Daniel L. Feldman

Getting there and back

In New York State Government, New York State Politics on August 24, 2012 at 2:54 pm

Post #93

For my first nine years as a member of the Assembly, I drove there and back. Actually, Larry Pinkoff, who ran my 1980 campaign, drove me there and back my first year, before he departed for Florida and another career. I was told that there was at one time something called a “permit for take-off and landing from the New York State Thruway.” We used to joke that Larry must have had one. He regularly drove the 160-mile trip in less than two hours, door to door. Readers from other areas must understand that with the roads from southern Brooklyn through northern Manhattan included in that route, his performance was phenomenal – also, to me, terrifying. But he got me to my meetings on time, at either end.

I remained among the few legislators who refused to get Assembly license plates for my car, because I felt that state legislators should not seek or get special treatment from the police. I had to do my own driving, starting with the 1982 session, but this did not pose a problem, because I was a notoriously slow driver. Shortly after legislative session ended, unless we were scheduled for session on the following day as well, dozens of cars would emerge from the legislators’ parking lot under the Empire State Plaza and head down the Thruway. They all seemed to pass me.

Since I have always walked fast, the word among my colleagues was that “Feldman walks faster than he drives.” So I never got stopped by the State Troopers. When they saw the Assembly or Senate plates on the cars of my speeding colleagues, the Troopers would indeed stop them, but then simply warn them to slow down. Some speculated that the Legislature’s traditional alacrity in approving pay increases for the Troopers may have influenced this behavior.

At one point during the mid-1980s, my late colleague Leonard Stavisky noticed some State Troopers sleeping in their patrol cars, known as “cooping,” and got some press attention when he publicly criticized the practice. His best known legacy, the 1976 Stavisky-Goodman law, a major accomplishment, limits the degree to which New York City can cut funding for education in any given annual budget.  Stavisky, a college professor as well as a legislator, had a fine intellect and a good heart, but so lacked interpersonal skills it remains amazing that he achieved elective office. Colleagues cruelly referred to him as “Major Hoople,” after a big and big-bellied grandiose windbag of a comic strip character originating in 1921. After Stavisky’s press release, the State Troopers started issuing speeding tickets to legislators. A few weeks later, big placards began to appear in the rear windshields of legislators’ cars: “We Hate Stavisky Too!” The ticketing stopped.

My $7000 1980 Dodge Aries K-car, Betsy, loyally gave me over 180,000 miles, almost all of it in the service of my legislative life. After 1989, however, I had switched to using the train. I didn’t see so well at night, especially when trying to drive home in snowstorms, and as I got older, I got more tired. On the train I could sleep, read, or catch up with paperwork. So I allowed Betsy to semi-retire: it became my “train car” in Albany. From the legislative garage to my rented room in Albany only took about fifteen minutes to drive on the nights I stayed over, and from the garage to the Amtrak station in Rensselaer only took about five minutes. Even for that purpose, though, George Dunbrook and his brother, who ran the gas station at Lark and Madison, finally told me it was too old: time for full retirement.  I couldn’t give it up. One night though, a few hundred yards from the train station, I heard a noise I have never heard before or since, and hope never to hear again. I cannot describe it, but it was the sound of a car dying – a sound so definitive you know it will never start again. Rest in peace, Betsy.

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