Daniel L. Feldman

Posts Tagged ‘Muskie’

A very successful congressional campaign

In National Politics, NYC Politics on May 20, 2011 at 5:09 pm

George McGovern won the Wisconsin primary with thirty percent of the vote, beginning the momentum that would lead to his nomination as the Democratic candidate for president in 1972. Lindsay got seven percent, and dropped out of the race.

Back at law school, I got two telephone calls asking for my help in Brooklyn Democratic congressional primaries to be decided that June 20th. Al Lowenstein called to ask for my help in his race in the downtown Brooklyn/ Brooklyn Heights district against John Rooney, a conservative pro-Vietnam War hawk who had served since 1944 and was friends with J. Edgar Hoover.   Liz Holtzman called to ask me to help her run in the Flatbush-Midwood-Sheepshead Bay district against Emanuel Celler, the “dean” of the House, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, a liberal icon instrumental in enacting the Civil Rights Act of 1964, who had served since 1922. I calculated thusly: Al would get volunteers and financial support from all over the country. Further, he was running against an outright conservative Democratic in a year when anti-war votes were propelling the McGovern forces to victory in Democratic primaries, so he would surely defeat Rooney. Poor Liz, running against the legendary Emanuel Celler, would definitely face massive defeat. At least if I helped her, she might get twenty percent of the vote, and avoid some degree of humiliation. So I went with Liz.

Liz assigned me the 43rd Assembly District, covering the Flatbush section, north of Brooklyn College, in the heart of Brooklyn. I had to recruit the volunteers to canvass the buildings, persuading voters first to sign designating petitions to get her on the ballot, and then persuading them to commit to voting for her. Telephone canvassers would call those voters the “foot” canvassers missed, working to get as complete a list of possible of those voters likely to support Liz. On primary day, volunteers would “pull” those favorable voters, again in person if possible and otherwise by vote, to get them out to vote. Other volunteers would stand outside the polling places leafleting approaching voters. Still others would drive to the polls favorable voters who were elderly or disabled.

Liz herself campaigned tirelessly, meeting voters at every subway stop, movie theatre line, supermarket, and bingo hall. Soon I saw that Liz would do better than I had expected, although (I thought) still nowhere near well enough to win. Celler had fought against the Equal Rights Amendment, and Liz, an obviously brilliant and hard-working woman, perfectly embodied the argument for the ERA. Also, Celler was 88 years old.  One of the telephone canvassers in the campaign office on Flatbush Avenue, after telling the voter on the other end of the line that Celler was 84, swallowed hard when the voter said, “I’m 84 years old!” The canvasser felt much better when the voter continued, “and if Celler feels like I do, he shouldn’t be in Congress.” We all felt much better after hearing the story.

The race included a third candidate, Bob O’Donnell. Led by Mike Churchill, Liz’s campaign manager, we undertook the massive effort necessary to try to knock him off the ballot, by showing that too many of his petition signatures failed to meet the legal requirements. If we succeeded, we thought, Liz would get the anti-Celler votes that O’Donnell would otherwise draw.  We failed. Post-election analysis showed that O’Donnell’s few thousand votes, had he been off the ballot, would have gone to Celler, not Holtzman. Holtzman beat Celler by about six hundred votes.

With all of Holtzman’s talent and drive, three factors beyond her control or our control enabled her to win. Our failure in the O’Donnell effort was one. Another was the Lowenstein campaign: the Democratic machine figured the odds just as I had. Assuming Holtzman had no chance, they put all their effort into Rooney’s campaign. Any support they could provide, such as “volunteers” from the Brooklyn Local 1814 of the International Longshoremen’s Association, all helped Rooney.  Celler himself called Holtzman “a toothpick trying to topple the Washington Monument,” so neither he nor the Brooklyn machine headed by Meade Esposito thought he needed any help.

Third, with Ed Muskie’s weakness, the regular organization knew better than to have him head up their slate, because voters rejecting Muskie might reject the organization candidates listed on the same palm cards (brief “cheat sheets” the local captains would hand their usually loyal voters) or other pieces of campaign literature jointly issued by the presidential and local candidates. But the regulars could not stomach McGovern, because his political support came from all the people usually opposed to the regulars. Also, at this point they still had hopes of defeating McGovern at the Democratic national convention. So their candidates running to be delegates to the convention listed themselves as “uncommitted.” The top of Holtzman’s slate of candidates, the delegate candidates associated with the reform movement, listed their choice for president as George McGovern. The record shows that while McGovern lost overwhelmingly to Richard Nixon in November 1972, he did quite well in the Democratic primaries.

