Daniel L. Feldman

Posts Tagged ‘Mario Cuomo’

Thinking About Congress

In National Politics on March 30, 2012 at 10:12 am

Sometime in late 1993 or early 1994, Schumer included a lunch meeting with me in his schedule for an Albany visit. At that time it seemed quite possible that Mario Cuomo would not run for reelection, given his weak poll numbers. More New Yorkers thought Cuomo should not run for reelection than thought he should, according to an April 1993 Marist poll.

Only five years after my primary run for Brooklyn District Attorney, voters would likely remember my name in large swaths of Brooklyn. If Schumer ran for Governor, I would run to fill the congressional seat he would have to abandon. Noach Dear, an Orthodox Jewish member of the New York City Council, seemed to be the most logical threat to my candidacy, should such a campaign come to pass. The burgeoning religious community in Brooklyn’s Borough Park included many of rapidly expanding wealth; Dear could raise tremendous sums of money from that group. Indeed, the New York Times noted his role as one of a small group of key fundraisers for Vice President Al Gore.  But Schumer assured me that despite his “fund-raising prowess,” in the Times’s words, Dear’s appeal was too limited for him to pose a serious threat to my candidacy; Dear could not get more than a fifth or a quarter of a Democratic primary vote in that congressional district.

Schumer’s interest in running for governor surprised me. I told him that I doubted that Moynihan, who had served as New York’s Senator since 1977, would run again in 2000, and that I thought Schumer would be the clear front-runner for that seat. Furthermore, Schumer had built a national reputation and power base in Washington. Why would he want to come back to Albany? He had a clear answer: “I don’t want to be one of 100 Senators shouting up. I would rather be the one in charge,” or words to that effect.

But when Cuomo decided to run, Schumer declined to fight him in a primary for the Democratic nomination. However, he did not wait for Moynihan to retire; he took on an uphill fight against Al D’Amato in 1998, thus opening his congressional seat to a successor that year.  Not only did Schumer win that fight, he did not become merely “one of 100 Senators shouting up.” He quickly rose to leadership, and within his second term became the second or third most powerful member of the Senate.

In some ways, Schumer’s decision not to run in 1994 gave me a sense of relief. Still-fresh memories of my 1989 campaign for District Attorney still pained me, so I had some reluctance to jump into another battle. But I did not want to end my days as the 80-year-old Assemblyman from Sheepshead Bay. Congress would offer fascinating new vistas. I salivated at the prospect of learning foreign affairs and the politics of Washington D.C. from that vantage point. When Schumer announce his candidacy in 1998, I had to run, or be forced to torture myself with “what if?s” forever after.

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The Democratic County Organization, Norman Rosen, and the Politics of the 1989 D.A. Race

In General on March 9, 2012 at 11:32 am

Notwithstanding all this, I might well have beaten Hynes but for the third candidate. Norman Rosen, who Liz had defeated in 1981, thought his candidacy was still viable in 1989. Howard Golden had not returned my favor of endorsing him, or my reluctant acquiescence to his request for me to take on the burden of the district leadership. Mario Cuomo had called him. Using the influence of the Governor’s office, Cuomo persuaded Golden to endorse Hynes. Years later, Hynes tried to claim that the Brooklyn Democratic organization had backed me, on the basis of the hair-splitting distinction that Golden had only endorsed Hynes in his capacity as Borough President, not as County Leader.  But the lawyers in Golden’s Democratic county organization either worked for Hynes, or, as it happened, worked for Norman Rosen. This became very significant.

Rosen had joint petitions with Council Member Louis Olmedo, who had previously served time for extortion. My campaign showed that so many of Rosen’s signatures were false or fraudulent that when we challenged them in court, Judge Joseph Slavin threw Rosen and Olmedo off the ballot. John Leventhal, a lawyer for the Brooklyn Democratic County organization, later a New York State Supreme Court judge, appealed to the Appellate Division, whose Second Department unanimously restored Rosen’s name, but not Olmedo’s, to the ballot – based on the same signatures, and with a brief opinion. This probably reflected the influence of the Democratic county organization as well.

If readers find this behavior by an appellate court shocking, they should be assured that it was not unprecedented. In a Democratic primary seven years earlier in Brooklyn’s 12th congressional district to succeed Shirley Chisholm, regular organization candidate State Senator Vander Beatty lost to reformer State Senator Major Owens by almost 3000 votes out of about 34,000 cast. It was credibly alleged that Beatty then sent functionaries to the Board of Elections purportedly to review the records, but actually to change them right then and there. Beatty then brought suit for a re-run based on the irregularities which he claimed had been committed earlier. The trial court granted him his re-run, and the Appellate Division affirmed. In that matter, the State’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, finally put a stop to the affair, on the basis of evidence that the New York Times had earlier described as being as clear as a bright yellow line painted down the middle of the road, leaving Owens to enjoy the victory he had so clearly already won. But the New York Times had no editorial interest in exposing any irregularities that worked to my disadvantage in 1989, and the Court of Appeals did not review the matter.

