Daniel L. Feldman

Posts Tagged ‘Howard Golden’

Characters: Noach Dear – “a piece of work”

In NYC Politics on April 27, 2012 at 12:06 pm

Noach Dear has his good points. Now a judge, he has stood up for suffering debtors against sleazy debt collectors. Even as a rascal, his uninhibited forthrightness had a certain charm. At one point in my congressional campaign, some mutual friends introduced me to a few wealthy Syrian Jews from the Ocean Parkway neighborhood, from whom I tried to raise money. None contributed, but one was open enough to tell me that Noach had done too many favors for him and his friends for them to help an opponent of his — me. He went on to reassure me, though, that he knew what Noach was – because Noach had told him. They were marching together in some parade, he said, when he began mildly berating Noach for a vote on some City Council item apparently at odds with the views of the Syrian Jewish community. Noach responded, “Look – I know what I am. I’m a prostitute!”

In my personal dealings with him, that kind of bizarre forthrightness was part of an openness and warmth that made it difficult for me to dislike him personally. However, friends of mine involved in certain business ventures with Dear complained bitterly about his behavior. I found his political behavior absolutely appalling, and thought he was a terrible public official.

A former professional saxophone player, he had served as District Manager of Community Board 12 (much of which covers Brooklyn’s Borough Park community) and helped Howard Golden attract the growing Orthodox Jewish population of Golden’s Borough Park-based City Council district. When Golden became Brooklyn Borough President, he helped engineer Dear’s succession to the City Council seat. Unlike the politically moderate Golden, however, Dear rose to prominence as a fierce opponent of gay rights who “often compared homosexuals to criminals and deviants.”  The Village Voice noted his “lifetime of hostile rhetoric towards gays, blacks, and women.”

Dear also created a charitable foundation, ostensibly to help Soviet Jews, but used the proceeds to pay for trips for his family and other personal expenses, for which was required to reimburse over $37,000 to the foundation and was censured by then-Attorney General Robert Abrams.  The foundation also paid him about $250,000 a year. During our congressional race, he accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal contributions (perhaps a third of the money he raised for that campaign), for which his campaign was fined $45,000 by the Federal Election Commission. Dear’s campaign treasurer, Abe Roth, also served as the CPA for Sholom Rubashkin’s Agriprocessors, the Iowa “kosher” meatpacking plant that mistreated animals and workers alike.

Most of my “member item” money – the infamous “pork barrel” or “slush fund” money that legislative leaders allow individual members to direct to pet causes – went to pre-kindergarten programs in the public schools in my district. However, out of respect for the work that Catholic schools and yeshivas also performed for the children in my district, and cognizant of the financial pressures many of them faced, I had sought ways to help them as well. I led the fight to reimburse those schools for administrative costs imposed on them by the earlier enactment of a law requiring them to exclude children who had not been immunized, and of course to keep records in order to do so. My amendment to the “mandated services” statute created the first new stream of public revenue in a long time made available to non-public schools in the State of New York. Its enactment won me effusive plaudits from the Orthodox Jewish community.  But Noach was “one of them,” and had done so many political favors for individuals and individual organizations that I could not win any substantial support in the Orthodox Jewish community (not counting my own Orthodox synagogue, the Manhattan Beach Jewish Center, most of whose members at the time, like me, were not actually Orthodox).

Ultimately, on September 11, 1998 the New York Post would endorse Noach in the race, while noting “some ethically questionable choices [he had made] in the 1980s,” calling me “a serious student of government,” but noting that I was “a truly straight talker, almost to a fault,” perhaps really meaning it was a fault.


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.