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Mark Silva, longtime newsman in Tallahassee and D.C., dies at age 63

Mark Silva

Mark Silva, longtime Tallahassee bureau chief for the Miami Herald who went on to cover the White House for the Chicago Tribune, died early Tuesday at his home in Alexandria, Virginia. He was 63 and recently diagnosed with a brain tumor.

Silva led the Herald’s capital bureau from the mid-1980s through the 1990s and became the paper’s political editor through the 2000 presidential election, a contest decided only after a pivotal Florida recount that brought the state global fame.

He joined the Orlando Sentinel as political editor in 2001, moving to Washington three years later to cover the George W. Bush White House. Later, he was an editor with Bloomberg News and most recently an editor with U.S. News & World Report, where he led a team examining politics and policies in the 50 states at the organization’s Best States project.

Silva leaves his wife of 33-years, Nina, and two children, Dylan and Lisa and a grandson, Noah.

Silva was a force in Tallahassee during a newspaper heyday when Florida dailies maintained robust capital bureaus that competed fiercely over every inch of political, legislative and policy territory. Silva was rarely beaten — and he often beat others.

With a relentless work ethic and a passion for collecting news tips from lobbyists drinking “see-through” at Clydes, Silva could power out a steady stream of dailies and weekenders. He also could turn a phrase.

One of the first reporters to carry a bulky, brick cellphone at the Capitol, Silva was around long enough for cellphones to shrink in size but expand in capability. Noting the change, Silva once wrote for the Herald that “cellphones were one of the few things male lobbyists bragged about who had the smallest.”

Few knew more than Silva about Florida’s politics and the personalities it attracted. As a political reporter, he scoured the state, clocking miles as a tireless traveler from his Tallahassee base, always willing to share a tale or offer advice to younger reporters.

Working for the Orlando Sentinel 16 years ago, Silva was assigned early morning media “pool duty” during a President Bush visit to a second-grade classroom in Sarasota. On that Sept. 11 morning, Silva was a witness to the president reading “The Pet Goat” to school children, then being told that terrorist-commandeered aircraft had struck New York’s World Trade Center.

When he moved to Washington, Silva was among the first to write a well-regarded must-read political blog. He traveled the globe with the president and first lady Laura Bush, including a four-country Africa trip that crossed the equator twice and more than 40 countries logged in his passport.

Along the way, he made friends and earned admirers, even among those he covered with a relentless search for truth.

“He was always straight, fair and even-tempered,’’ said Jim Scott, former Florida Senate president from Fort Lauderdale. “He was a great guy.”

Silva described himself in his Twitter account, @NewsmanSilva, as a “Wayward Floridian, Devout Bluesman.” He had a passion for guitar, a talent for writing, a devotion to his family and a determination to see all things clearly.

He was the author of two books, “When We’re 64: Reflections on the Real World,” a memoir that he described as “a collection of essays about rediscovering the natural world after a life devoted to the working world,” and “McCain: The Essential Guide to the Republican Nominee,” with the Tribune staff.

James Warren of the Poynter Institute included the news in his morning newsletter on Tuesday.

“Mark Silva was as smart, decent and collegial a reporter-editor as you’ll ever find,’’ he wrote. “Out of the blue, he was diagnosed recently with several bad brain tumors, fought valiantly and passed away at 3:30 a.m. at home in Virginia with his family. They don’t come any better.”

-- Mary Ellen Klas with John Kennedy

Photo above: Mark Silva, outside the Miami Herald's former building. Courtesy of Mark Silva.

Photo below: At Silva's farewell from Tallahassee party at Clydes. Courtesy of Steve BousquetSilva farewell at Clydes

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