Daniel L. Feldman

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Hynes, Breezy Point, and the Times

In NYC Politics on February 24, 2012 at 1:14 pm

As noted in an earlier post, Hynes had been president of the Breezy Point Cooperative, the organization that actually owned the land on which he and his neighbors lived in Breezy Point. Having grown up only a few miles away in Belle Harbor, a community then populated mostly by a mix of Jews and Irish-Americans, I knew very well how the Breezy Pointers excluded those who were not Irish-American, even as visitors, in the 1950s. By the 1980s, some Italian-American families, and even a few Jews, had been admitted to Breezy, but certainly no blacks. Hynes would argue that Breezy did not exclude blacks, they just did not happen to live there, but that explanation did not square with my historical knowledge of the place. (Based on the census of 2000, Breezy Point remained the “whitest” place in New York City.)

Hank Sheinkopf, my political advertising guru, designed a flyer portraying Breezy Point as America’s version of South African apartheid, and highlighting Hynes’s former presidency of the Co-op. Since the media had anointed Hynes the paragon of racial justice for his successful prosecution in the Howard Beach case, the flyer imposed inconvenient facts on the narrative. The City’s liberal establishment denounced the flyer. Mario Cuomo used it as an excuse to break his pledge not to get involved in Democratic primaries by endorsing Hynes.

The New York Times ran an editorial viciously condemning me. It said,

 

Assemblyman Dan Feldman, candidate for Brooklyn District Attorney, has all but accused his chief opponent, Charles (Joe) Hynes, of anti-Semitism and racism because Mr. Hynes owns a summer house in Breezy Point, Queens. Breezy Point is a cooperative community that’s predominantly Irish and Italian, with a smattering of Jewish, Hispanic and Asian residents. Mr. Feldman plays blatantly to ethnic and racial fears in fliers, one mailed to blacks and another to Jews.

Mr. Hynes successfully prosecuted the Howard Beach racial murder and makes his permanent home in polyglot Flatbush. To accuse him of bias is scurrilous, and incredible.

 

The Times and Mario Cuomo also joined in attacking me after my defeat based on a last-minute campaign flyer that my campaign had issued without my approval or knowledge, but Post #60 already told that story.

The Times editorial page attack may have been the work of Dorothy Samuels, a member of the Times editorial board and a very close friend of Schumer’s. Schumer might well have endorsed me publicly, and then had his friend Samuels try to destroy my political career from behind the cloak of anonymity via the Times editorial page. Many years later David Trager, sitting as a federal judge in the trial of Lemrick Nelson, the man who killed Yankel Rosenbaum in the Crown Heights race riot mentioned in post #67, tried to achieve racial balance in the composition of the jury.  The Times published a nasty editorial accusing Trager of “violating in one maneuver rules against seating jurors out of order, seating anyone who persistently expresses doubts about his ability to be fair, and excluding people from a jury on the basis of race or religion,” and acting “more like a politician with a mandate to satisfy ethnic constituencies than an impartial judge,” thus “badly damaging the city, and his own reputation.”  Two distinguished jurists, in a letter to the editor, noted that “the federal appeals court that ordered a new trial held that the procedures employed by Judge Trager were ‘undoubtedly meant to be tolerant and inclusive rather than bigoted and exclusionary,” that Trager had “worked hard to empanel a fair and impartial jury,” and called Trager “one of the best and most conscientious of federal trial judges.” Why, then, the over-the-top vicious editorial?

Back in 1981, while U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, Trager thought that he should indict Schumer for using his state legislative campaign staff in his congressional campaign, and sought permission from the Department of Justice to do so (unsuccessfully). Of course I cannot prove that Samuels, acting as Schumer’s political version of Luca Brasi, wrote either editorial or others over the years attacking Schumer’s enemies. But circumstance suggests that explanation.

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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.

Why I Ran to be Brooklyn District Attorney

In NYC Politics on February 10, 2012 at 12:39 pm

When it became clear that Liz Holtzman would run for New York City Comptroller, I decided to try to succeed her as Brooklyn District Attorney. As chair of the Assembly Correction Committee, I spent time in most of the State’s prisons. I saw the tremendous waste of lives and money produced by the prosecution and incarceration of massive numbers of low-level non-violent drug offenders under the Rockefeller drug laws. I also saw the political need of upstate senators to keep prisons full in their districts in order to provide at least some correction officer jobs to ameliorate the economic disaster tormenting their region. I knew that they would therefore frustrate my efforts to repeal the Rockefeller drug laws for a long time to come. At least as Brooklyn D.A. I could choose other prosecutorial priorities.

Also, Brooklyn had nineteen other Assembly members, but only one D.A. Reasons of ego played a role.

Charles “Joe” Hynes had recently won convictions of three white Howard Beach defendants who had caused the death of Michael Griffith, one of four black men chased by those defendants into moving traffic apparently because they stood out in that overwhelmingly white neighborhood. Mario Cuomo had appointed Hynes as special prosecutor in the case because prosecution witnesses had refused to cooperate with Queens District Attorney John Santucci, whom they viewed as too close to his Howard Beach constituency. The case garnered tremendous attention and publicity.

Rampant rumors had Hynes entering the race. But this did not deter me. My friends told me that Hynes voted out of his residence in Breezy Point, where he spent his summers, a few miles west of where I grew up in the Rockaways, in Queens, although he lived in Brooklyn the rest of the year. I thought we would be able to disqualify him as a legal resident of Queens, based on his voting record. However, when I sent campaign workers to the Queens Board of Elections, no voting records for Hynes could be located. Nor could we locate any in Brooklyn.

