Daniel L. Feldman

Fundraising for a District Attorney campaign

In NYC Politics on February 17, 2012 at 10:47 am

I had an important resource even for the fundraising part of the D.A. race: Louis Bochette. I had met Louis very briefly in the Lindsay presidential campaign in 1972 (see post #34). In 1977 when I started working for Schumer’s Subcommittee on City Management, I saw him again because our office at 270 Broadway was down the hall from that of Assembly Member and Education Committee Chair Leonard Stavisky’s office, and Louis worked for Stavisky. We renewed our acquaintance. In fact, Louis had just taken his master’s degree at John Jay, and recommended me to Eli Silverman, the public administration department chair at the time, to teach the administrative law class in which I had met Sheinkopf (see post #71). Stavisky, a highly intelligent legislator, had a difficult personality, so a few years later, Louis went to work for State Senator Joe Pisani, chair of the Senate Labor Committee, and, like Louis, a liberal Republican. Giuliani, as U.S. Attorney, won convictions against Pisani on eighteen counts, all of which, except those for tax evasion, were reversed on appeal.  Upon conviction, Pisani had to leave the Legislature, and I hired Louis for ten thousand dollars a year so that he would help me develop a strong pro-labor record, and incidentally help me get to know more of the leadership of organized labor.

Louis had started as an advance man for Nelson Rockefeller in the 1950s. He had grown up in Mechanicville, New York, a tough town near Albany, and although a small fellow, had played a lot of high school football. He spoke with a pronounced lateral lisp, wore a hearing aide, and was mostly bald by this time. You would first suspect that there was more to him than met the eye, or ear, when you met his wife of many years standing: an elegant, charming and articulate blond from Ohio, who held a significant management position at the Steelcase furniture company. As you got to know Louis, you would eventually recognize his considerable intellect and character. When my wife first met this paragon in my Albany office, he was walking around barefoot, offered her a limp handshake, and then spit into a cup. But after a while even Cecilia grew to love “Uncle Louis.”

His role in the D.A. race, however, was to torment me. That is, I needed to raise a lot of money for this campaign, and he knew how to do it. He would sit beside me in the tiny office at 16 Court Street that George Jaffee, a friend of Lupka’s, had let me use as a law office, and force me through hour upon hour of fundraising telephone calls. Using my desire to win as the stick, he made me call everyone I knew, everyone I had ever known, friends, relatives, enemies, and beg them for contributions. Then he made me call everyone I didn’t know.

This was much worse than subway stops. Most people there ignore you, but at least the process ends after a two-hour stretch, and it’s mindless enough to do in your sleep. Fundraising requires consciousness of what a boring and degrading thing you are doing. It’s not a question of selling out; it’s just a matter of projecting confidence, repeating the same pitch ad nauseum, tweaked appropriately to each calling target, and accepting a tiny success ratio. But I became sharply aware of the fact that had I spent my years in some sort of boiler-room telephone scamming operation, I would have been better trained for this than from the years I spent steeping myself in the details of public policy and the public interest.

Even so, I did not know how much I would be able to raise, or that I would be able to raise enough. What I did know, from my past campaign experience, that I could mail to Brooklyn’s prime voter list for about $35,000 a mailing. Prime voters are those who voted in three out of the last four primaries. They make up as little as a fifth or so of registered Democrats, depending on the district.  Most years, that list changes by only about fifteen or twenty percent. Therefore, campaigns save enormous amounts of money by mailing to only prime voters rather than to all Democrats. Of course, in Brooklyn, especially in those days, once you won the Democratic primary, you were pretty much guaranteed to win the general election.

To use electronic media successfully in a Brooklyn primary, you had to spend at least $250,000 on it. Otherwise, you would buy too little television or radio time for voters even to notice you, given the cost of media in the metropolitan area. Not knowing that I could raise that much, I felt forced to go the mailing route.

As it turned out, I raised about $500,000, and might have been able to go electronic. But I did not know that early enough. And in most years, it would not have mattered. But in 1989, with the candidacy of David Dinkins, the first successful black candidate for mayor of New York City, voters turned out in unprecedented numbers in the half dozen predominantly black Assembly district in Brooklyn. Based on the usual Democratic primary turnouts in those districts, I did extremely well – my vote total there would have constituted large majorities. Those voters had received my mailings.

But Hynes beat me in those districts two and three to one. Those who had never voted before in primaries had never heard from me, but they heard Hynes’ radio ads and saw his television commercials. Especially with the racist murder of Youssef Hawkins in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, coming on the heels of the Howard Beach case, his campaign had special salience.


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