On an icy Wednesday morning last month, after her 17-year-old son had left for school, Marilyn Carter steeled herself for a very public outing with her husband. She smoothed on an elegant black suit, chose a pair of knee-length boots with a significant heel, and applied a perfect crimson to her lips.
Her husband took a hot shower. Later he would tell her he had wept there. On some days he worries his tears will never stop. “I thought about giving you guys all the money I have left, and I thought about moving to Jackson Hole and getting a job at their supermarket,” he would say melodramatically. “Part of me, even when I was on the top, wanted a life where nobody would know who I was.”
When he was on top, he was Dominic Carter, the boxy political anchor for NY1 and longtime host of the cable news program Inside City Hall. He is one of the city’s most prominent African-American journalists and a well-liked political interpreter of the New York City scene, often called upon to explain New York’s power elite to Chris Matthews or Charlie Rose.
But Carter’s world imploded spectacularly last fall after the New York Post discovered he was standing trial in an upstate courtroom on charges of spousal assault. Every move he has made since then has seemed intentionally wrongheaded—as though he were determined to destroy the Dominic Carter we see on television. If so, it has worked. His station let him go. Except for a few court appearances, including his subsequent trial in November and sentencing last month for attempted assault, he has been, as he tells me, “in hiding.” He has not returned calls from former colleagues. He has kept largely to his house, an impressive colossus in Pomona, 40 minutes north of the city, except for the fifteen days he spent in jail (last week, he was released early, at the halfway mark of his sentence).
His wife of 25 years has remained tenaciously at his side. In fact, as odd as it sounds, she blames herself for his predicament. It was she who called 911 more than a year ago, with bruises and cuts on her face, throat, arm, and shins, then swore out a complaint against him. Those wounds have healed, and most days she’s forgiving. “It’s horrible to feel the way that I feel, to look at this man and say, ‘Oh my God, what happened here?’ This was not supposed to happen,” she tells me emphatically. “How do you live with yourself knowing that, had I not made that phone call, none of this would have happened?” But of course, there’s only one person to blame for her injuries and the legal problems that stem from them.
His career, it turns out, is as much her accomplishment as his. Marilyn has always played the role of Dominic’s mentor and therapist, the architect of his id. More than anybody else, she gave him the faith and courage to transcend his past—he grew up in the projects in the Bronx with a seriously disturbed mother—and become the geeky dean of the city’s political press corps, a Gabe Pressman for the new century. It’s a project she began when she was 25, climbing an academic ladder out of a rough stretch of Harlem, and he was still a teenager. Dominic has been a surrogate brother to her, helping ease the pain of having to watch as seven of her nine brothers died, most from heroin and AIDS. And for him, she has been a stalwart mother figure.
Despite everything, he remains her project now. This morning, she has insisted that Dominic attend the funeral of Percy Sutton, the pioneering civic leader and media powerhouse who died over the holidays. It would be a Who’s Who of the city’s ruling caste: governors and mayors, judges and attorneys general, Sharpton and Jackson, a massive alumni list from Dominic’s interview program. She wanted her husband to show his face with her at his side, a first step in the comeback.
Later that afternoon, they sit on opposing sofas in the family’s all-white living room, replaying the day. “It was hard,” Dominic admits. Part of him wishes they hadn’t gone at all—he wasn’t shunned, but the reception wasn’t especially warm.
“I wanted him to go,” Marilyn tells me. “He needed to know that there are people that are out there that still support him and love him. Everywhere we turned, it was ‘Dominic, we love you, we miss you, you’re going to be back.’ ”
He shakes his head. “See, my wife means well with what she just said. But she doesn’t understand.” Carter was not in denial on at least this point: that his career would not be easily salvaged, and that it had maybe never been what it seemed. “I’m almost embarrassed to admit that there have been times when I felt my success was something I shouldn’t have had,” he adds. “I was running so hard from my past that things fell into place over 25 years of a broadcasting career. And fell apart within a week.”