Still, Mel Miller said “No Hynes beats no Feldman in Brooklyn.” Based on traditional voting patterns, this should have been true. For a long time, Jewish turnout in Democrat primaries had been decisive in Brooklyn. Also, I thought my strong pro-prosecution record would serve me well: author of the Organized Crime Control Act, Oral Search Warrant Law, Juror Shield Law; a yes-vote on the death penalty when that was still a hot and popular issue; the leader of the unsuccessful, but law-enforcement-backed campaign to change New York’s criminal-friendly transactional immunity law to use immunity (read Tales from the Sausage Factory for an explanation of this technical but important effort).

When Howard Golden, Brooklyn’s Democratic County Leader and Borough President, had pleaded with me to take a job I did not want, Democratic district leader, I had accommodated him. I had also supported his re-election when Marty Markowitz challenged him in the 1985 primary.  I thought he owed me some support. Further, seventeen of my nineteen fellow Brooklyn Assembly members endorsed me – all except Al Vann and Frank Barbaro. Schumer endorsed me at my special request, in an effort to reduce the friction between us. Two of Brooklyn’s three other Members of Congress, Ed Towns and Steve Solarz, endorsed me as well. I had helped Major Owens win his congressional seat against his then fellow State Senator Vander Beatty, but of the congressional delegation, only he refused to endorse me. The law did not permit Holtzman, as a sitting District Attorney, to make a political endorsement, but she did appoint me to her Advisory Committee.

Norman Adler, my old college political science teacher and the extraordinarily intelligent political director of District Council 37 of AFSCME, a major public sector union, agreed to advise my campaign, as a friend, for very little money — $5000, with another $10,000 payable when I won. Hank Sheinkopf had been a police officer and a student of mine when I taught administrative law as an adjunct professor at John Jay College in 1977. Now his star was rising in political advertising, which he would handle for me. I had a lot going for me, I thought. I worried mostly about raising money.

The Club

In NYC Politics on October 27, 2011 at 5:57 pm

Just as politics and decency required my continued attention to my neighborhood and my synagogue, they required my continued attention to the Democratic clubs. The reform clubs imposed a lesser burden: they did not meet very often. In fact, I did not regard my attendance at their meetings as a burden at all: these were people with whom I would naturally want to associate, and our shared principles made for more interesting and enjoyable disagreements when we did disagree.

The regular club was another story. I don’t think I am a snob. I like most people, and I liked most of the people at the club. But they did not engage in politics to better their society. Their fundamental motivations and interests rarely connected with mine. Of course, as Democrats I was glad to see their support for such candidates as Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, and Bill Clinton, but even in those campaigns I could see that my emotional investment considerably exceeded theirs.

And a few of them were truly repulsive. In the interest of avoiding a libel suit, I will not use Milty’s last name, but no one used it at the Club anyway. He was generally known as “Milty Weasel.” In the 1973 Democratic primary for mayor, Abe Beame and Herman Badillo came in ahead of Mario Biaggi and Al Blumenthal, requiring a run-off between the former two. Late in the campaign, a carousel playing loud Puerto Rican music, accompanied by a loud voice amplified on a bullhorn shouting “Vote for Badillo!,” made its way through Jewish neighborhoods at midnight or one or two in the morning. Needless to say, the Badillo campaign was not responsible for the carousel.  This was a Milty Weasel production, on behalf of the regular organization, which opposed Badillo.

In a City Council primary in the same era, photos on opposition leaflets appeared showing candidate Rhoda Jacobs’ lawn covered with garbage. The text questioned the fitness for office of one who had so little respect even for her own property so as to keep it in such condition. Of course the garbage had been strewn, and photographs taken shortly thereafter, under the direction of Milty Weasel.

I heard these stories about Milty, and was assured there were others. I encountered two people in my life who seem to radiate a palpable aura of evil. As it happened, both were small, slight men, but a rattlesnake isn’t very large either. By sheer coincidence, Roy Cohn once came within ten feet of me at some large event. I moved away as rapidly as I could. I fled Milty’s presence the same way.  (Many years later I met him relaxing on a beach. He seemed to regret his sins, and no longer exuded evil vibes.)

Like Milty, the chair of the Community Planning Board that covered most of the 45th Assembly District resided in the district’s most expensive neighborhood, Manhattan Beach, and naturally belonged to the Club as well. A good-looking, well-educated and well-spoken man, he was the object of deference in the Club and in the community. On July 1, 1980, the New York Times reported his indictment as a member of an “arson-for-profit ring.”

Shortly after the indictment, Sandy Singer, the big-mouthed but good-hearted criminal defense lawyer, summed up the situation by loudly announcing a question in the Club one night: “Who are “Manhattan Beach’s most prominent citizens?” When no clear answer was forthcoming, Sandy supplied it himself: “Milty Weasel and Bruce the Torch!”

Those of you who know Tom Lehrer’s song “My Home Town” may find some of this familiar.

Nancy Nierenberg and Florence Arfin served as Lupka’s chief lieutenants. Lupka seemed to consider Florence his sergeant-at-arms as well. Both were fiercely loyal to Herb, for reasons I never learned, but on the basis of Florence’s large size and aggressive Brooklyn demeanor Herb told me she’d put any threatening visitor to the Club outside – through the wall. Florence always treated me with great kindness, though, and Nancy seemed to treat everyone that way. [The following comments were prompted by Howard Graubard’s reminder to me that after the 1982 reapportionment, Mary Tobin succeeded Florence Snyder as female leader:] When Liz Holtzman was elected State Committeewoman/District Leader in the 44th Assembly District in the 1970 Democratic primary, most female “leaders” in Brooklyn allowed their male counterparts to dominate. Liz, of course, did no such thing, and in her one term in that role sued the party for gender equality and generally established herself as a force to be reckoned with. Florence Snyder, the female district leader in the 45th, followed the more usual pattern.

