Daniel L. Feldman

Thinking About Congress

In National Politics on March 30, 2012 at 10:12 am

Sometime in late 1993 or early 1994, Schumer included a lunch meeting with me in his schedule for an Albany visit. At that time it seemed quite possible that Mario Cuomo would not run for reelection, given his weak poll numbers. More New Yorkers thought Cuomo should not run for reelection than thought he should, according to an April 1993 Marist poll.

Only five years after my primary run for Brooklyn District Attorney, voters would likely remember my name in large swaths of Brooklyn. If Schumer ran for Governor, I would run to fill the congressional seat he would have to abandon. Noach Dear, an Orthodox Jewish member of the New York City Council, seemed to be the most logical threat to my candidacy, should such a campaign come to pass. The burgeoning religious community in Brooklyn’s Borough Park included many of rapidly expanding wealth; Dear could raise tremendous sums of money from that group. Indeed, the New York Times noted his role as one of a small group of key fundraisers for Vice President Al Gore.  But Schumer assured me that despite his “fund-raising prowess,” in the Times’s words, Dear’s appeal was too limited for him to pose a serious threat to my candidacy; Dear could not get more than a fifth or a quarter of a Democratic primary vote in that congressional district.

Schumer’s interest in running for governor surprised me. I told him that I doubted that Moynihan, who had served as New York’s Senator since 1977, would run again in 2000, and that I thought Schumer would be the clear front-runner for that seat. Furthermore, Schumer had built a national reputation and power base in Washington. Why would he want to come back to Albany? He had a clear answer: “I don’t want to be one of 100 Senators shouting up. I would rather be the one in charge,” or words to that effect.

But when Cuomo decided to run, Schumer declined to fight him in a primary for the Democratic nomination. However, he did not wait for Moynihan to retire; he took on an uphill fight against Al D’Amato in 1998, thus opening his congressional seat to a successor that year.  Not only did Schumer win that fight, he did not become merely “one of 100 Senators shouting up.” He quickly rose to leadership, and within his second term became the second or third most powerful member of the Senate.

In some ways, Schumer’s decision not to run in 1994 gave me a sense of relief. Still-fresh memories of my 1989 campaign for District Attorney still pained me, so I had some reluctance to jump into another battle. But I did not want to end my days as the 80-year-old Assemblyman from Sheepshead Bay. Congress would offer fascinating new vistas. I salivated at the prospect of learning foreign affairs and the politics of Washington D.C. from that vantage point. When Schumer announce his candidacy in 1998, I had to run, or be forced to torture myself with “what if?s” forever after.

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