Daniel L. Feldman

Posts Tagged ‘Broad Channel’

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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“Leadership is more than potholes – it’s sewers”

In NYC Politics on July 1, 2011 at 4:28 pm

Democratic primaries for City Council nominations rarely turn on significant ideological issues. This race was no exception. Walter got potholes fixed. However, he had not been able to ward off (sorry) the larger forces of neighborhood decline in the late 1960s and early 1970s, with increased crime and poverty. While we might have been thought unfair to hold this against him, the benefits of his incumbency surely outweighed the burdens. Our district was situated in southeastern Queens, the part of New York City most subject to flooding because the roads – and everything else – were built mostly on top of sand. The district always needed more sewers. Thus, our internal campaign slogan, intended literally, metaphorically, and sarcastically all at the same time, was “Leadership is more than potholes – it’s sewers.”

In a local race like this one, voters want assurance from people they know that a candidate will be good for the neighborhood. The support of local community leaders thus becomes crucial.

The Cross Bay Bridge takes motorists north from the middle of Rockaway to an island called Broad Channel. Cross Bay Boulevard becomes a causeway north from Broad Channel to Howard Beach, the first community in mainland Queens. Broad Channel, now a prosperous and attractive community sharing an island with the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Preserve, has changed a lot since that 1973 City Council race.

In those days, the Broad Channel community vastly exceeded the Dayton houses or most other Rockaway communities in racism and right-wing reaction. I explained to outsiders that they had voted only reluctantly for George Wallace in 1968, since they considered him rather too liberal. My mother, who had some experience with the denizens of the regular Democratic organization, considered Broad Channel’s local community leader, Henry Waichaitis, to be an anti-Semite as well as a racist.

Back when I attended Junior High School 180 in the early 1960s, the “bad kids” usually came from Broad Channel. Junior High School 180 pioneered in the kind of school violence that many New York City residents attributed to black students in later years, but in our school it came from the Broad Channel kids. The Jewish kids from my neighborhood, Belle Harbor, sometimes served as victims, but since I was a cafeteria arm-wrestling champion, they gave me some respect, and I got to know some of them. Jimmy Whalen, for example, went straight into the Navy out of eighth or ninth grade. I’m not sure which, but he had been left back enough to have reached the age of 18 while still in junior high school. Others who dropped out before high school joined the military too, which in those days demanded far less education than it does now. Some, though, went straight into organized crime, having already apprenticed in the disorganized variety. While, as noted in earlier blog postings, some higher-level mob figures bought houses in Howard Beach, the lower ranks had more representation in Broad Channel.

Waichaitis had no problem delivering Broad Channel’s four hundred or so Democratic primary votes to Walter Ward, not because Walter necessarily shared their views, but he was Irish-American, not black or Jewish, and he said nothing to upset them.

Of course, most Broad Channel residents must have been good people, as are people everywhere. The good people preeminently included Dan Tubridy, a Broad Channel kid my own age, who at this point owned a bar called Dingy Dan’s on a run-down street in Seaside, an Irish-American community near Rockaway’s Playland amusement park on Beach 98th Street. I don’t remember how we first met, but we quickly became friends. Dan was then an up-and-coming community leader in Broad Channel, with political aspirations of his own. Big, smart, gregarious, with a big red beard, he made a strong impression. He also had a lot of relatives in Broad Channel. That year, I won twenty-five votes from Broad Channel – all of them probably named Tubridy. Twenty-five years later, when I ran for Congress in a congressional district that also included Broad Channel, I won ninety percent of Broad Channel’s five hundred Democratic primary votes in a four-way race, again thanks to Dan Tubridy – and that time, no more than fifty of them could have been named Tubridy.

But in the 1973 City Council race, the regular Democratic club had co-opted most of the other community leaders. Betty Braton, the Old Howard Beach rebel I wrote about in a previous blog, and Dan Tubridy were rare exceptions.

The regular Democratic club leader, Seymour (“Sy”) Sheldon, who had been my mother’s ally in fighting the old-guard regulars like Milton Jacobowitz and J. Lewis Fox in the 1950s and early 1960s, had long since taken over the regular organization himself and now fought the new wave of reformers. Gerdi Lipschutz, “his” female leader, also a friend of my mother’s, gave me no support either, although years later, when both she and I served in the Assembly, she greeted me very warmly. After she retired from politics, she even tried to help in my congressional race.

The professionals were wrong. I got a lot more than ten percent of the vote. But I was wrong too: I did not win. I had underestimated the power of incumbency. I just barely beat Walter on the Rockaway peninsula. I received about 5015 votes there; he got a little closer to 5000. All those personal favors Walter had done over the years had served him well. He had often called himself “the Councilman from Rockaway,” and I later learned that he was shocked, and even hurt, by losing Rockaway, even by such a small margin. But in Howard Beach, he beat me by something like 5000 to 1000, including his ten-to-one margin in the Lindenwood section. In the far north of the district – Glendale, Ridgewood, Ozone Park, Woodhaven – he got about sixty percent of the vote to my forty percent. Over all, I got thirty-five percent of the vote.