The 1982 reapportionment added Marine Park and Gerritsen Beach to the 45th, which shifted the religious balance of the district, making it somewhat more Catholic. Although I have never seen a formal estimate, I would make an educated guess that pre-1982 the Democratic primary vote would have broken out as about 10 percent Protestant, 25 percent Catholic, and 65 percent Jewish, with the vote in the first few years after 1982 vote still perhaps 10 percent Protestant, but now 30 percent Catholic and 60 percent Jewish. Jews still registered Democratic and voted in primaries more heavily than their numbers would indicate. Therefore, while pre-1982 the general population and general election voting breakdown might have been 15 percent Protestant, 35 percent Catholic, and 50 percent Jewish, post-1982 the numbers were probably something like 15 percent Protestant, 40 percent Catholic, and 45 percent Jewish. Florence had been female leader for many years. Although her name was Florence Snyder Campagna, she was Jewish and ran as “Florence Snyder,” a name that did not trumpet a non-Jewish identity.

Mary Tobin had been active politically in Marine Park. A Roman Catholic, and with a name that signaled her Irish-American ethnicity, she brought geographical, ethnic, and religious balance to the “ticket.” Ideologically more conservative than Lupka or myself, she also better reflected the political leanings of the new parts of the district. She became the third members of what was, at least nominally, the Democratic triumvirate of the 45th.

In 1987, the Office of Court Administration adopted a rule prohibiting any employee of the New York court system from serving in an elected political post, such as district leader. Herb, as the jury clerk in the Office of the Kings County Clerk, had to step down. Neither Herb nor anyone else in authority had any confidence in those members of the Club who wanted to take his place. They did have confidence in someone who very much disliked the idea of taking his place – me. By this time, Howard Golden, the Brooklyn Borough President, had succeeded Meade Esposito as County Leader, and he and Herb pleaded with me to take the job temporarily – for three months, they said, till they could find someone else. For selfish reasons, I didn’t want to see the Club decline, as it surely would have otherwise. (Mary Tobin, although more assertive than Florence Snyder, would not have been accepted by most of the Club’s stalwarts as the “real” leader.) If I could no longer count on the Club to get petition signatures to put me on the ballot and to help me fend off potential primary challengers, my life would be more difficult. So I accepted.

Three months turned into eighteen. I learned that much of the leader’s job consisted of providing psychotherapy to its members, in the guise of settling ridiculously petty disputes among them. I had and sought no patronage to dispense.

I don’t think County – Howie Golden, at that point, but he might have acted through his underlings —  really had much to allocate to me in any event, even if I had sought it. Over the sixteen or seventeen years of tenure as leader, Lupka did promote several club attorneys to judgeships: Victor Barron, whose political work, judgeship, and criminal conviction we mentioned in a previous post, Richard Huttner, Irving “Red” Levine, Jerry Cohen, Marsha Steinhardt. Liz Holtzman, when she was District Attorney, on the basis of credible allegations accused Red of judicial misconduct by abusing a rape victim who was testifying. When it appeared that Holtzman was mistaken, the word on Court Street was that she had accused him of the only bad thing he had not done. He was later removed from the bench for fixing a case. Huttner was rebuked by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct for unethical behavior. Jerry Cohen, whose guilt was less clear, was removed for supposed involvement in bribery. Steinhardt, who had been on the bench since the early 1990s, has served with honor. Lupka also placed lawyers in the Club with some of the judges he had “made,” and probably acquired and dispensed patronage posts such as law guardianship or perhaps city contracts that I never knew about. Even if County had offered me such things, I would not have wanted to be involved. In any event, they didn’t offer.

I escaped the district leadership when Hal Epstein, a school principal and an expert in the education of children with speech and hearing difficulties, agreed to take the job.

Schumer Suffers, and Hates

In NYC Politics on October 7, 2011 at 12:11 pm

Many years ago Schumer, then a member of Congress, told a friend of mine that the three people he hated most in the world were Liz Holtzman, Steve Solarz, and me. I had excellent reason to dislike him; why did he dislike me? The following may explain his dislike of Holtzman, who had tragically, in my view, lost her campaign for the U.S. Senate by less than one percent of the vote to Republican Alphonse D’Amato, but in 1981 became Brooklyn District Attorney. I will leave to others the explanation of his dislike for Solarz.

Shortly after Schumer won his primary for Congress on the same day I won mine for the Assembly, and by an even bigger margin, with 78 percent of the vote against two members of the City Council, Schumer became the target of a federal investigation. The Village Voice had run an article in December charging that Schumer had used his legislative employees to work on his congressional campaign, and the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York launched an investigation on that basis. Schumer asked me to recommend a criminal defense attorney, and I suggested Paul Rooney, an excellent solo practitioner who had been a key prosecutor in Robert Morgenthau’s office when he was U.S. Attorney for the Southern District. Schumer engaged Rooney for a while, but then turned to Arthur Liman, a partner at the Paul Weiss law firm with strong political connections as well as great legal skills.

I saw no evidence that Schumer used taxpayer dollars to pay for campaign work. Certainly my own case strongly suggested the contrary. If the time I spent representing him at community events counted as campaign work, taxpayers certainly had not been shortchanged, since I was putting in at least fifty hours a week, and often more, on the investigative work the State paid me to do. But, as a reporter close to the matter told me, and as an article in New York Magazine strongly implied, with Schumer as the obvious source of the implication, Schumer was convinced that I had “dropped the dime” on him to the Village Voice, and was therefore responsible for his torment.

