The man at the top of Albany’s press corps pyramid is Dicker, the polarizing Post columnist and host of Albany radio station WGDJ’s 10 a.m. hour, which airs live from the capitol. Since taking the Capital Tonight role, Benjamin is seen as a challenger to Dicker’s supremacy in state political coverage. Albany has noticed the rivalry. “Both Fred and Liz are people who strive to be the best,” says Vielkind. “If they’re both striving to be at the top of the same game then tension is inevitable.” Azi Paybarah laughs when asked if there’s room at the top for both Benjamin and Dicker: “Ask Hamlet how many kings can be in the court at the same time.”
Benjamin is diplomatic on the subject of a rivalry. “We have a love-hate relationship,” she says. “I admire him for fully embodying who he is, and he’s damn good at being Fred Dicker. He has an unusual instinct for seeing the forest for the trees, making news happen. It’s not my approach, but it works for him.”
But it’s more than that; sources say the pair can’t stand each other. “People are not wrong,” Benjamin responds. “It goes back a long time. He’s a worthy adversary, we just aren’t terribly fond of each other.” Dicker, who declined to be interviewed, did offer this when I ask via e-mail if there is a bit of a rivalry. “I’m not aware of any rivalry from my end, neither ‘a bit’ nor a lot.”
Kicking Dicker off his perch will be a tough slog, and may not be what Benjamin wants in the long run. She describes her days as “grueling.” Most mornings, she wakes in the dark before heading to a local Starbucks to get the blog rolling and to send off e-mails; the baristas have memorized her order: a red-eye with a shot of sugar-free hazelnut. She’s at YNN by 9 a.m., takes a two hour workout break—swimming, running, cycling—then blogs, conducts interviews, breaks news, and gets the show together. She tapes at 8 p.m. and leaves the studio at 9 p.m.; she can be up until 3 a.m. responding to reader e-mails. “I don’t want to do it forever, but I don’t know what else I’d do.”
A new blog? I ask. In D.C., perhaps? Her sensibilities seem tailor-made for the Beltway. She’s had offers. “There’s a lot of people who think if you’re a political reporter worth your salt you have to go to D.C.,” says Benjamin, who has never left the state for a job. “But my dad had his whole career in the same place. He told me that there’s a benefit to being a biggish fish in a smallish pond.” Other biggish fish have been warned.
*Correction: I originally wrote that Benjamin and Dicker were the only state-based reporters to score sit-downs with Cuomo. This has been amended to reflect the fact that they were the only state-based broadcast reporters to get that scoop. New York Times Albany reporter Nicholas Confessore sat down with Cuomo for ninety minutes in October. The report from that interview—with some audio excerpts—can be found here. Joel.