It was time for me to get a job.

Feldman for City Council

In NYC Politics on June 3, 2011 at 7:28 pm

I was raising money. Harvard Law School admits over five hundred students each year. Each of my classmates received a letter from me explaining that I needed help to pay for my campaign. I raised a total of about three thousand dollars for the race, from three hundred contributors, most of them my classmates. Thus, my average contributor gave me ten dollars. Even in 1973 dollars, this was very little with which to run a campaign.

My father, a fine artist and interior designer with strong, intelligent, liberal, and humane views about national political issues, had no experience or real interest in local politics. He and I designed my campaign literature, which we produced for the cost of photocopying it. It had a hideous picture of me in the middle, with a slogan sure to turn off the middle-class voters I needed. It said something like “subsidies for poor people instead of high-rise low-income housing.” A political professional I got to know in later years called it by far the single worst piece of campaign literature he ever saw.

My opponent, Walter Ward, had been the City Council member for about eight years. He owned a billboard company. Every fifty feet, it seemed, another billboard announced “Action, Not Promises. Re-elect Walter Ward.” His billboard company had made him a lot of money. The council district included the Rockaway peninsula, New York City’s southernmost neighborhoods on a fourteen mile beach, with a diverse collection of non-diverse neighborhoods strung along it: now Jewish, now Italian, now an all-black housing project for which Lindsay got blamed, now Irish, my own Belle Harbor neighborhood with its mixture of Irish and Jewish, and at the west end, the all-Irish Breezy Point, Roxbury, and Rockaway Point; Broad Channel, a small island between Rockaway and the Queens mainland with Irish, Italians, and Germans, no Jews and certainly no blacks; Howard Beach, the Italian and Jewish neighborhood where Walter lived and had been Democratic district leader for twenty years; and neighborhoods to the north of Howard Beach though still in southern Queens, including the heavily German Ridgewood and Glendale, and the more mixed – Italian, Irish, and German — Woodhaven and Ozone Park.

When John Lindsay tried to build low-income housing in Forest Hills, a leafy neighborhood in northern Queens, he sparked one of the major controversies that would inflict fatal wounds on his political future. Few people knew that he first proposed the project for Howard Beach. John Gotti had not yet become Howard Beach’s most famous Mafia figure, and I don’t know whether he or some other Howard Beach mobster made the call, but someone sufficiently credible informed City Hall that no one would be hurt if the project were built in Howard Beach. However, also no one would live there, because it would be blown up before anyone could move in. The Mafia did not wish to take credit for keeping low-income housing out of Howard Beach. Walter got the credit. He lived in “new” Howard Beach, on the west side of Cross Bay Boulevard, in the Lindenwood middle-income housing project, heavily Jewish, with thousands of voters. He didn’t have building captains: he had floor captains. Irish-American Walter Ward would beat me in Jewish Lindenwood by a margin of nine to one.

A girlfriend of mine came with me to campaign, and saw Walter. “Oh,” she breathed, “he looks just like Gregory Peck!” This did not encourage me. But when the six-foot four Walter started to speak, the magic wore off.  Not only was Walter not an idea man, he was not really a complete-sentence man, and his Queens accent could make even native Queens-ites wince. “You should have heard him before he took elocution lessons,” my mother said. Walter would walk your dog for you, everyone said. If you complained about a pothole, Walter would get it fixed. But Rockaway residents felt it had become a “dumping ground” for welfare client housing and shoddy nursing homes under Lindsay. They blamed Lindsay, but it seemed to me that Walter could bear some of the blame; it happened on his watch too. Norman Adler, my college teacher and friend, said that if he lived in Walter’s district he’d run against him or move.  Eventually I would do both.

The Democratic primary vote – the only meaningful contest in this race – would take place on June 3. Incidentally, this year, 1973, would be the last time that would happen. The State Legislature set the primary date for September for 1974 and all subsequent years, helping office-holders by timing the peak of their opponents’ efforts for August, the month more than any other when voters leave town for vacation, and then September’s beginning of school, Labor Day, and the Jewish new year holidays.

But in 1973 the campaign year and the academic year still coincided. My friend and Harvard Law School classmate Arthur Kokot had spent a lot of time in Queens on my behalf in the fall. My turn for distance learning came in the spring semester. This time, my old college roommate, Victor Hertz, came out to manage my campaign. Considering that Victor knew nothing about managing campaigns, he did a really great job. However, he was best known for barking at me, “I’m scheduling you for a nap,” whenever it became too obvious that I had run myself down with 18-hour days of campaign work, which was often.