In actuality, as the reporter told me much later, one of our committee staff members, Bob O’Melia, had in fact made the allegations to the Voice. We had hired O’Melia, a former U.S. Marine with a Ph.D., because he had impressed us with his earnestness and intellect, and seemed likely to be a good investigator. As time went on, he did begin to seem somewhat eccentric, but I certainly had no idea that O’Melia would do or had done such a thing as to attack Schumer in such manner until the reporter told me.

I was subpoenaed to testify before the grand jury investigating Schumer, and told them exactly what I knew – that in fact I had never seen a shred of evidence that Schumer had shortchanged the State by using committee employees for campaign work.

Nonetheless, Schumer remained convinced that I was the villain responsible for his suffering. And his suffering must have been intense. It took more than three years for the investigations by two successive U.S. Attorneys and then by Brooklyn District Attorney Elizabeth Holtzman to conclude. Whatever his faults, he deserves considerable credit for sustaining the tremendous energy with which he pursued his congressional and political interests while under such agonizing psychological pressure.

Why blame me? I speculate as follows. As explained in previous postings, on the basis of the vast differences in our personal style, Schumer had probably concluded, prior to my successful Assembly campaign, that I had minimal ability as a politician. In fact, compared with him, I did lack many of the important political traits. When I won, however, he may have reassessed, and concluded that I resembled him more than he had thought. On that basis, he may have come to a wrong conclusion.

Had Schumer just won the Assembly seat, with me having won the congressional seat – the next higher rung on the political ladder – he would undoubtedly have taken the opportunity to destroy me in order to clear a path for himself. He may well have been persuaded that I had “ratted” on him on the basis of his conclusion that I must resemble him more than he had imagined. In this he would have been mistaken.

 

The Democratic Assembly Member from the 45th A.D.

In NYC Politics on September 30, 2011 at 4:24 pm

Technically, I had won only the Democratic nomination for the Assembly seat. But even my Republican opponent knew better. As we campaigned at the same subway stop one morning, he did not bother to use a different entrance, but greeted voters with “Hi! I’m Barry Kaufman, the Republican candidate for Assembly, and here is Dan Feldman, your next Assemblyman.” I won the election with about 80 percent of the vote, as was normal for a Democratic in that part of Brooklyn. The last time a non-Democratic had been elected from the neighborhoods that now comprised the 45th Assembly District was 1937, and the district did not elect a Republican. Then designated the 2nd Assembly District, it elected Benjamin Brenner of the American Labor Party. He lost to a Democratic the next year, but in 1939 Mayor LaGuardia appointed him to a city judgeship.  So far as I can ascertain, Brenner was the only non-Democratic sent by that district (first designated as the 2d Assembly District in 1896) to the Assembly since 1923. From 1896 to 1905, John McKeown, a Democrat, was its Assembly member; in 1906, Patrick Donohue, Republican; 1907-1908, James Jacobs, Democrat; 1909-1916, William J. Gillen, a Democrat; 1917, Patrick Larney, Democrat; 1918, William H. Fitzgerald, Republican; 1919, Thomas J. Cox, Democrat; 1920-1921, James Mullen, Republican; 1922 Edmund H. Alexander, Republican; 1923, John Lucey, Democrat; 1924-1929, Murray Hearn, Democrat; 1930-1937, Albert D. Schanzer, Democrat; 1938, Brenner, American Labor Party, as noted; 1939-1944 Leo F. Rayfiel, Democrat; 1945-1955, J. Sidney Levine, Democrat; 1956-1962, Samuel Bonom, Democrat; 1963-1965, Noah Goldstein, Democrat. [An earlier version of this post included a few errors and some gaps in the information. Howard Graubard’s invaluable research remedied these deficiencies.]

The one-person one-vote decisions by the United States Supreme Court, in Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U.S. 633 (1964) had repercussions for New York State. The courts were dissatisfied with the reapportionment scheme the Legislature devised for the 1964 elections. They allowed those elections to go forward under that scheme, but required the Legislature to devise a new plan under which the State would be required to hold a special election only one year later. Thus, the district drawn for the 1964 elections would be represented for one year, 1965, and the new districts drawn for the 1965 special elections would be represented for the next year, 1966. What had been the 2d Assembly District for the most part became the 54th Assembly District for the 1965 election and the 1966 term. However, the courts, unhappy with the 1965 reapportionment plan as well, demanded a new plan for the normal 1966 elections. But the Democrats now dominating the Assembly and the Republicans dominating the Senate fought for so long that it appeared unlikely that they would agree on lines in time. Thus, the respective party leaders agreed to have the New York State Court of Appeals appoint a commission to draw the new lines. Those lines would shape the districts to be represented by the legislators to be elected in 1966 and to serve in 1967 and 1968. After that, reapportionments took place on a normal schedule, that is to say, during the years after the decennial censuses, for the elections in years ending in “2”: 1972, 1982, 1992, 2002, 2012, etcetera. What had been the 2d, and for one year the 54th, now (more or less) became the 45th Assembly District. With minor changes, it remains so to this day.

