Daniel L. Feldman

A Day in the Life

In General on July 20, 2012 at 6:58 am

Newspaper editorials often say that New York State legislators work only part time, because they only report for session about sixty days a year. I kept the record of my schedule for a Sunday in 1983 – not a session day, and not during a year that I was running for office — that was probably busier than usual, but not atypical:

9:30 a.m.: speech at Veterans Post #6 in Brighton Beach regarding transit

10:30 a.m.: meeting of local elected officials at Midwood Development Corporation regarding the State budget

11:15 a.m.: speech at Kings County Council, Jewish War Veterans, in East Flatbush, regarding cemetery vandalism

Noon to 4 p.m.: campaign for and with Assembly Member Fred Schmidt in Queens

5:30 p.m.: two shiva stops in Manhattan Beach (shiva is the period of mourning after a Jewish funeral)

6 p.m.: Brooklyn Women’s Political Caucus meeting in Park Slope

7:30 p.m.: South Brooklyn Development Corporation dinner in Borough Park

8:35 p.m.: New York Region Salute to Israel meeting in Midwood

10:30 p.m.: meeting with State Senator and Borough President over coffee, regarding State budget

At that time, with the American economy in better shape, most jobs either gave the jobholder spare time, as with eight-hour-a-day, 9-to-5 jobs, or spare money, as with doctors, practicing lawyers, engineers, corporate executives. I had been earning $20,000 a year at my law firm in 1974. Allowing for the rampant inflation in the interim and the unreimbursed costs of elective office (like the extra telephone my office needed, for which the Assembly would not pay; journal ads, dinner tickets, flat-out contributions to local charitable organizations and civic groups in my district, etcetera), my pay in 1983 — $43,000 a year – surely left me at a lower standard of living than I had enjoyed just out of law school. Had I remained with the firm and not made partner, I would have been earning about $120,000 a year at that point. Had I made partner, my income would probably have been about double that.

It did not bother me. I paid under $250 a month rent for my tiny studio in Brooklyn. In Albany, I sublet a room from a friend who rented the second floor of a house. Actually, I really rented a cot, because he used the room as his study when I wasn’t there, enabling him to charge me very little rent, allowing me to use the difference between that and my “per diem” reimbursement to cover some of my other expenses.

In January and February, we spent Mondays and Tuesdays in Albany in session and in committee meetings. In March, as the April first budget deadline approached, we could be there seven days straight or more, and often didn’t know from day to day whether we’d have to stay. On one not extraordinary occasion, the Speaker announced on Tuesday that we’d be home Wednesday; on Wednesday that it would be Thursday; on Thursday we should wait for Friday; and on Friday, Saturday. I walked into the Members’ Lounge, a room for Assembly members a short corridor down from the floor of the Assembly Chamber, to hear a colleague calling out, “Anyone know a good divorce lawyer?”

Wednesday and Thursday nights, back home, were for community meetings, unless we were in session. We usually did not have regular Monday-through-Thursday sessions until June, at the end of which, like during budget week, we could be in session non-stop, including weekends. Saturdays and Sundays, I would attend one of the numerous synagogues in my district, sometimes visit a church, join a veterans’ post or charitable group for breakfast, and perhaps attend a political dinner. Of course, I might also have to head into the office to finish paperwork I couldn’t get to during the week, because I often found I had a full week of paperwork in each office – Albany and Brooklyn.

Not all Assembly districts were as demanding as the 45th. Schumer and Solarz, my predecessors, had set impossible examples. Thus, I could go to fifty community meetings a week and be scolded for missing the fifty-first. Fifty thousand constituents lived within walking distance of my office, and they walked in — or called in, or wrote in. Officials representing low-density rural districts, or defeated, poverty-stricken districts, often had less call on their time.

In one two-and-a-half year period from January 1981 to June 1983 my neighborhood office staff handled over 2100 constituent matters, from housing complaints (“my landlord never gives me heat!”) to traffic signal requests, to assistance in obtaining Medicaid and Medicare reimbursement. Although I had three twenty-hour-a-week and two ten-hour-a-week assistants, (at about $7000 a year in salary for the first three, $2500 a year for one of the latter, and free – a volunteer – for the other), the responsibility for this operation, as well as some direct involvement in some of the more complicated cases, was mine. When the problem affected a community, rather than an individual, I played a much greater role, such as when a police precinct persistently provided inadequate response to citizen complaints, or a school needed a crossing guard, or a large apartment building needed to have me come in to organize a tenants’ committee.

As I gained in seniority, my staff allocation increased, and my efficiency increased. I always enjoyed the work, but it never got easy.


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