Daniel L. Feldman

Becoming a candidate

In NYC Politics on May 28, 2011 at 6:30 pm

As we celebrated Holtzman’s victory, bad news came in from the Lowenstein campaign. Rooney had apparently prevailed, but Lowenstein’s poll watchers noticed enough cheating at the polls to warrant a recount. For example, the regular organization managed to deliver broken voting machines only to neighborhoods where Lowenstein was running ahead of Rooney. Also in the strongly pro-Lowenstein neighborhoods, an extraordinary number of “buff cards” went missing: these were the cards the voter had to sign each year identifying him or her as the registered voter in question. The “irregularities” accounted for more votes than Rooney’s narrow margin of victory, so Lowenstein’s lawyers won their court battle to have a re-run in September. This time I went to help Al. But regulars have almost always been much better than reformers at getting voters to the polls in special elections for local office, when no national or citywide races are on the ballot. With less than two weeks between the court decision and the special election, the Lowenstein forces could not overcome the superior organization of the regular, enhanced by Rooney’s strong support from organized labor. In the re-run, Rooney beat Lowenstein decisively.

During the summer, I had continued to work for McGovern in Queens. Somehow I managed to get moderately prominent civic leaders from communities across the borough of Queens to put their names on the letterhead of “People for a Better Queens.” I created this not-very-eloquently-named organization as a supplement to the weak effort the Democratic organization was putting out for its presidential candidate. Matthew Troy, then the Democratic county leader of Queens (we encountered him earlier as the City Council member who personally climbed the roof to raise the flag Lindsay had lowered on Vietnam Moratorium Day) lied to me personally when I pressed him to make serious efforts for McGovern. He promised to do so and almost completely reneged on his promise. I later learned that I should be no means have felt honored or singled out by this treatment: he lied to everyone.

I wanted McGovern to win, but I also had a selfish motive. I intended to use People for a Better Queens as the foundation for my own City Council race the following year. When I went back to law school for the fall semester of my third year, Arthur Kokot, my good friend and classmate (from college as well as law school), engaged in a primeval version of distance learning, managing his third-year law school classes at Harvard while spending much of his time protecting my political interests in Queens.

Step back for a picture of “politician” Dan Feldman at this time. I had gone to a fine elementary school, P.S. 114, where we were given the New York Times to read every morning, and were required to write letters to the editor in response to political issues of the day. I still remember reading about the abuse of black citizens in the South, feeling a wave a fury rising from my stomach, and swearing that I would do something about injustices like that – personally. Somehow, I thought that only by winning elections could I assure myself that power.

I was painfully – excruciatingly — shy. Still, I had a burning desire to become a politician. When started junior high school, I noticed that while I took the bus every morning, a nice classmate who lived across the street got a lift in from his father. I told my mother that I wished I could ride in with him. She said, “so why don’t you ask him?” I demurred – “I can’t do that!” She replied, “You want to be a politician? You’d BETTER learn to be able to ask people for things.” It took me three weeks to work up the courage. Of course he said yes.

I forced myself to make speeches. I was terrified, and terrible. When I was fourteen I earned my Eagle Scout rank. My synagogue asked me to make a speech to mark the occasion. I wrote and memorized what I planned to say. In front of the audience, I lost my place, and could not remember what came next. I truly wished for a hole in the floor to fall through. Somehow I managed to get off that stage, and slink to the seat next to my mother. She said, “You know, no one will ever forget that speech – it was so awful.”

I kept at it. I must have given a hundred speeches, all terrible. But if you do anything enough, you’ll eventually acquire some level of ability.

I made no secret of my intention to go into politics. All my friends told me that I could not be a successful politician: I was too honest. I have never been able to lie; I’m just no good at it. Also, I was not, and am not, especially diplomatic. So, I told them, I’d be an unsuccessful politician. I meant it.

But I didn’t do too badly as a student politician. I lost a race for class president to Fred Strober, an extremely nice guy, who was “popular” and good-looking, but I didn’t lose by much. By the time I got to college, my skills had improved. In my junior year, I became president of the Undergraduate Dormitory Council, at the time the only student government for Columbia College.

And of course, I must have learned something doing so much campaign work for others. But there is such a thing as a natural political personality. I didn’t have it. And now I was a candidate for New York City Council.

 

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