Max Turshen had represented an Assembly District known as the 19th, in the northern part of Brooklyn, from 1937 to 1944. His district was redesignated as the 1st from 1945 to 1965, and, for the 1966 session, as the 43rd.  For the 1966 session, Noah Goldstein still represented what had been the 2nd Assembly District, now the 54th. But the reapportionment plan governing the 1966 elections could not accommodate both Goldstein and Turshen. Turshen, with far more seniority, and according to Lupka, a warmer personality, had his boundary lines extended so far south that his new district took over the bulk of what had been Goldstein’s territory. Turshen then represented the new 45th Assembly District in 1967 and 1968.

Seniority and personal warmth may not have been the only factors favoring Turshen. Frank Loesser, Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows invented “the oldest established permanent floating crap game in New York” in making Guys and Dolls out of Damon Runyon’s Broadway stories. However, Albany tradition holds that members of the Assembly populate what is truly the oldest established permanent floating card game in New York, a poker game dating back to the nineteenth century, also known as “the Assembly Finance Committee.” (The actual fiscal committees of the two houses are the Senate Finance Committee and the Assembly Ways and Means Committee.) When I arrived as a member of the Assembly in 1981, I learned that certain other members gave my late predecessor Stephen J. Solarz a less-than-warm reception after he defeated Turshen in the 1968 primary. Turshen’s popularity in those quarters derived from the fact that he played regularly but ineptly in the card game, and almost always lost. Solarz took away their favorite “pigeon.” Perhaps Turshen’s popularity on that score also helped to account for the line-drawers’ preference for him over Goldstein in the 1965 reapportionment plan.

Solarz represented the 45th from 1969 through 1974; Schumer from 1975 through 1980; and I would do so from 1981 through 1998. Lena Cymbrowitz succeeded me in 1999, and after her untimely death from cancer in 2000 was succeeded by her husband Steven, who still serves.  Turshen served for 32 years, but since he represented the 45th for only two of those years, I represented the district longer than anyone else at least going back to 1896.

Winning

In NYC Politics on September 23, 2011 at 12:38 pm

Schumer had endorsed Lupka, but not me, by mid-summer. My campaign printed joint leaflets and mailings with Lupka, including Schumer’s endorsement of Lupka and Holtzman’s endorsement of me. Lupka assured me that most voters wouldn’t read the material carefully enough to understand that Schumer had not endorsed me.

By the late summer, our campaign’s informal polls (we didn’t have the money to pay for formal ones, but ours turned out to be quite accurate), had me beating Margules two to one. Apparently Schumer had the same information. Now that I was virtually assured of victory, he endorsed me.

The day before the primary, the Margules campaign dropped another leaflet throughout the district filled with baseless accusations against me. Apparently, the leaflet scared our street-level campaign supporters, because a few voters must have asked them if the accusations were true. The street-level troops reported their fears to our captains. At that level, having perhaps each heard from two or three underlings, the captains got nervous. When the captains’ reports got to me that night, by that time concentrated and exaggerated through three levels of distillation, all the trauma of my previous defeats came back to me. Momentarily convinced that the voters would believe the lies, I literally writhed in psychic agony on the floor of the regular clubhouse on Coney Island Avenue.

Lupka, knowing no other way to run, had followed another valuable morsel of political wisdom throughout the campaign: run scared. Whenever I had gotten too optimistic, he had pulled me back to earth. But that night, he laughingly chided me that now, when victory really was about to be ours, I had finally decided that we would lose.

Having seen Larry’s somewhat scattered approach to organization, Lupka carefully chose a primary day coordinator from his own ranks instead. The primary day coordinator would have the assignment I had taken on in Liz Holtzman’s district leader race: assuring that our people covered the inside of polling places, to prevent cheating, and the outside, to hand out leaflet and beg for votes, in the hope of influencing those who waited until the last minute to make up their minds. The Board of Elections assigns voters to voting machines based on the “election district” in which the voter resides. The Assembly District included 104 election districts. Some polling places included only one voting machine, for one election district; other polling places could include as many as twenty.  Polling places could be the lobby of an apartment building, a library, a church, but most of the voting machines were in school cafeterias or gyms. Voters in the 45th Assembly District reported to about forty different polling places, all told.  The job also required a “pulling” operation: making sure that every voter we had previously identified as favorably inclined toward us, actually got to the polls to cast a vote.

Campaign experts know that these election day operations affect a tiny percentage of the vote – probably less than two percent. But two percent can make the difference in a close race. Also, the size and scope of the election day operation offers a good indicator of a campaign’s overall strength and efficiency: if the candidate has a lot of support and good organization, he or she will be able to mobilize more volunteers on election day (or primary day). Among the regulars, the reformers, my campaign people, family and friends, we had a fair-sized army.

The regular Democratic organization also had a tradition at this time with which I, as a reformer, was unfamiliar, called “walking around money.” The night before primary day, the club’s captains – thirty or so in number, all told – formed a line facing Lupka and Florence Campagna, the female leader. In turn, each approached the leaders and was given fifty dollars. Lupka told me that this would cover whatever expenses the captains incurred on primary day. I still don’t know what expenses those were.

Lupka made an excellent choice of primary day coordinator. To call Victor Barron a perfectionist would be an understatement. If Victor needed to confirm an assignment with a volunteer and the volunteer didn’t answer the phone at 8 a.m., 3 p.m., 7 p.m., or 11 p.m., Victor would call at 3 a.m., or so it seemed. Lupka joked that if the volunteer tried to beg off, having broken a leg, Victor would ask why she couldn’t use crutches; if both legs, why not a wheelchair? Victor, in those days an attorney, would many years later become a hard-working and intelligent judge. Unfortunately, he would also go to prison for taking a bribe. But Victor ran our election day operation to a T.

