Daniel L. Feldman

Posts Tagged ‘Breezy Point’

Queens

In NYC Politics on June 8, 2012 at 3:24 pm

In the years between 1977, when I moved from Rockaway to Brooklyn, and the congressional race in 1998, I often had the same anxiety dream. I dreamt I was jogging through Rockaway – as indeed I had jogged its 12-mile length a number of times when I was in my twenties – but big swatches of what had been the residential areas I knew on the peninsula had now disappeared, either washed away by the ocean, or covered with sand, or replaced with some kind of hostile developments. Somehow, for my own sense of security, I needed to know that my hometown, Rockaway, had stayed strong and healthy.

On some subconscious level, I must have imagined that the people of Rockaway reciprocated my concern and affection. Having narrowly beaten the popular incumbent City Council member, Walter Ward, on the peninsula, a quarter of a century earlier, I somehow imagined that its voters would stay loyal to me.

In fact, I did still have fairly strong support in the immediate Belle Harbor and Neponsit neighborhoods where I had grown up, but that mile-and-a-half community of mostly one-and-two family houses would only provide a fraction of Rockaway’s total vote. Further, a good many of the voters whose loyalties I might have won in throughout the Rockaways in the 1970s had by now died or retired to Florida.

Without Katz in the race, I probably could have positioned myself more clearly as a Queens and Brooklyn candidate, in sharper contrast to Weiner (Dear, in many neighborhoods, was not a factor). But failing that advantage, Weiner’s natural street-campaign talents, and perhaps his eventual endorsement by Schumer, enabled him to outpoll me.

Friction between Alan Hevesi and Tom Manton, the Queens County Democratic leader, left it unclear for a while whether the Queens County Democratic organization would support Katz. During that period, former friends like Betty Braton, now a political force in Howard Beach, sidestepped my efforts to enlist their support, using the purported candidacy of Art Beroff, a young self-made millionaire from Howard Beach, as an excuse. Beroff, a pleasant young man with very little depth in public policy, removed himself from consideration as soon as Hevesi succeeded winning County support for Katz. Beroff died tragically young, at 44, from esophageal cancer in 2004.

Nettie Mayersohn and Tony Seminario, two of my colleagues representing Assembly districts in Queens that lay partially in the 9th congressional district and would contribute some Democratic primary votes, both loudly and often touting their political independence, both having claimed irreconcilable political differences with Katz, and both having made shows of friendship with me, quickly endorsed Katz once Manton made his peace with Hevesi.

Back in Rockaway, Geraldine Chapey, the female Democratic leader from the regular wing of the party, shared my distaste for Simon and took significant amounts of my time talking incessantly about how she would help me with Irish Catholic voters in Rockaway, especially in Breezy Point. While relatively pleasant, certainly compared with Simon, Chapey ultimately refused to “go against County” and thus did not endorse me. Dan Tubridy, my old friend from Broad Channel, produced almost a solid bloc vote for me there – about ninety percent, with my three opponents dividing the rest – while Chapey produced nothing. Of course, she could always make the untestable claim that I would have done worse without her, but I doubt it.

 

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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.

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.

In New York State Politics on November 25, 2011 at 6:32 pm

My hostile relationship with Mario Cuomo started in 1987 when Cuomo used the no-show job scandal with Assemblywoman Gerdi Lipschutz, noted in a previous post, as the basis for a relentless attack on the ethics of the Legislature. Virtually daily, for weeks, he lambasted the Legislature, called for the establishment of an investigating commission, which, as then constituted, was designed only to attack and smear. The major daily newspapers’ editorial pages, supporting Cuomo, essentially proclaimed as dishonest any legislator who opposed it. Adam Nagourney, then of the Daily News, went to each legislator with the question, “if the bill establishing the commission came to the floor today, would you support it or oppose it?” I responded that I would support it if it were clear that the commission’s mandate would be expanded to include the executive branch as well. I suggested inquiries into any possible relationship between the Governor’s position on Westway and contributions from the construction industry, the award of managing positions in public authority bond syndications and contributions from major investment banking firms, and the like. Nagourney, of course, printed my response.

