Daniel L. Feldman

Gutterson for Assembly?; Confident Margules

In New York State Politics on September 2, 2011 at 11:21 am

With the regular Democratic club in the district backing me, getting enough petition signatures did not pose a problem. The top captains, Pat Singer in Brighton Beach, Doc Weisbrodt on Ocean Avenue, Pearl Flamhaft in Manhattan Beach, could pull in hundreds of signatures each, but dozens of regular captains, like Maxie Rubinstein of the Avenue Z Jewish Center, Jerry O’Shea of Flatbush Tenants Council, or John Nikas at Community Board 15, would each bring in substantial numbers as well.

With Max Sultan, Young Israel of Midwood, and Midwood Development Corporation behind him, Margules would have no problem getting signatures either. Suddenly, though, we saw a new face on the scene, with petitions to back him up. The face also happened to be young and quite attractive. Scott Gutterson, a very recent graduate of George Washington University, scared me into thinking he might be an even younger (and better looking) version of me in my City Council races. In a race with no incumbent, a very fresh face might win. I rather doubted that, given my reasonably strong support from community leaders, but if not, he might take more votes from me than from Margules, giving the race to Margules.

Gutterson’s campaign did resemble my City Council races in that he enlisted a loyal cadre of enthusiastic young supporters, including Howard Graubard, whom I would come to know as a capable political operative (and much later, by coincidence, as a very good law student). Like my old City Council campaign team, Gutterson’s team also collected a respectable number of petition signatures. I surprised my own campaign team, then, by my consistently friendly and encouraging attitude toward Gutterson. In fact, my instinct was to like him, in contrast to Margules, whose aggressive and pushy qualities prevented me from having the same feelings towards him. My instincts coincided with the strategy in back of my mind: we wanted Gutterson off the ballot, and better yet, hoped to get his support.

We probably would not be able to invalidate enough of his petition signatures to get him out that way. But after sharing a post-subway stop breakfast with him one morning, joined by Linda Brochstein and Gutterson’s campaign assistant, I had noticed that his car still had Virginia license plates, doubtless based on his residence while at college. When Larry Pinkoff debriefed me on the breakfast, he took in this information and used it extremely effectively. After unearthing further evidence that Gutterson’s primary residence remained in Virginia, Pinkoff explained to Gutterson that instead of challenging the validity of the signatures, we would challenge his candidacy on the grounds that he did not meet the residence requirement (a candidate must have lived in the district for a year prior to the election to qualify, except in an election immediately after a reapportionment, which this was not.)  But we would also assert that Gutterson had defrauded voters into signing his petitions by falsely claiming as his own his parents’ residence in Brooklyn. This would not only remove Gutterson from the ballot, it would at least embarrass him, if not expose him to criminal charges. Larry’s ploy succeeded completely. Gutterson left the race, and a few days later, endorsed me. With his endorsement came his mailing lists and several of his volunteers, including Graubard.

Yet another candidate submitted enough signatures to get on the ballot, an attorney closer to my advanced age of 31, Bill Rothman. Lacking Gutterson’s charisma or my community support, however, Rothman’s candidacy worried me less.

But Margules remained a big worry. In a district in which tenants constituted a majority of voters, you might expect a landlord like Margules to have a problem. But Ruben confidently explained to tenant groups that as a businessman who had to please his customers, he knew better than I what tenants needed and how to represent them in Albany. His self-confidence carried him far. My mother would have had interesting things to say about him, had she still been alive. At least two Yiddish expressions would have come up: grubber yung (loosely, “young grabber”; an unrefined person); proste Yid (a Jew of the lower sort). She would have noted, as well, that he had “self-confidence he hasn’t [even] used yet,” or that he “knows more about everything than I know about anything,” the latter, of course, meant with considerable sarcasm.

A fire had destroyed the torah scrolls belonging to a small synagogue in Brighton Beach. The Jewish War Veterans raised money to buy the congregation a new Torah. They arranged for a mile-long march, with the Torah, from their JWV post to the synagogue. Margules jumped back and forth, greeting people at the front of the parade, the sides, everywhere, pushing in front of me and everyone else as he felt necessary. I marched with my good JWV friends — probably Eddie Schwimmer, Doc Weisbrodt, Irwin Beck. While I tried to campaign at the same time, I could not ignore my friends, so I explained to them that I could not campaign as aggressively as Margules: it just wasn’t in my personality. They kept repeating, “Don’t worry.” I thought to myself that as kind and well-intentioned as they were, it was me who would be going down to defeat again, not them, and I could not help but worry.

Finally, we came within a hundred yards of the synagogue. The JWV leader halted the parade. He said “Feldman, come here.” He placed the Torah in my arms. Now the press corps arrived. As I marched the Torah to the synagogue, the cameras clicked away. My JWV friends had indeed taken good care of my political interests.

But the real turning point came a few weeks later. Margules had distributed leaflets claiming that I was in the pay of the oil companies, that I still lived with my mother in Queens (especially vicious considering that she had passed away some years earlier), and various other total fabrications. I had no idea whether my less sophisticated constituents might believe these lies.

Someone loosely affiliated with my campaign (I am still protecting his identity!) worked at a real estate organization. There he had access to computer records listing the housing violations charged against each landlord in the City, broken down by the individual buildings the landlord owned. Margules had a long list: rats, roaches, falling ceilings – pages and pages worth.

Our campaign simply copied a representative page, marked it on the bottom “paid for by Friends of Dan Feldman,” the campaign account, and distributed it under the door of every apartment building in the district.

The next day, Herb Lupka happened to be leafleting at the same subway stop as Margules, although at a different entrance. As the two arrived at the same time, Margules said to Lupka, “You just watch this. They love me!” (I rely here on Lupka’s rendition of the tale.) The first voter approaches Margules, glances briefly at the leaflet, tears it in half, and stamps on it before departing. The second voter approaches. Margules, undaunted, announces “I’m Ruben Margules, candidate for Assembly.” The voter responds: “Margules? The landlord? Feh! Ptooey!,” spitting on the ground. Lupka went on at some length, but that’s all that I can remember.

 

 

 

 

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