Daniel L. Feldman

Feldman for Assembly

In NYC Politics on August 26, 2011 at 1:25 pm

Although I had not announced my candidacy until June, I had hired my campaign manager a few months earlier. I do not remember how I first met Larry Pinkoff. A young man in his early twenties, obviously very bright, full of energy, he had grown up in Sheepshead Bay, although in the part that was in the next Assembly District to the east. Since Larry was still living with his parents, he could survive on the tiny amount I was able to pay him – something like fifty dollars a week.

Larry began making lists, finding volunteers, and locating a campaign headquarters. His girlfriend, Rita Gunther, an extremely intelligent Barnard student, soon became our first full-time volunteer. Larry had lots of ideas but was wildly disorganized. Rita brought order out of Larry’s chaos. Linda Brochstein, a very attractive young lady who was only about twenty, if that, the daughter of East Midwood Jewish Center acquaintances, volunteered to accompany me at subway stops, supermarkets, lobby meetings, and the various other campaign venues. Larry collected a few marginal characters as well. Most campaigns have at least one.

Linda Brochstein had never “done” a subway stop before. The 45th Assembly district included nine stops: Brighton Beach, Sheepshead Bay, Neck Road, Avenue U, Kings Highway, Avenue M, and Avenue J, all on the Brighton Line (in those days designated as the D train). Unlike the better-known Manhattan lines, which run underground, the Brighton Line runs on raised platforms above the ground; where it runs through the 45th, it runs entirely between East 15th Street and East 16th Street. Experienced candidates in New York City prefer the morning rush hour to the afternoon: some subway commuters, called “straphangers,” will grab your leaflet to read while riding the train to work, but very few will suffer any interruption when racing out of the train to get home. Also, the science of subway leafleting teaches candidates to maximize efficiency: if the stop has a location where you can intercept the straphangers before they split for various stairways up or down to the platforms, you occupy that spot. Some stations, though, have entirely separate entrances, so you need to allocate a different morning to each entrance.

The Kings Highway station, an express stop (as opposed to the more numerous “local” stops), requires three mornings. Its Quentin Avenue entrance, in addition to the regular walk-in traffic, gets busloads of commuters from Gerritsen Beach, also in the 45th, every few minutes. Linda showed personal courage on several occasions during the campaign. She didn’t hesitate to climb telephone poles to tear down opponents’ posters at two in the morning (the traditional time for such activities). She’d campaign for me right in Margules’ face on the street. But after a stoic two-hour stretch working the non-stop avalanche of commuters bearing down on us at the Quentin Avenue entrance, she admitted she had been scared: “It’s just like being in the middle of a cattle stampede!”

On another occasion, Sandy Singer decided to join me in working a subway stop, this time at Brighton Beach, where he would encounter some of his neighbors, because many Manhattan Beach residents used that stop. Loud-mouthed Sandy started out feeling in his element, shouting like a circus barker, “Step right up and say hello to Dan Feldman, your next Assemblyman!” But Sandy didn’t know that at best, perhaps a quarter of the commuters will actually stop to pay attention. A very small percentage makes nasty comments, but the vast majority shows no interest at all. Eventually he began to announce, “It’s no problem, folks. I just love being ignored. Just keep passing me by…”

Among the groups I had encountered while representing Schumer at meetings, I had “connected” best with the various Jewish War Veterans posts: Post #6, Fleishman-Horowitz in Brighton Beach; the Meyer Levin Post in Midwood; Post #2 in Sheepshead Bay. For some reason, perhaps because they saw my obvious gratitude for their service to our country, these men became my most fervent supporters. One former County Commander, Ed Schwimmer, led the way. Others quickly followed, including “Doc” Weisbrodt, a dentist, who also happened to be a key captain in the regular Democratic club. Doc’s hundreds of loyal political followers in the Ocean Avenue apartment buildings from Kings Highway down to Avenue W were almost as numerous as Pat Singer’s in Brighton Beach or Max Sultan’s on Avenue L.

We knew that the public announcement of my candidacy could be an opportunity to show strength and confidence, or a disaster showing neither. Dan Tubridy, my old friend from Broad Channel, helped me translate my experience running Holtzman’s office and working for Schumer into language that would show my overwhelming credentials and preparation for the job. As important, Larry and Rita helped me assemble enough family, friends, and Jewish War Veterans to assure an audience of perhaps fifty people. The announcement went well – and was no doubt a factor in winning me the regular Democratic club’s support a few weeks later.

But if Larry, Rita and I had any illusions that the club’s endorsement would assure our victory, Lupka quickly shattered them. “We can get you about thirty percent of the primary vote,” he said. “The rest is up to you.” Lupka really wasn’t going to leave it up to me, though, especially since his own reelection as district leader was tied to my success. The Midwood Development Corporation, unofficially but strongly backing Margules, my principal opponent, sponsored and organized the Midwood Mardi Gras, an annual street festival on Avenue M. The Margules campaign would be out in force, and Lupka warned me that if Margules overshadowed me, the consequent loss of confidence in my campaign could be devastating.  Since the Mardi Gras came at the end of June, a lot of voters would disappear for the summer thereafter with that event as their last impression before returning in September to vote in the primary.

Larry quickly arranged for the delivery of fifty “Feldman for Assembly” tee shirts. At the Mardi Gras, our troops occupied about twenty-five of the shirts. Armed with campaign flyers, we managed to outnumbered and overshadow the Margules forces by a small margin.

But Margules himself clearly out-campaigned me. I seemed to be incapable of greeting voters quickly enough to shake hands with ten a minute, as he did easily. A somewhat large and visible redhead with a loud voice, he made his presence obvious as he bulled his way through the crowd. I couldn’t stop myself from having real conversations with individual voters, although I generally kept each conversation under two minutes. Margules, then, would shake hands with, say, three hundred voters each hour, while I might meet one-third that number. (I didn’t have conversations with EVERY voter.)

Word filtered back to Tubridy that my subway-stop style also left something to be desired. Probably, Linda Brochstein had told Larry, who told Tubridy. After a typical long day of campaigning, I returned to our ramshackle office above a pizza parlor on Kings Highway one night to find Tubridy. After a brief exposition of my failure, he grabbed my head with both hands, pulled me within two inches of his own large and bearded face, and yelled “Smile, you p—k!” While we never really solved the conversation problem, from then on at least I smiled.

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