- The Washington Times - Monday, November 15, 2004

New York Times columnist William Safire will write his final column on Jan. 24, the newspaper announced yesterday.

Mr. Safire has written the twice-weekly op-ed column for more than three decades, winning a Pulitzer Prize in 1978 for his robust, acerbic commentary with decidedly conservative underpinnings.

He’s not in mourning, however.

“This is definitely a celebratory moment, an opportunity to move on to another career,” Mr. Safire said yesterday, explaining that he has a new calling as chairman and chief executive officer of the Dana Foundation, a Manhattan-based philanthropy that funds brain research and neuroscience.

Neither will he disappear entirely from the pages of the newspaper. He will continue to write On Language for the Times’ Sunday magazine, parsing the trials and tribulations of the English language in the press and elsewhere — as he has done for the past 25 years.

“Although Mr. Hyde will close up shop, Dr. Jekyll will carry on,” Mr. Safire said.

Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr., publisher of the New York Times, said life at his paper was “unimaginable” without Mr. Safire, who is 74.

“His column became a critical and enjoyable part of the day. … Whether you agreed with him or not was never the point. His writing is delightful, informed and engaging.”

Once a speechwriter for President Nixon and the author of 28 books, Mr. Safire has been called a “contrarian conservative” and he staunchly defended Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld — leading his Times colleague, columnist Maureen Dowd, to call him one of the “Rummy people.” But he was critical of certain aspects of the Patriot Act.

Mr. Safire had long been known for crafting loaded, pithy language that defined cultural moments. It was he, as a White House speechwriter, who wrote the phrase “nattering nabobs of negativism” for Vice President Spiro Agnew at the height of the Watergate era.

His retirement has been in the works for about 18 months, said Catherine Mathis, a spokeswoman for the Times. She added that she fielded calls from many reporters yesterday.

Who will take Mr. Safire’s place shoes remains a mystery.

“I’m taking my clodhoppers with me,” Mr. Safire said. “And the paper still has David Brooks,” referring to the op-ed page’s other conservative columnist, who worked at The Washington Times in the 1980s. He joined the New York Times last year.

“But I won’t be surprised if they add another conservative columnist,” Mr. Safire said. “I am a libertarian conservative, which is just a small piece of the whole spectrum these days. As conservatism becomes more dominant in the political culture, it will develop more variations — which is as it should be.” He cited Wesley Pruden, the editor in chief of The Washington Times, as “a good example of a conservative who is not stamped out with a cookie cutter.

“We’ll watch the neocons, the social conservatives, the fiscal conservatives — they don’t agree on everything, and that’s great. The Democrats do the same thing. They just don’t have as much fun.”

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