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08.16.2013
Obit> Jason Sheftell, 1967-2013
Joey Arak salutes the revered New York Daily News real-state journalist.
Jason Sheftell.
Courtesy NY Daily News

Luxury fatigue is not a medical condition you’ll find in any scientific text, but New York City is the creator of its own unique psychoses. And for journalists who have dedicated years to chronicling the ups and downs (but mostly ups) of Big Apple real estate, luxury fatigue can be a stifling ailment. When so much architecture, development, and design activity in a city caters to such a small, hugely wealthy segment of the population, how do you make the audience care again and again?

Jason Sheftell had a simple cure: First, try caring yourself. And Jason, who filed over 800 stories for the New York Daily News after joining the paper in 2007, cared a heck of a lot—about luxury condominiums, affordable housing, architecture, interior design, celebrities, old ladies on the corner, boutique hotels, broken-down squats, the evolution of New York City’s neighborhoods, and any place where a sweaty guy in a hardhat could be seen moving a pile of dirt with heavy machinery.

It was his boundless passion and energy—he was known for swooping in like a tornado, sometimes with hair to match, and challenging land speed records for words said per minute—that made Jason such a trip to interact with and such fun to read. And it’s the absence of that passion and energy that comes as such a shock and a bummer to anyone who knew Jason personally or through his byline.

Raised in Stamford, Connecticut, but a neurotic New Yorker down to his very core, Jason (as reporter and editor) made the real estate beat at the Daily News his own personal playground, somehow managing to capture the seriousness, silliness, and sport of it all, sometimes within the same story. He treated every story like it was his last and poured himself into the subject matter, obsessing over every detail, whether it was a scoop about Cameron Diaz buying a loft in Chelsea or a look at a new batch of Section 8 townhouses in East New York. All stories were equal to Jason, and demanded his full attention. Once Jason was touring a new luxury condominium development in NoHo, and while most people ooh-ed and ahh-ed over the hand-laid brick facade, 11-foot-tall floor-to-ceiling windows, and wide-plank white-oak flooring, Jason spent 15 minutes intensely questioning the developer about the color of the mortar. That was Jason: The little things mattered, and people loved him for that enthusiasm.

For the casual Daily News reader it must have been odd to flip open New York’s biggest tabloid—the fifth-largest newspaper in America—and see multiple pages dedicated to topics like Annabelle Selldorf, modular construction, and gentrification around the Lincoln Tunnel entrance (a micro-neighborhood he hilariously dubbed “The Linc”). But Jason made his beat so him, and his prose exploded with his personality. On the opening of the Louis Kahn-designed Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial on Roosevelt Island, he wrote, “You’ll think, smile, and gasp. Maybe cry. You’ll be glad you live in this city and country. You’ll behold the power of the presidency, the prominence of the United States, and the triumph of democracy in the modern age.” If one person read that and was inspired to go out and experience Kahn’s FDR memorial (and how could that not be the case?), that was Jason’s only goal.

Jason often threatened to move to Brooklyn, but we all knew he’d never cast off the golden handcuffs of his rent-stabilized West Village apartment. It was there he passed away in June at the too-early age of 46, filled with an inspiring amount of love and appreciation for his family, friends, and the city he so well captured in print.

Joey Arak

Joey Arak, the former editor of Curbed New York, is currently the Vice President of M18 Public Relations.