in a remote area of Central Park on April 19, 1989. And in the end, Lederer did win. When the case was finally closed this year, after two trials and one plea bargain deal, all six defendants were convicted and sent to jail. "I had never worked so hard in my life, and it was without a doubt the hardest case I've ever tried," says Lederer now.
 
On a sunny Saturday in February, just a few weeks before the sentencing of Steve Lopez, the sixth defendant, Lederer and I were sitting in her office downtown in the Motor Vehicles Building. A souvenir from the battlefield, the infamous "We Know Where You Live" sign, hangs on the wall behind her head. In her otherwise nondescript, filing cabinet-filled office, the sign has a forbidding look.
 
During our conversation, however, it becomes clear that this sign serves to remind Lederer of all the times she didn't let her foes wear her down. "It was unsettling," she admits, easing back into her chair. "There was such a hatred. There were times when I walked in that courtroom and felt like it was on the verge of being out of control. Kharey Wise [one of the defendants] said he was going to get me, and more. And other people threatened some kind of violence. But I really wasn't frightened by anything said to me. I never had the feeling that anybody was going to act on these things. So, I guess it was in the same spirit at the sentencing that I thought, 'I'm not going to be intimidated by the commotion inside the courthouse, and I will come and go through it, because this is the best way that we have come up with the resolve criminal conduct.' And when they were taking the guy with the sign away to jail for contempt of court, I asked the court officer if I could keep the sign."
 
The change in Lederer since our later interview, conducted four months earlier, just after the first trial, is striking. Back then she was all business. Dressed in a pinstriped suit, the thirty-eight-year-old Lederer gave mostly brusque, tight-lipped replies to my questions. My tape recorder gave her the jitters, she said. It was an anxious time for her: The judge had given her only a month off between trials, and she was rushing to line up witnesses and fielding endless phone calls from detectives. Today, Lederer still has that air of purpose about her, but she is wearing hip, tight black jeans and boots, and smiles a lot more. She is far more forthcoming and doesn't seem to notice that the tape recorder is on.

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