Jeff McCourt and Mayor Richard Daley. Photo by Lisa Ebright
Jeff McCourt, the co-founder of Windy City Times ( WCT ) newspaper, has died, according to his brother Dan, who reported the news to Chicago Reader media critic Michael Miner.
McCourt, 51, actually died March 26 in Chicago. He had removed himself from much of the gay community after selling Windy City Times to one of the paper's original co-founders, Tracy Baim, in 2000. Baim is still publisher of Windy City Times.
Windy City Times was co-founded in September 1985 by McCourt; Baim; McCourt's partner, Bob Bearden; and Drew Badanish. The group originally planned to purchase GayLife newspaper from community activist Chuck Renslow, but McCourt backed out of that deal in favor of starting fresh with a new weekly gay newspaper. The ownership was split between McCourt, Bearden and Badanish; McCourt eventually inherited Bearden's shares and bought out Badanish.
McCourt had been in the financial world prior to joining Bearden in the newspaper business. Bearden had been sales manager at GayLife, Badanish was art director and Baim was managing editor. McCourt's interest in newspapers started from the business side, but he also wrote gossip and entertainment under the name Mimi O'Shea.
Bearden died of AIDS complications in early 1987 and, at the time, McCourt, the paper's publisher, considered getting out of the newspaper business.
But after Baim left in May 1987 to start Outlines newspaper, taking most of the WCT staff with her, McCourt seemed reinvigorated for a newspaper battle and he became more involved in community politics and entertainment issues. He was controversial and some said too biased in his coverage of the community, while others gave him kudos for attacking controversies within gay organizations.
After McCourt survived another coup in 1999, he and Baim reconnected. After a year-long battle amongst three weekly gay newspapers, McCourt was forced to close his paper—but Baim offered to buy the name immediately and was able to get it operational within a few weeks, merging Outlines into Windy City Times in the fall of 2000. The sale helped McCourt avoid staying in debt to numerous creditors.
After that sale, McCourt, whose health had deteriorated after years of living with AIDS, lived mostly in care facilities and rarely went out in public.
Longtime local activist Lori Cannon told Windy City Times that McCourt was controversial but that he did some positive things as well. 'Despite being dysfunctional, he did give a home to the wonderful columnist Jon-Henri Damski,' she said. 'He also gave a home to the visionary and timeless political cartoonist Daniel Sotomayor. Say what you will about the self-destruction of a once-great publisher; he was clever enough to provide space for two of my friends.'
McCourt's brother, Dan, also weighed in, responding to Windy City Times' questions by e-mail. When asked what Jeff was like growing up, he said that his sibling was 'extremely fun, creative, energetic ... trying everything.' However, he added that a number of factors may have changed Jeff over the course of his life: 'Yes, later, perhaps the result of being too trusting and experiencing many bitter things, like discrimination ( the anti-gay jokes while trading in Chicago ) , the death of his lover, the bitterness of the newspaper 'wars,' ... and the ravages of AIDS on his brain, he may have become the person many are saying he was.'
Miner reported that Dan, sister Diane and another brother will scatter their sibling's ashes at his birthplace in upstate New York and in Chicago.
Also see Tracy Baim's reflections about Jeff McCourt on page 10.