The next morning I got the only phone call from Mario Cuomo I ever received. I heard the Governor of the State of New York virtually ranting and raving on the telephone. Among other comments, he claimed that he had never attacked the Legislature. On my desk was that morning’s newspapers, quoting him as doing just that. But I could not get a word in edgewise. Finally, he screamed, “You’re going to learn what frustration means!” and hung up. While I did not tell this story to the press, I did tell it to several – hundred – other people. So the next day the story of the phone call appeared in the papers. [Sources for this story can be found in Tales from the Sausage Factory on page 338.]

Cuomo took his revenge in 1989, when I ran to become Brooklyn’s District Attorney to succeed Liz, who ran and won that year to become New York City Comptroller. My campaign had issued advertising criticizing my chief opponent, Joe Hynes, for his presidency of the Breezy Point cooperative, an organization notorious in my youth for excluding not only from home ownership, but even from visits, non-Irish Catholics from anywhere, including my childhood neighborhood, Belle Harbor, only about two miles away on the same Rockaway peninsula. By the time I ran Breezy included a few Italian-American families, and perhaps a handful of intermarried Jews or Latinos, but certainly no blacks. Cuomo used what he called my “scurrilous” attack on Hynes as his excuse for breaking his rule against endorsements in Democratic primaries.  Not only did Cuomo endorse Joe Hynes (and, I believe, as I will explain in a future blog, indirectly encourage the Appellate Division to keep a third candidate on the ballot to split my support, in violation of law), but after I lost, he publicly blamed me for a different leaflet distributed by my campaign, although I had known nothing about it.

Lambda Independent Democrats, a gay Democratic club in Brooklyn, had endorsed Hynes over me in the race. Although no other campaign leaflet went out without my prior review and approval, in the final days of the campaign someone arranged for a leaflet saying “Gay Democrats Support Joe Hynes. Who Do You Support?” to be distributed only in Borough Park, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhood where, presumably, homophobia could be exploited most effectively. A few weeks after my defeat, the press reported that at Cuomo’s urging, I was under investigation by the State Commission on Public Integrity for this leaflet.   The Commission resulted from the earlier campaign Cuomo had launched against the Legislature, but under the leadership of the reasonable John Feerick, at that time Dean of Fordham Law School, operated in a fairer and far less biased manner than Cuomo would apparently have preferred. Thus, nothing would come of this “investigation.”

I had consistently supported gay rights despite fairly fierce opposition from segments of my own constituency. Defeated and in debt, I was so beaten down at the time that I could not muster the will to respond. To my lasting regret, I failed to say what I should have: “I am sure that Mario Cuomo knew no more about the ‘Vote for Cuomo, not the Homo’ signs in his 1977 mayoral race against Ed Koch than I knew about the leaflet in my race. But he’s hardly in a position to criticize.”   In fact, I am by no means sure that Cuomo knew no more about that piece than I knew about the piece my campaign put out.

This story has a coda. The following January, Cuomo invited the Democratic members of the Assembly to the Mansion for an informal dinner, obviously in an attempt to improve his relationships. In the center of the room stood a glass case, containing a conciliatory letter to Cuomo from Anthony Genovese, with whom he had had some friction, accompanied by two bottles of wine Genovese had sent Cuomo. The display seemed a tasteless demonstration of Cuomo’s exercise of dominance over Genovese.

After refreshments, Cuomo made some brief remarks about his plans for the upcoming session, and then asked if any of the fifty or so legislators present had any questions. I did not raise my hand, but he called on me anyway. A slight titter went around the room, the audience being aware of the bad blood between us. I said to the group, “Well, you know I have always been one of the Governor’s favorites.” This got a bigger laugh. Then Cuomo said, “You always have been one of my favorites, except of course for a brief period a few months ago.” More chuckles. So I replied, “Well, I guess that means I have to send you a bottle of wine.” Uproar. We left it at that.