A voter could not approach a polling place without being accosted by a group of volunteers handing out leaflets for Feldman and Lupka. Barron assigned Lupka’s wife and my father to the biggest polling place, Cunningham Junior High School, on East 17th Street between Avenue S and Avenue R. My 76-year old father, warm, kindly, and a shade under five feet tall, would ask each voter to vote for me so that he could “sleep well” that night. Quite a few voters told him that he would get a very good night’s sleep, and many eventually reported the story back to me as well. Lupka later insisted that his wife had been almost equally effective.

As the polls closed at 9 p.m. on September 9, 1980, we gathered at the Kings Highway Democratic Club on Coney Island Avenue to tally the results as our poll watchers brought them in from each polling place. No bad news came. In short order it became clear that we had won a smashing victory: about 10,000 votes for me, 5000 for Margules, 2500 for Rothman. The membership clamored for a speech. I thanked them for their enthusiastic and strenuous efforts. Despite my disapproval of Margules and his campaign, I could not help but express my sympathy at that moment: “I know what it is to lose,” I said, suppressing some rumblings among the crowd that wanted to take some joy in his defeat. But I took plenty of joy in our victory.

Campaigning at the Brighton Baths

In NYC Politics on September 7, 2011 at 6:36 am

Weekends required somewhat different scheduling than weekdays. Of course candidates don’t do subway stops, since few workers commute on the weekend. However, the campaign schedule requires synagogue attendance on Saturday mornings and church attendance on Sunday mornings, regardless of the candidate’s personal religious views. Sunday mornings also feature breakfast meetings of synagogue men’s clubs and B’nai Brith chapters. But for a candidate for the Assembly in the 45th Assembly District, the biggest chunk of weekend time – Saturday and Sunday afternoons – was most profitably spent at the Brighton Baths.

The “Baths” had a lot of character. Situated between Brighton Beach Avenue and the Boardwalk, and between Coney Island Avenue on the west and Brighton 12th Street on the east, the Baths took up the equivalent of several entire City blocks. It featured several swimming pools, a half-dozen paddle-tennis courts, numerous handball walls, a grill restaurant, miniature golf, mahjong and card tables and lounge chairs as far as the eye could see, a bandshell with hundreds of seats in its outdoor auditorium, and cavernous locker rooms, one each for men and women, complete with steam rooms, saunas, and massage tables. At its peak, it enrolled fifteen thousand members. It opened in 1907 and closed in 1997 to make way for luxury housing. Between the 1950s and the 1970s all major New York politicians made it their business to show up there at least once during their campaigns. For me, though, the Baths meant not just a mandatory campaign stop, but virtually a mandatory campaign summer. Of the several thousand members still enrolled and mostly in attendance on any sunny summer weekend in 1980, at least a third voted in the 45th Assembly district, whether in Brighton Beach, Manhattan Beach, Midwood, Flatbush, or Sheepshead Bay. Herb Lupka, Max Sultan, and many other local political potentates held court at spots they had occupied there for decades as supplicants begged favors or just ambled over to pay respects. Candidates who were mere visitors, like myself, encountered elderly, cheerful, slightly bored members: the perfect political audience.

Hy Cohen presided over this establishment. The Muss real estate organization owned the Baths during that era, but Hy ran it for them. A big, gruff former construction worker, Hy had long served as a fixture in the Brooklyn Democratic organization. He, Lupka, and Brooklyn Borough President and later Democratic County Leader Howard Golden were especially close. Any politician could stand in front of the entrance to the Baths, on the public street, and greet the members as they entered. But politicians that Hy Cohen favored got to enter, and chat with the members as they relaxed, instead of merely offering a quick greeting as they entered. Hy permitted the most favored to speak to the assembled multitude at the bandshell. Although the members did not really want to hear speeches, this mark of Hy’s approval counted as a plus with most of them. Since Lupka now supported me, I was one of those thus favored.

Even if Hy let you wander through the Baths and speak, though, it paid also to greet the members at the gate as they entered or left. Many members had enough patience only for the quick greeting, but after meeting you a dozen times that way during the summer, they would at least remember your name. This mattered, because in campaign for an open seat for minor office, for much of its duration the voters will usually not know any of the candidates’ names. Voters have many things on their minds, and many, many more information stimuli are competing for their attention. Your campaign merely adds yet another annoyance. But on primary day, in the voting booth, the voter who recognizes a name will take pride in that quantum of knowledge. Often, in gratitude to the candidate for engendering this pleasant emotion, the voter will support that candidate. Thus, one of the oldest pieces of political wisdom: at that point in your campaign when voters tell you “if I hear your name one more time I’m voting for the other guy,” your campaign has now begun to have an impact. If you really want to win, keep it going until the election.

Feldman for Assembly

In NYC Politics on August 26, 2011 at 1:25 pm

Although I had not announced my candidacy until June, I had hired my campaign manager a few months earlier. I do not remember how I first met Larry Pinkoff. A young man in his early twenties, obviously very bright, full of energy, he had grown up in Sheepshead Bay, although in the part that was in the next Assembly District to the east. Since Larry was still living with his parents, he could survive on the tiny amount I was able to pay him – something like fifty dollars a week.

Larry began making lists, finding volunteers, and locating a campaign headquarters. His girlfriend, Rita Gunther, an extremely intelligent Barnard student, soon became our first full-time volunteer. Larry had lots of ideas but was wildly disorganized. Rita brought order out of Larry’s chaos. Linda Brochstein, a very attractive young lady who was only about twenty, if that, the daughter of East Midwood Jewish Center acquaintances, volunteered to accompany me at subway stops, supermarkets, lobby meetings, and the various other campaign venues. Larry collected a few marginal characters as well. Most campaigns have at least one.

