By Richard Anderson
Joseph Mohbat, former journalist, a lawyer and Boerum Hill activist, died after a long and courageous battle with cancer at the Brooklyn Hospital Center August 10. He was senior counsel at the New York City Law Department Office of the Corporation Counsel serving as a trial attorney in the Bronx tort unit.
Many people may remember Joeâ€™s leading role in the play â€śDaâ€ť put on by the Heights Players in 2006 before he had his first bout with cancer. Others may remember that he had been involved in efforts to control the Atlantic Yards project or his successful intervention in blocking a 24-hour McDonaldâ€™s drive-in on his corner at Pacific Street and 3rd Avenue. In 1981 Joe co-founded the East Pacific Street Block Association, which succeeded in removing the persistent prostitution problem at his end of Pacific Street.
He and his wife Nancy Schuh were active in the Boerum Hill Association over the years.
Joe wrote numerous, often amusing and well-received articles for the Phoenix in its heyday and was a frequent contributor to the Letters to Editor of the New York Times. Heights Press editor Henrik Krogius remembers a piece inspired by an old public school yearbook that he sent this newspaper as the most affecting reader contribution he has seen.
Mohbat was a long-time board member of the Brooklyn Music School. He loved politics, the cello, the theater, the Mets and most of all, the English language. In one of those rare times when he was seeking a job, he brought his resumĂ© to a well thought of resumĂ© writer. They changed nothing and asked him to work for them.
Joe covered national politics for the Associated Press during the 1960s and was the author of the shortest lead sentence in the history of the A P: â€śIke is dead.â€ť â€” March 28, 1969. He covered the presidential campaign of Sen. Robert Kennedy in 1968 and later in that year the vice presidential campaign of Gen. Curtis LeMay, running mate with independent candidate Gov. George Wallace. In his book, The Last Campaign, Thurston Clarke wrote of the relationship that developed between Robert Kennedy and Mohbat: â€śJoe Mohbat sometimes found himself gripping Kennedy around the waist to prevent him from being yanked from the convertible. Mohbat knew he was crossing a line, but could not bear the thought of Kennedy being hurt.â€ť
In his autobiography, True Compass, Sen. Ted Kennedy remarked: â€śMohbat sensed my reflective mood, and took the opportunity to draw me out on my thoughts regarding my political life and my future. When asked about a possible presidential run in 1972, I shared my misgivings â€¦â€ť
In 1970 Mohbat became press secretary to Larry Oâ€™Brien, chairman of the Democratic National Committee. He was one of the earliest to learn of the June 1972 break-in at the DNCâ€™s Watergate offices by burglars working for the Nixon re-election committee and was for the next two years involved with the Watergate saga and its aftermath.
Friends recall with fondness his life-long commitment to fostering correct English usage. As a freelancer he wrote speeches for politicians and edited reports on the environment and other domestic issues. In 1967 he won a Nieman Fellowship to Harvard University. There he spent much time studying constitutional law at Harvard Law School. That helped lead him to shift careers from journalism to law. Mohbat entered Georgetown University School of Law and graduated in 1978.
Mohbat was born in Manhattan on December 18, 1937. He graduated from Middlebury College in 1958 after majoring in political science. He received the Worth Bingham Prize for Distinguished Reporting in 1968.
He is survived by his wife of 37 years, Nancy E. Schuh, of Brooklyn, and his son, Thomas, of Hilo, Hawaii.
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