The significance of Rosen’s restoration to the ballot went beyond the sheer numbers. Rosen shared with me the same ethnicity, as well as a pro-death penalty reputation, thus splitting off some of the votes I would have won on either basis. Phil Caruso, head of the Police Benevolent Association, told me that I would have the PBA’s endorsement if I succeeded in knocking Rosen off the ballot. A shrewd politician himself, he knew that I would have a much better chance in a two-way race. In a two-way race, with the PBA endorsement, my campaign would have stood in much clearer contrast to Hynes’s.

Ultimately, Hynes would get 51% of the vote, to my 35% and Rosen’s 14%. So my vote and Rosen’s, together, still added up to less than half. But in a two-person race, with the PBA and likely other endorsements that would have come my way as well, chances are I would have beaten Hynes.

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.

Koch and Cuomo

In New York State Politics on November 18, 2011 at 12:20 pm

I had nothing against Mario Cuomo when he ran for Governor in 1982, but in the course of my work for Schumer I had gotten to know Ed Koch to some extent, and I liked him. When Schumer and I had in 1978 – quite justifiably – publicly criticized Blanche Bernstein, who had been running the City’s Human Resources Administration, Koch called us into a private meeting, and told us she was his “favorite” commissioner.  When we argued that our responsibility required us to expose City government mismanagement wherever we found it, and that he had quite enjoyed the results the previous year when he was running against incumbent mayor Abe Beame and the press had often headlined our exposures of failings of the Beame administration, Koch joked, in his trademark speech pattern, “but those were the baaaaaaad guys!” Previously, during that campaign, at his request and with him standing next to me I had called my friend Liz Holtzman to ask her to endorse him (she didn’t). Shortly after he took office, with my friends Ibby Lang and Gary Deane we put together what was in effect a road map for the Koch administration, pointing out all the crooks in various positions in the City’s poverty programs, which he used for a while to good effect.   So when Koch announced for Governor, I endorsed him.

After Cuomo won, he gave an inspiring inaugural address to the Legislature on New Year’s Day 1983. His famous keynote address to the Democratic National Convention in July 1984, “A Tale of Two Cities,” essentially recapitulated the earlier inaugural address.  When I heard the inaugural, I thought, “this will be a great governor.”

A few weeks later, he presented his budget proposals to the Legislature. While Mario faced legitimate pressure to impose drastic cuts, major targets of those cuts were the constituencies with the least political power, like the developmentally disabled and emotionally disturbed. Nowhere to be found was the “compassion” that seemed so central an element of his inaugural address. Mario gave great speeches. But as time went on, the disconnect between what he said and what he did became ever more apparent.

He did have some great lines. As a member of his audience on one occasion, he brought to my attention the great Peanuts cartoon where Schultz had Lucy, trying to console Charlie after losing yet another baseball game, say “Don’t feel bad, Charlie Brown, win some, lose some,” to which he responds, “Gee, wouldn’t that be great.”   In another speech, he reminded us that our grandparents or great-grandparents in Europe came over to the United States having been told that the streets were paved with gold. They discovered three things, he said: the streets weren’t paved with gold, they weren’t paved, and they had to pave them. (This wasn’t original with Mario either: see David A. Fryxell, Coming to America, Geneology.com.) In a third speech, he acknowledged that most people associated his background and interests with labor. (Although his previous work as an attorney provided little if any evidence for such assumptions, his chief political support in his first gubernatorial campaign did come from labor.) But, he asserted, he had family background in business, as well. His family had lost its business during the Great Depression. “A stockbroker jumped out of a window and landed on my father’s pushcart,” he joked.  I thought that line originated with Mario, but Jerry Skurnik told me he heard it long before Cuomo became an elected official

Mario cultivated the impression of himself as a cerebral governor. Students of his tenure would be hard-pressed, however, to find any accomplishment that resulted from his supposedly impressive intellect. In contrast, New York clearly benefited from the intellectual powers of Hugh Carey, who never made any great fuss about how brilliant he was.

We must not forget Mario Cuomo’s 1987 announcement of the “decade of the child.” When skeptics claim that its achievements were extremely modest, I counter that Andrew did quite well.