Linda Brochstein had never “done” a subway stop before. The 45th Assembly district included nine stops: Brighton Beach, Sheepshead Bay, Neck Road, Avenue U, Kings Highway, Avenue M, and Avenue J, all on the Brighton Line (in those days designated as the D train). Unlike the better-known Manhattan lines, which run underground, the Brighton Line runs on raised platforms above the ground; where it runs through the 45th, it runs entirely between East 15th Street and East 16th Street. Experienced candidates in New York City prefer the morning rush hour to the afternoon: some subway commuters, called “straphangers,” will grab your leaflet to read while riding the train to work, but very few will suffer any interruption when racing out of the train to get home. Also, the science of subway leafleting teaches candidates to maximize efficiency: if the stop has a location where you can intercept the straphangers before they split for various stairways up or down to the platforms, you occupy that spot. Some stations, though, have entirely separate entrances, so you need to allocate a different morning to each entrance.

The Kings Highway station, an express stop (as opposed to the more numerous “local” stops), requires three mornings. Its Quentin Avenue entrance, in addition to the regular walk-in traffic, gets busloads of commuters from Gerritsen Beach, also in the 45th, every few minutes. Linda showed personal courage on several occasions during the campaign. She didn’t hesitate to climb telephone poles to tear down opponents’ posters at two in the morning (the traditional time for such activities). She’d campaign for me right in Margules’ face on the street. But after a stoic two-hour stretch working the non-stop avalanche of commuters bearing down on us at the Quentin Avenue entrance, she admitted she had been scared: “It’s just like being in the middle of a cattle stampede!”

On another occasion, Sandy Singer decided to join me in working a subway stop, this time at Brighton Beach, where he would encounter some of his neighbors, because many Manhattan Beach residents used that stop. Loud-mouthed Sandy started out feeling in his element, shouting like a circus barker, “Step right up and say hello to Dan Feldman, your next Assemblyman!” But Sandy didn’t know that at best, perhaps a quarter of the commuters will actually stop to pay attention. A very small percentage makes nasty comments, but the vast majority shows no interest at all. Eventually he began to announce, “It’s no problem, folks. I just love being ignored. Just keep passing me by…”

Among the groups I had encountered while representing Schumer at meetings, I had “connected” best with the various Jewish War Veterans posts: Post #6, Fleishman-Horowitz in Brighton Beach; the Meyer Levin Post in Midwood; Post #2 in Sheepshead Bay. For some reason, perhaps because they saw my obvious gratitude for their service to our country, these men became my most fervent supporters. One former County Commander, Ed Schwimmer, led the way. Others quickly followed, including “Doc” Weisbrodt, a dentist, who also happened to be a key captain in the regular Democratic club. Doc’s hundreds of loyal political followers in the Ocean Avenue apartment buildings from Kings Highway down to Avenue W were almost as numerous as Pat Singer’s in Brighton Beach or Max Sultan’s on Avenue L.

We knew that the public announcement of my candidacy could be an opportunity to show strength and confidence, or a disaster showing neither. Dan Tubridy, my old friend from Broad Channel, helped me translate my experience running Holtzman’s office and working for Schumer into language that would show my overwhelming credentials and preparation for the job. As important, Larry and Rita helped me assemble enough family, friends, and Jewish War Veterans to assure an audience of perhaps fifty people. The announcement went well – and was no doubt a factor in winning me the regular Democratic club’s support a few weeks later.

But if Larry, Rita and I had any illusions that the club’s endorsement would assure our victory, Lupka quickly shattered them. “We can get you about thirty percent of the primary vote,” he said. “The rest is up to you.” Lupka really wasn’t going to leave it up to me, though, especially since his own reelection as district leader was tied to my success. The Midwood Development Corporation, unofficially but strongly backing Margules, my principal opponent, sponsored and organized the Midwood Mardi Gras, an annual street festival on Avenue M. The Margules campaign would be out in force, and Lupka warned me that if Margules overshadowed me, the consequent loss of confidence in my campaign could be devastating.  Since the Mardi Gras came at the end of June, a lot of voters would disappear for the summer thereafter with that event as their last impression before returning in September to vote in the primary.

Larry quickly arranged for the delivery of fifty “Feldman for Assembly” tee shirts. At the Mardi Gras, our troops occupied about twenty-five of the shirts. Armed with campaign flyers, we managed to outnumbered and overshadow the Margules forces by a small margin.

But Margules himself clearly out-campaigned me. I seemed to be incapable of greeting voters quickly enough to shake hands with ten a minute, as he did easily. A somewhat large and visible redhead with a loud voice, he made his presence obvious as he bulled his way through the crowd. I couldn’t stop myself from having real conversations with individual voters, although I generally kept each conversation under two minutes. Margules, then, would shake hands with, say, three hundred voters each hour, while I might meet one-third that number. (I didn’t have conversations with EVERY voter.)

Word filtered back to Tubridy that my subway-stop style also left something to be desired. Probably, Linda Brochstein had told Larry, who told Tubridy. After a typical long day of campaigning, I returned to our ramshackle office above a pizza parlor on Kings Highway one night to find Tubridy. After a brief exposition of my failure, he grabbed my head with both hands, pulled me within two inches of his own large and bearded face, and yelled “Smile, you p—k!” While we never really solved the conversation problem, from then on at least I smiled.

