Daniel L. Feldman


In New York State Politics on December 16, 2011 at 1:02 pm

To this day I cannot eat doughnuts.

Section 3-400 of New York State’s election law requires the appointment of two Democrats and two Republicans as “inspectors” at the polling place for each election district. The local political party organizations submit lists of candidates for those posts to the local board of elections. In New York City today, those inspectors get paid $200 a day, and if they work both on primary day and on Election Day, and attend a training class, they get an additional $75. . The pay reached this level sometime in the 1990s; it used to be less. But since poll workers have to arrive before 6 a.m. to set up for the voters, and need to stay past 9 p.m. to close the polls, they work a roughly 16-hour day. At one time, these jobs were considered attractive political plums, and in some places they still are, but the State had to raise the pay because in many communities too few members of the political clubs continued to think so.

During the course of the day, these poll workers meet many of their neighbors – the ones that vote, that is. Most likely, the poll workers know many of their neighbors to begin with. They may well have solicited their signatures on nominating petitions, and in other ways played active roles in their neighborhoods. Many of these poll workers take up their same stations at the polls for decades. Thus, to the extent they look favorably on a politician, the politician likely benefits.

In the 45th Assembly District, and elsewhere, politicians developed the tradition of visiting each polling place, and bringing with them some candy or cookies for the workers. During the course of a long day, the poll workers presumably get hungry.

I thought I’d go a little further. Doughnuts would make a bigger impression, and perhaps help the poll workers remember me from among the various visiting politicians. By my impecunious standards, they cost a lot of money, which I paid personally, not out of campaign funds, which I was hoarding for an actual campaign.

Electioneering within the polling place, however, violates the law, which I would not do. So, only when my name was NOT on the ballot, I would make my rounds. To the best of my recollection, I began my personal doughnut-delivery tradition on primary day 1982, and continued it on primary day in 1984, 1985, 1986, 1990, 1992, 1993, 1994, and 1996. Since I always had a Republican challenger, I could not deliver my doughnuts on Election Day in even-numbered years. Not being in the habit – and perhaps feeling that once a year was enough – I skipped Election Day in the 1993 and 1997 mayoral years too. I had to skip the 1989 mayoral year primary too, because that year I ran in the primary for the Democratic nomination for Brooklyn District Attorney.

My district, like most Assembly districts, had about 100 election districts. With four inspectors for each, this required 400 doughnuts. I would order them from the kosher Dunkin’ Doughnuts on Avenue M, since some of our inspectors kept kosher, pick them up at 5 a.m. on primary day morning, stack the boxes in the back of my Dodge Aries K-car, and drive to polling place delivering them all day. The poll workers liked them. My car stank of doughnuts for weeks thereafter.

(I couldn’t do the doughnut run in 1988 because I had a primary challenge that year, so my name was on the ballot. Harry Smoler had served as the Assembly Member from the 41st A.D. just to my east from 1979 through 1982. The 1982 reapportionment dismembered his district, merging the largest chunk of it with Helene Weinstein’s district, which had been based in East Flatbush, but giving me such neighborhoods as Gerritsen Beach and Marine Park, as well as additional sections of Sheepshead Bay. He lost primary races against Helene in 1982 [Howard Graubard pointed out that my earlier version of this post had incorrect dates for Harry’s primary against Helene] and against me in 1988, getting less than a quarter of the vote.)

  1. My suspicion is that Harry wanted the donuts himself

  2. So why do you remember this now? Another provocation!


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