Shoe Leather

Shoe Leather is produced collaboratively by students at Columbia Journalism School, overseen by faculty member Joanne Faryon.

Shoe Leather is an investigative podcast that goes behind the scenes of forgotten stories that shaped New York City. Go along with the team as they knock on doors and track down the people who were at the center of the news.

In season two, New York Drop Dead, reporters step back into the 1970s. They go beyond the bell bottoms and disco to explore what made this decade notorious in New York’s history. A decade in which the Big Apple went by a far more sinister nickname — Fear City. The city was broken and broke. And when city officials asked the federal government for a bailout — President Gerald Ford told them they were on their own. The next day the New York Daily News ran the now infamous front page headline–  Ford to City: Drop Dead.


Recent Podcasts

The Bronx is Burning Feature Photo The Bronx is Burning May 30, 2021 - During the 1970s - for the whole decade - the Bronx suffered an epidemic of fires and abandonment. This destroyed over 80 percent of the South Bronx housing stock making it look like a bombed out city during World War II. What exactly caused this? Some blamed its residents, others blamed the landlords. In 1975, Gelvin Stevenson, a Bronx economist and journalist tried to sound the alarm by telling the story of one building on one boulevard that once promised the American Dream -- but then succumbed to abandonment; Roosevelt Gardens on the Grand Concourse. In this episode, we investigate the toxic mix of invisible factors that turned the Bronx into a tinderbox. We interview Bronx residents from the 1970s, former and current Roosevelt Gardens residents, a firefighter from the South Bronx "War Years", landlords, subject matter experts, and investigate why the Bronx burned, and what came out of it. [...]

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Portrait of Robert Davis Whatever Happened to Robert Davis? May 18, 2021 - In 1978, Robert Davis was the youngest child to ever be sent to New York’s Rikers' Island Jail. He was Black, from the Bronx, and only thirteen. In this episode we look into Robert Davis’s life. We explore his old neighborhood in the South Bronx, his old middle school, and the media frenzy that surrounded his case. We explore how Robert was sucked into a riptide of tough-on-crime political theater that had consumed the country and New York City. And we try to find out where he ended up four decades later, long after his story had faded from the limelight and the city had forgotten his name. [...]

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The Fight for Sydenham Hospital May 17, 2021 - In the 1970s, New York City was broke. Today, we know the city eventually bounced back, but at what cost? When a city is broke, who pays? Mayor Ed Koch dramatically cut the city's budget in an effort solve a $600 million deficit. Among the cuts, were city hospitals. One in particular, Sydenham Hospital in Harlem, was a neighborhood institution with an important history for the Black community. When Mayor Koch announced the city was closing Sydenham, the community mobilized to save it. The years-long fight culminated in a takeover of the hospital by demonstrators in September 1980. What made Harlem fight so hard for this hospital? And why wouldn’t Mayor Koch listen? [...]

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Trailer S2 New York: Drop Dead May 17, 2021 - In season two, New York Drop Dead, reporters step back into the 1970s. They go beyond the bell bottoms and disco to explore what made this decade notorious in New York’s history. It was the decade the lights went out and The Bronx was burning. When peaceful protestors turned to making bombs, when the legendary Apollo Theater nearly closed for good and the man who saved it went to prison. The decade in which women's rights would take center stage.  [...]

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Shoe Leather graphic The Woman in the Hat May 15, 2021 - In 1970, Bella Abzug took on an incumbent Democratic Congressman––and won. A tough Jewish lawyer raised in the Bronx, Bella would become one of the icons of second-wave feminism, passing laws that changed the lives of men and women. 50 years after she first ran for Congress, Bella has had a resurgence. In the past few years there have been plays, movies, and TV shows about her life. Why does she still spark such fascination today? How did she rise to power so quickly? And why didn’t she stay in office longer? All we’ll say for now is that everyone we interviewed for this podcast couldn’t stop talking as soon as we said the words “Bella Abzug.” [...]

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Nasty Weather May 11, 2021 - On March 6, 1970, a townhouse in New York City’s Greenwich Village blew up. After unearthing large quantities of dynamite in the wreckage, local officials determined that the townhouse’s basement had been used as a makeshift bomb factory. Three people died in the explosion and the two women who survived would be on the run for the rest of the decade. They were all white, upper class twenty-somethings, who demonstrated in peaceful AntiWar protests only a few years before. What drove them to start building bombs in the basement of a Greenwich Village townhouse? [...]

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Keep Your Mouth Shut May 11, 2021 - On the night of July 13, 1977, a citywide power failure plunged New York's ten million residents into darkness. Chaos ensued. There was looting in every borough, with hundreds of fires set and thousands of arrests — but just one murder. The victim was 17-year-old Brooklyn native Dominick Ciscone. Over 40 years later, the Ciscone case is still unsolved, despite multiple witnesses, decades of police attention, and even some anonymous tips. Because that murder might not have been part of the Blackout’s chaos at all — it might have been planned, not by someone who anticipated the power going out, but by someone who saw an opportunity to kill in the dark. [...]

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The Legend of Guy Fisher and the Apollo Theater May 10, 2021 - The Apollo Theater — the venue that shaped 20th-century Black music more than any other — shut its doors in the mid-1970s and stayed closed for years. It almost disappeared for good. But a mysterious buyer purchased the theater and reopened it in 1978. According to unofficial histories of the Apollo, the new owner was a man named Guy Fisher, one of the biggest heroin kingpins New York City has ever seen. The official history of the Apollo doesn’t ever mention Guy Fisher, and we wanted to know why. Our investigation uncovered a story of ambition. Of a love triangle. Of violence. And of redemption. [...]

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The Indian Godfather May 14, 2020 - In the 1990s, in the shadow of the FBI’s large-scale takedown of New York’s most infamous mafia family, an Indian immigrant was quietly building his own criminal organization. Gurmeet Singh Dhinsa came to the United States from the Punjab region of India with little to his name. He quickly built a multi-million dollar gasoline empire using bribery, intimidation and violence. For over a decade he terrorized the Sikh community in Brooklyn and Queens with his deadly enterprise. So how did police finally catch the Indian Godfather? [...]

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The Baby Napping May 13, 2020 - In the late afternoon of February 3, 1990, two-day-old Steven Lyons was kidnapped from a Brooklyn hospital— a feat that seems nearly impossible with hospital security measures in 2020. Now, 30 years later, Shoe Leather reporters, Rachel and Elize, follow in the footsteps of the brazen baby-napper with the help of news archives, child abduction experts, and social media. [...]

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