Daniel L. Feldman

A statewide campaign – upstate petitions

In New York State Politics on March 26, 2011 at 2:48 pm

A few months after the end of Norman Adler’s very brief effort to run for the Assembly in the Bronx, one of my fellow Urban Fellows, John Meininger, from Colorado, ask me to join with him in taking another leave of absence, this time to help Robert Morgenthau compete for the Democratic nomination for governor of New York.

Bob Morgenthau had just resigned as Lindsay’s Deputy Mayor for Criminal Justice in order to make the run. A scion of a very prominent Jewish American family (his grandfather was Woodrow Wilson’s ambassador to Turkey; his father was FDR’s Secretary of the Treasury), JFK had appointed him U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, the most prestigious such office in the nation. He resigned to run for governor against Nelson Rockefeller in 1962. Unsurprisingly, he lost decisively against that masterful politician, with 44 percent of the vote against Rockefeller’s 53 percent; but having done his duty in carrying the flag for the Democrats, was reappointed U.S. Attorney, where he built a sterling reputation as a prosecutor until the Nixon Administration forced him out of that office in late 1969.

I didn’t know Morgenthau, but I knew his excellent reputation and I liked and trusted John Meininger, so I signed on. Morgenthau’s former assistants in the U.S. Attorney’s Office idolized him. Many helped in the campaign. Three of those brilliant attorneys – and that they were —  played more central roles, especially memorably because their names made them sound like they came out of a World War II movie or a New York City mayoral ticket: Rooney, Galvani, and Abramowitz. I lost track of Paul Galvani, but I stayed in close touch with Paul Rooney for many years and reestablished my friendship with Elkan Abramowitz when we became neighbors in Port Washington.

The campaign told Meininger and me that we were responsible for “upstate petitions.”  A candidate who gets at least 25 percent of the vote at a meeting of the Democratic State Committee, which consists of one “committeeman” and one “committeewoman” from each Assembly District in the State, automatically gets on the ballot in the Democratic primary as a candidate for the Democratic nomination. But Arthur Goldberg was the choice of the Democratic party leaders that year, and Howard Samuels, another candidate, looked like he might pick up convention votes that Goldberg missed, so Morgenthau assumed correctly that he could not count on getting on the ballot by that route.

However, the party rules offered another way. A candidate who could collect 15,000 valid petition signatures from Democrats could also get on the ballot, but there was a “catch”: at least fifty of the State’s 62 counties had to be represented by at least one hundred valid signatures each.  Many of New York’s counties had – and have still – very few people. Thirty-three of those counties have fewer than 100,000 people today, and probably fewer then.  Especially at that time, counties of that nature had VERY few Democrats.

John and I were upstate for about three weeks. We drove hundreds and hundreds of miles west through the counties of Montgomery, Herkimer, Otsego, Madison, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca, Wayne, Ontario, Livingston, Genesee and Wyoming, stopping in every small town where our registration lists showed clumps of Democrats. By the time we were halfway through, the locals stopped asking if I came from New York City. Without any effort on my part at all, hearing their regional accents day in and day out had transformed my normal New York City speech pattern into something that beseeched each citizen who answered our doorbell knock with something like “Excuse me sir, are you a rigistered Dimocrat in this canty?”





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