Meade Esposito

In NYC Politics on August 19, 2011 at 3:50 pm

I had gotten to know Herb Lupka to some extent. Liz Holtzman seemed to have a visceral distrust of most regular Democrats and was one of the very few Brooklyn Democrats who never made peace with Meade Esposito, their countywide leader. But Liz liked Lupka. This gave me some threshold comfort with him, and nothing about him set off any red flags in my perceptual apparatus either. I picked up no hint that he would try to corrupt me in any way. When he informed me that I would be the Club’s choice, I was immensely relieved. I knew this would greatly increase my chances of victory.

A few days later, though, he let me know that as the regular Democratic candidate, protocol obliged him to take me to meet Meade, “our” county leader. Now I worried. What deal with the devil would I be asked to sign?

On a broiling hot June mid-afternoon, we drove up to Democratic County headquarters at 16 Court Street, the official seat of Meade’s reign. As always, I appeared in a suit and tie. Even at the end of my political life eighteen years later I was formal and stiff compared with the typical politician. I’m sure I was much worse in those early days.

Meade greeted Herb warmly, and me cordially. He paid little attention to me, though. I noticed the cartoon posted on his wall. A young bull says to a much older bull, “Let’s run down the hill and f–k a cow.” The old bull replies, “No. We’ll walk down the hill and f—k ‘em all!”

Meade talked with Herb at some length, although, so far as I could tell, not about anything very important. Finally, Meade turned to me.  “Feldman. I got some advice for you,” said in that famous gravelly voice. Uh-oh, I thought. Here it comes. What would he want? A pause. He reflects. “I think you should unbutton your collar and loosen your tie.”

Okay. Shortly you will read about the rather eventful next three months. But now we flash forward to September, after I’ve won the Democratic primary. Herb says, “Now you are the official Democratic candidate for the Assembly. We have to go pay another courtesy call on Meade.” Now I worried somewhat less. I was as good as elected, in my overwhelmingly Democratic district. What could Meade demand of me? Still, I remained somewhat concerned.

Again, it’s mid-afternoon. Again, it’s hot, although not as hot as in June. Again, we ascend to Meade’s office. This time he pays a little more attention to me. He gets Stanley Fink on the phone, making it obvious that Fink, the Speaker of the New York State Assembly, took Esposito’s call immediately. He tells Fink about the soon-to-be new member of the Assembly from the 45th District, me. He finishes with Fink. After some more chit-chat with Herb, he finally turns to me. Again, he says “Feldman. I got some advice for you.” Again, reflection and consideration. A judicious pause. “I think you should say ‘f—k’ more often.”

Of course, this was his way of telling me to relax, loosen up. But I quickly understood something that distant onlookers, armchair critics, and even those few reformers who kept their distance might not have understood. One very important source of Meade’s power was that almost everyone who actually met him liked him.

I learned more in my next encounter. Flash forward again, to spring 1981. Brooklyn District Attorney Eugene Gold announced he would not run for reelection and Liz announced her candidacy for the job. Liz was one of the few who didn’t like Meade and Meade didn’t like Liz. I immediately endorsed Liz and began campaigning with her. The regular organization candidate was Norman Rosen, a former assistant district attorney but a thoroughly unimpressive person. Meade’s dislike of Liz, though, impelled him to corral all the support he could for Rosen. Rosen’s campaign hired Hank Sheinkopf to craft its radio and television commercials. Before he went into public relations, Hank had been a New York City police officer who enrolled in the administrative law class I was teaching at John Jay College at the time. But now he designed a ferocious commercial against Liz. It featured an elderly Jewish lady advising the viewers and listeners that “She’s a nice girl, but she’s not right for the job.”

Some of my friends warned me that I would be annoying Meade by endorsing Liz. This influenced me not at all. She had proven herself a true friend of mine, and, as far as I could tell, especially with Lowenstein now gone, the most dedicated public servant I knew. And for several months, I heard nothing from Meade.

In mid-July, though, Jean Safonoff, who ran the neighborhood office that served my constituents (my “district” office), got a phone call from Ruth Gelbard, Meade’s secretary. Meade required my presence at the Arch Diner in Canarsie at 7 a.m. Thursday morning. This, Herb informed me, signaled a real meeting. Meade, now 74 years old, felt sharpest early in the morning, and held court at the Arch. The afternoon meetings at his Court Street office were for courtesy. The morning meetings at the Arch were for business.

I enter the Arch a few minutes early. Meade was already there, sitting alone. He welcomed me to his table, and invited me to breakfast with him. After a few minutes of pleasantries, he got to the point. “Look,” he said, “I know you’re her friend. You had to endorse her. I understand that. But you are part of the regular organization. Can’t you at least take it easy? You don’t have to campaign with her all the time.”

I said “Meade, you’re my friend. If you were in trouble, I would help you all the way. That’s what I have to do with Liz.”

He tried the line from the commercial: “you know, she’s a nice girl, but not right for the job.” I said, “You know as well as I do, she’s not so nice, and she’s perfect for the job.” He laughed.

Then he said “Okay. I understand. Fine. But there’s a City Council race in your district, and I happen to know that you’re not personal friends with any of the candidates. So you’ll support my guy, okay?”

What could I say? In fact, I was by no means crazy about his guy. But I agreed. This taught me more about how Meade exercised control. In fact, the Council race was canceled for legal reasons,   so I never had to support the candidate in question, and Meade never again asked me for anything. However, several fellow politicians told me, in later years, that Meade had said to them, “Feldman was the only one who had ever stood up to me” – and he meant it as a compliment.

While I never saw any evidence that Meade broke any laws, I cannot say I was astonished when he was convicted of influence peddling some years after his retirement in 1983.  But I couldn’t help but like him.