Daniel L. Feldman

Assembly primary race dramatis personae: community leaders, opponents, regulars and reformers

In NYC Politics on August 12, 2011 at 2:02 pm

Despite the psychological torment that Chuck had put me through, I still managed to build a decent foundation for my campaign. My work representing him had at least introduced me to many of the community leaders in the district. My work running Liz Holtzman’s office had given me considerable exposure to the northern parts of the Assembly District, because her congressional district included that area. The East Midwood Jewish Center, once one of the largest Jewish congregations in Brooklyn, included a number of community activists I had gotten to know. My uncle and aunt, to whose house I had moved, lived in Manhattan Beach, a mostly upper middle class community in the southern part of the district. I had joined the Manhattan Beach Jewish Center, whose congregants included most of the mostly-Jewish residents of Manhattan Beach, and had become friendly with many of them. My work representing Schumer had not been wasted; at least the various community group leaders knew who I was.

Also, despite the overall thrust of our interchange over the previous year, Schumer had given me some good advice. He had urged me to spend time at the Kings Highway Democratic club on Thursday nights, when the members of that regular Democratic club met. Some came to ask favors of Herb Lupka, the Assembly District (male) leader; sometimes Herb and Florence Snyder [this is an update: Howard Graubard pointed out that Florence used the same Snyder, not Campagna, most of the time], his female “co-leader,” gave the members campaign tasks like petition-gathering or polling-place work handing out leaflets; but most of the time the members treated the club as a social hall, and spent their time chatting with each other. This gave me an opportunity to get to know them. Many were somewhat simple-minded and well-intentioned drones or else untalented and sleazy political opportunists. For the most part, they were not people with whom I would voluntarily have associated, but I certainly could not have won their support had I not been willing to engage in friendly chats with them. I discovered, moreover, that a few of them were well worth knowing as people, independent of political considerations.

Schumer probably knew that the Club intended to support Harvey Fertig, a long-time member, close friends with many of the Club’s stalwarts. Sandy Singer, for example, the son of the revered rabbi of Manhattan Beach Jewish Center, bore little resemblance to his saintly father. Sandy, a Court Street criminal defense lawyer, usually had a cigar hanging out of his mouth, which did not get in the way of his loud, profane, and generally impertinent voice. But Sandy had a lot of influence in the Club, and was good friends with Harvey. The State Senator, Don Halperin, also knew Harvey for years and liked him. So Schumer may well have assumed that whatever I did, the Club would back Harvey. I did not know this, and had assumed that I had a fair shot at the Club’s support. But Harvey had gotten the inside word, and had already bought a large quantity of Chinese fortune cookies, for planned distribution, with “Harvey Fertig for Assembly” written on the fortune slips.

Harvey had encountered some discouragement, though. Courtesy of the Democratic organization, he worked as an attorney on the staff of the Counsel to the City Council. In that capacity he had gotten to know Walter Ward, my erstwhile opponent when I ran for City Council. When Harvey listed me among his opponents in the forthcoming Assembly race, Walter said, “Feldman’s in the race? Don’t run! He campaigns day and night! He never stops!” This story came to me second hand: a friend of Harvey’s repeated it to me, long after the election.

The most outstanding community leader I met was Pat Singer, the co-founder and head of the Brighton Neighborhood Association then and still, as of thirty years later. At that time, Pat commanded perhaps five hundred Democratic primary votes in Brighton Beach. A charismatic and fiery redhead with a flair for public relations, Pat organized tenants to fight rapacious landlords prior to the Russian “invasion” of Brighton Beach, and after, but between delays in acquiring citizenship and registering to vote, and less tendency to register Democratic, her command of voting strength diminished in later years. At that time, though, the Club depended on Pat as one of their great “captains.”

Not the regular club but the reform clubs provided my natural constituency. The 45th Assembly District had two: Mid-Bay Reform Democratic Club and and Roosevelt-Kingborough Independent Democrats (RKID) [Graubard reminded me that the “K” stood for Kingsborough, not “Kings”]. (Milton Goldner, a kind but very eccentric active reformer, seems to have initiated the split from Mid-Bay that created RKID on the basis of some personal beef with Steve Solarz years earlier, which Goldner translated into political differences.) While Gene Krauss, a potential competitor, had much more seniority as a member of Mid-Bay, much the larger of the two clubs, my Harvard pedigree, experience with Lowenstein, and work for Holtzman and Schumer gave me considerable credibility there. Milton and Betty Kletter, an older couple, deeply committed to honest and progressive politics, and Bernie Hirschorn, similarly inclined, a pharmaceutical products salesman of roughly my own age at the time (thirty-ish), strongly supported me. Krauss, a well-respected attorney who drafted bills for the Legislature, had considerable credibility as well, but if I was unassuming and unaggressive by political standards, Gene was unassuming and unaggressive by any standard. So the reform clubs – both – endorsed me.

