Daniel L. Feldman

The Democratic Assembly Member from the 45th A.D.

In NYC Politics on September 30, 2011 at 4:24 pm

Technically, I had won only the Democratic nomination for the Assembly seat. But even my Republican opponent knew better. As we campaigned at the same subway stop one morning, he did not bother to use a different entrance, but greeted voters with “Hi! I’m Barry Kaufman, the Republican candidate for Assembly, and here is Dan Feldman, your next Assemblyman.” I won the election with about 80 percent of the vote, as was normal for a Democratic in that part of Brooklyn. The last time a non-Democratic had been elected from the neighborhoods that now comprised the 45th Assembly District was 1937, and the district did not elect a Republican. Then designated the 2nd Assembly District, it elected Benjamin Brenner of the American Labor Party. He lost to a Democratic the next year, but in 1939 Mayor LaGuardia appointed him to a city judgeship.  So far as I can ascertain, Brenner was the only non-Democratic sent by that district (first designated as the 2d Assembly District in 1896) to the Assembly since 1923. From 1896 to 1905, John McKeown, a Democrat, was its Assembly member; in 1906, Patrick Donohue, Republican; 1907-1908, James Jacobs, Democrat; 1909-1916, William J. Gillen, a Democrat; 1917, Patrick Larney, Democrat; 1918, William H. Fitzgerald, Republican; 1919, Thomas J. Cox, Democrat; 1920-1921, James Mullen, Republican; 1922 Edmund H. Alexander, Republican; 1923, John Lucey, Democrat; 1924-1929, Murray Hearn, Democrat; 1930-1937, Albert D. Schanzer, Democrat; 1938, Brenner, American Labor Party, as noted; 1939-1944 Leo F. Rayfiel, Democrat; 1945-1955, J. Sidney Levine, Democrat; 1956-1962, Samuel Bonom, Democrat; 1963-1965, Noah Goldstein, Democrat. [An earlier version of this post included a few errors and some gaps in the information. Howard Graubard’s invaluable research remedied these deficiencies.]

The one-person one-vote decisions by the United States Supreme Court, in Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U.S. 633 (1964) had repercussions for New York State. The courts were dissatisfied with the reapportionment scheme the Legislature devised for the 1964 elections. They allowed those elections to go forward under that scheme, but required the Legislature to devise a new plan under which the State would be required to hold a special election only one year later. Thus, the district drawn for the 1964 elections would be represented for one year, 1965, and the new districts drawn for the 1965 special elections would be represented for the next year, 1966. What had been the 2d Assembly District for the most part became the 54th Assembly District for the 1965 election and the 1966 term. However, the courts, unhappy with the 1965 reapportionment plan as well, demanded a new plan for the normal 1966 elections. But the Democrats now dominating the Assembly and the Republicans dominating the Senate fought for so long that it appeared unlikely that they would agree on lines in time. Thus, the respective party leaders agreed to have the New York State Court of Appeals appoint a commission to draw the new lines. Those lines would shape the districts to be represented by the legislators to be elected in 1966 and to serve in 1967 and 1968. After that, reapportionments took place on a normal schedule, that is to say, during the years after the decennial censuses, for the elections in years ending in “2”: 1972, 1982, 1992, 2002, 2012, etcetera. What had been the 2d, and for one year the 54th, now (more or less) became the 45th Assembly District. With minor changes, it remains so to this day.

Max Turshen had represented an Assembly District known as the 19th, in the northern part of Brooklyn, from 1937 to 1944. His district was redesignated as the 1st from 1945 to 1965, and, for the 1966 session, as the 43rd.  For the 1966 session, Noah Goldstein still represented what had been the 2nd Assembly District, now the 54th. But the reapportionment plan governing the 1966 elections could not accommodate both Goldstein and Turshen. Turshen, with far more seniority, and according to Lupka, a warmer personality, had his boundary lines extended so far south that his new district took over the bulk of what had been Goldstein’s territory. Turshen then represented the new 45th Assembly District in 1967 and 1968.

Seniority and personal warmth may not have been the only factors favoring Turshen. Frank Loesser, Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows invented “the oldest established permanent floating crap game in New York” in making Guys and Dolls out of Damon Runyon’s Broadway stories. However, Albany tradition holds that members of the Assembly populate what is truly the oldest established permanent floating card game in New York, a poker game dating back to the nineteenth century, also known as “the Assembly Finance Committee.” (The actual fiscal committees of the two houses are the Senate Finance Committee and the Assembly Ways and Means Committee.) When I arrived as a member of the Assembly in 1981, I learned that certain other members gave my late predecessor Stephen J. Solarz a less-than-warm reception after he defeated Turshen in the 1968 primary. Turshen’s popularity in those quarters derived from the fact that he played regularly but ineptly in the card game, and almost always lost. Solarz took away their favorite “pigeon.” Perhaps Turshen’s popularity on that score also helped to account for the line-drawers’ preference for him over Goldstein in the 1965 reapportionment plan.

Solarz represented the 45th from 1969 through 1974; Schumer from 1975 through 1980; and I would do so from 1981 through 1998. Lena Cymbrowitz succeeded me in 1999, and after her untimely death from cancer in 2000 was succeeded by her husband Steven, who still serves.  Turshen served for 32 years, but since he represented the 45th for only two of those years, I represented the district longer than anyone else at least going back to 1896.

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