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On a warm Friday afternoon in October, Luis Ferré-Sadurní, who covers New York State politics for The New York Times, scanned the faces of a crowd at a beachfront resort in Puerto Rico. He had hoped to spot Robert Menendez, the New Jersey senator who had been indicted on federal bribery charges — and who was, nevertheless, holding his annual fund-raiser at the hotel.
Donors at the fund-raiser were scarce, Mr. Ferré-Sadurní later reported in an article. Mr. Menendez’s political implosion was evident from the empty seats and leftover shrimp cocktail. The senator never showed up.
Three days later, while on his flight home to New York, Mr. Ferré-Sadurní learned that Gov. Kathy Hochul of New York was planning to visit Israel on a “solidarity mission.” The impromptu trip would begin just over a week after the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas. Mr. Ferré-Sadurní managed to join Ms. Hochul on her flight to Tel Aviv less than 24 hours later.
It was an atypical week for Mr. Ferré-Sadurní; travel for him normally involves Amtrak rides between New York City and Albany. “If I travel, it’s usually to cover elections elsewhere in the state or to follow the governor when they travel out of the state,” he said in a recent conversation. “This was the governor’s first trip abroad after being elected last year. And it was to a place that matters to a large constituency of New Yorkers.”
Here, Mr. Ferré-Sadurní discusses his time reporting from two very different settings — a beachfront resort and a war zone — and how he decompressed afterward. This interview has been edited and condensed.
How did the Puerto Rico trip materialize?
In September, I was asked to help cover the fallout from the corruption scandal involving Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey. I put aside my Albany reporting duties to work with my Metro colleagues Tracey Tully and Nicholas Fandos. We had heard that Mr. Menendez was still planning to go through with his annual fund-raiser, despite all the political turmoil he was in and the calls for his resignation. I’m from Puerto Rico, so we decided that it would make sense for me to fly there, report on the fund-raiser and see who, if anyone, would show up.
How did you get access to the fund-raiser?
I talked to some local connections on the island to gain access to the members-only resort in Dorado Beach, where the fund-raiser was being held. Once I was there, I blended in as a hotel guest, sometimes in swimming trunks, and roamed the beach and hotel areas hoping to spot the senator. I also obtained an internal email with a schedule of the events for the weekend, so I had some visibility into the inner workings of the fund-raiser and how it was collapsing in real time.
I tried to be discreet. During the opening reception, I picked a spot by a palm tree near the beach a few yards away from the reception, which overlooked the beach. I sat there for about three hours. As guests came in and out, I tried to identify who they were. Only about a dozen people showed up.
When did you learn of Governor Hochul’s plans to visit Israel?
While I was flying back to New York, I got an email from the governor’s team indicating that she was flying to Israel. I asked the press secretary if there was any space for a reporter on the trip, even though it was happening in the next 24 hours.
To my surprise, he said they could try to make space for a reporter. I jumped at the opportunity. I thought it would be an especially important moment for The Times to follow the governor during one of the most contentious moments in the Middle East and see how she navigated that situation. By the time I landed in New York, I was confirmed.
Were you given any kind of parameters about your interactions with Governor Hochul?
I was not given any guidelines. I got to hang out with the governor at a terminal at Kennedy Airport before our flight. I got to interview her on the record without any restrictions on what I could ask. Throughout the trip, I was able to roam freely and ask questions and get her perspective on what she was seeing and observing, along with a photographer, Baz Ratner.
Her father died of a brain hemorrhage while she was abroad. Did she open up about that news?
She was very upfront and candid with me about the delicate condition her father was in, which was surprising. When we landed in Tel Aviv, I asked her how her flight had gone, and she said, Well, I found out my father suffered a brain hemorrhage and is on a ventilator and he’s not going to make it. I think I was one of the first people she told.
I offered my condolences, and I obviously had my journalistic hat on. I was very aware that she was going to meet with grieving families while also going through a very human moment herself. The following day I learned that her father had passed away overnight. When I saw her for the first time that day at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, she was huddled with her staff, who were offering their condolences.
What was your experience like in Israel?
We visited a couple of hotels that housed displaced families from communities along the Gaza border that were attacked. We got to talk to families who had been directly affected by the attacks and were still reeling from that trauma. We visited the Western Wall, one of the holiest Jewish sites, and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, one of the holiest Christian sites. The governor is Catholic and insisted on going to the church, even though it was not on the schedule.
The most revealing part of the trip was a visit south to a kibbutz called Kfar Azza, which is about a mile and a half from the Gaza border. We traveled in armored vehicles and were outfitted in green body vests and bulletproof helmets; we could see the smoke from explosions on the horizon from where Israeli airstrikes were hitting Gaza. Once we got to the kibbutz, we were given a tour by Israeli military officials. It was a very eerie, dreadful sight. The trip was filled with a lot of new sensory experiences for me, which are common for some of my colleagues who report from the front lines of wars.
How did you decompress after your trip?
I spent about 30 hours in Israel. I realized afterward that I had only slept about three hours during the trip. So the first thing I did when I got back to my apartment in Brooklyn was go to sleep for a very long time. It hit me that I was deeply shaken by what I saw when I went to my regular bagel place for breakfast.
I was sitting there, watching people go about their day when, 12 hours earlier, I had been on the edge of a war zone. It felt incredibly jarring and uncomfortable in many ways because of how quickly it happened. I processed it by talking about it with my dad, who is also a journalist. I returned to my job with an even greater appreciation for the work that we do.