Meanwhile, a disgruntled faction of the regular Club had split off, under the leadership of Max Sultan. Max was another legendary “captain.” While Pat was an attractive woman of about 35 or so, Max was a crusty if essentially good-hearted old-timer who had done favors for his neighbors for decades. About as many voters as Pat Singer commanded –five hundred or so — would vote the way Max advised, at the opposite end of the district, in an apartment building complex around Avenue L and Ocean Avenue. Max was angry at Herb, and now was trying to defeat him in a primary for district leader, because Herb had supported Marty Markowitz to succeed Jeremiah Bloom in the State Senate. Bloom, with — to use one of Herb’s favorite phrases — delusions of adequacy, had challenged Hugh Carey in the 1978 gubernatorial primary instead of running for reelection to the seat he had held since 1958. Max, closely allied with the Blooms (Jeremiah’s brother, Bernard Bloom, who had been a Democratic district leader, served as Brooklyn’s Surrogate Court’s Judge from 1977 to 1998), supported Howard Silverman, part of the Bloom coterie, as the heir apparent. Lupka’s political instincts were better: Markowitz won. [This update also owes to Howard Graubard, who remembered why Max was angry with Herb.]

But Max, deeply miffed, was now running against Herb on a ticket with another Assembly candidate, Ruben Margules. Margules had lots of money, as he owned many apartment buildings. He brought with him the support of the Midwood Development Corporation, a community group that sponsored anti-crime neighborhood car patrols and other civic services, to which Margules had given time and money. As an orthodox Jew, he also brought the support of Young Israel of Midwood, the Modern Orthodox synagogue on Ocean Avenue and Avenue M to which he belonged, and would probably draw from the newly but rapidly increasingly Orthodox Jewish population elsewhere in the district.

When the executive committee of the regular Club – about a dozen of the best captains and influential members – met to make official their support of Harvey, Lupka got a surprise. Pat Singer announced that whatever the Club did, she would be supporting me. Pat reacts viscerally, and her instincts told her that I would be better for her constituency and for the State. The others had been prepared to rubber-stamp Herb’s selection of Harvey.  It is not a bad policy to reward club members, like Harvey, who have “paid their dues” with many years of loyal service. But it is also a good policy to win elections, and the realization grew among the members that Harvey would not beat Ruben, and certainly not with me in the race. Harvey too obviously epitomized the plodding, unexciting club wheelhorse. A nice guy, but no campaign of his was going to catch fire. Margules, a Harvard Business School graduate, had self-confidence to spare, with a pushy aggressiveness that in some ways resembled Schumer’s, although he was far less deft. The executive committee saw Margules as formidable. If I could win Pat’s confidence, perhaps I was the candidate that could beat Margules. Lupka’s own leadership was on the line, so he too wanted an ally that would improve his odds of victory. At least I would bring with me the reform clubs, who might still muster about ten to fifteen percent of the primary vote.

All of a sudden, I was the candidate of the regular Democratic party organization, as well as the reform candidate.

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  1. The historical record of events that occurred more than 30 years ago needs correction. The author makes it appear that he defeated me for the Mid-Bay reform club endorsement because of what he portrays as his superior credentials and my lack of aggressiveness. The truth of what occurred is that the Primary Election was to be held in September 1980 and on and after April 18, 1980 I withdrew as a potential candidate due to my mother experiencing more than three major episodes of heart failure needing my full time attention. The author appears to have forgotten that in April 1980 I met with him and informed him of this fact and of my withdrawal as a “potential” candidate and that I wished him well in the race. The endorsement vote was held in June 1980 — two months after I was no longer a potential candidate. There was never any question of the author receiving the reform club endorsement after I withdrew in April. He was the ONLY candidate proposed for endorsement. In fact at the endorsement meeting I spoke in his favor. This is the thanks I get for doing so and for later expertly serving the author as his Bill Drafter for many years after he was elected. Thus he has done to me the same thing he accuses Mr. Schumer of doing to him. Both prior to and after April 18, 1980 there was no reason for me to be “aggressive” for an election to be held months later in September. Moreover, why would Charles E. Schumer allow me to represent him at community meetings if he found me to be shy, “unassuming”, and lacking aggressiveness???Have you ever heard of a non-aggressive attorney? The author clearly appears to have colored the facts to make him appear superior to others. Look at his writing style. Why is it necessary for him in his work to put other people down repeatedly in order to elevate himself? And why didn’t he check the facts with all those he names in his work before publishing his self-aggrandizing puff piece? After all, 30 years later at the time of publication many of these people he describes as encountering in his campaign have long ceased being public actors (if they ever were) but they do have private lives and reputations. There are few if any footnotes supporting the author’s description of the facts. In my opinion, this work is far from being a scholarly and objective re-telling of historical events and facts. The author’s preferences and biases are evident for all to see including by those who participated in and witnessed what really occurred.

    • I always liked Gene Krauss, and still do, despite his response to my post. I assume his recollection of the events in question is superior to mine. He should understand, however, that “this work” never purported to be “a scholarly and objective re-telling of historical events and facts,” but — as my approval of his comment for inclusion indicates — my own recollections and views, open to correction by readers.

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