I am proud to say that although Celler beat Holtzman in all the other Assembly districts in her congressional race, she won by a big enough margin in the 43rd – my responsibility – to overcome the deficits elsewhere. I had been working every day for Liz in Brooklyn, but many nights back in my own Queens neighborhood for McGovern (about which more later). Late at night on June 20th, driving back from polling places in Queens, I heard the radio announcement that Liz had beaten Celler. I almost jumped through the roof of my car in joy and amazement. I still could hardly believe it.

[PS — Thank you, Howard Graubard, for a factual correction from an earlier version.]

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An extremely unsuccessful presidential campaign

In General on May 13, 2011 at 6:55 pm

When I returned to Cambridge in the fall, somehow the nascent Lindsay-for-President campaign found me. The messenger, Louis R. Bochette, who worked for one of Lindsay’s chief political aides, Sid Davidoff, came up personally to recruit me. I liked Lindsay a lot, but Mr. Bochette took “unprepossessing” to new heights. He was short, bald, deaf, had a handshake like a dead fish, and looked like something out of Damon Runyon’s stories. In later years, when I came to a better appreciation of his warm heart and sharp mind, I learned that not only had he read Damon Runyon (among thousands of other books), but had picked out Nicely Nicely as the character he most resembled.

Somehow, by the time Louis left Cambridge, David Dubin, another former Urban Fellow then in Cambridge, and I were the Massachusetts coordinators for the Lindsay-for-President campaign. In this capacity I tried to recruit campus coordinators at other locations in the state. At Smith College, I presented my case to the student body president: Ed Muskie would win the Democratic nomination. But John Lindsay, attractive as he was, could garner enough strength to push Muskie to the left, especially on Vietnam war, which is why it was important for us to support him. Clearly, this fellow George McGovern was going nowhere. My audience, Cecilia Gardner, whom I had first met as a colleague in Registration Summer, remained unimpressed. She became the New England coordinator for the McGovern campaign. Those who know me well will understand why I remember the encounter with Cecilia.

My only other recollection of my other Massachusetts efforts for Lindsay involved Steve Brill, later well known as the creator of Court TV and the American Lawyer magazine, and an excellent investigative author. However, at that time he was a very young Lindsay operative, and so obnoxious that one of my associates offered to get in touch with friends from his tough Massachusetts home town, Fall River, who would, for twenty-five dollars, be very happy to put a permanent end to Mr. Brill. I demurred, partly on the basis of the fact that his sister, a very fine person, had been a classmate in high school. I don’t think Steve Brill was ever aware of my existence, much less of the fact that I spared his life.

At the beginning of October, taking advantage of my Indiana experience, the Lindsay campaign sent me back there to do “advance work” for the Mayor. This meant planning and arranging the stops Lindsay would make there to maximize their political impact. He would arrive at the Indianapolis airport, about twenty miles out of the city itself. Donnie Evans, a Lindsay aide, supervised me by telephone from back in New York City, although most of the time he communicated his orders through Walter Hinckley, who held some kind of Sanitation Department supervisory job in the Bronx. They told me that I had to build a big crowd to meet Lindsay at the airport, so the press could see the enthusiasm his campaign would generate.

Gordon St. Angelo and his staff, with whom I had become friends during the summer, helped me tremendously. As I recall, the Lindsay campaign paid for the buses, but St. Angelo’s contacts in the unions filled those buses, and arranged for the workers – mostly Indianapolis city employees – to get an hour off time off to come. I also called on all my campus contacts to get their classmates to show up. I worked for about two weeks to make all the logistical arrangements. Then Hinckley came in to town, and started riding me and nagging me, probably out of nervousness that he would look bad if we did not in fact produce a respectable crowd. When the day came, we arrived at the airport several hours before Lindsay was due. The first bus showed up three-quarters empty. Hinckley now accompanied his abusive language with a shove. I told him that if he touched me again, I’d end up in jail and he’d end up the hospital. But I had fail-safed the event: I counted on the failure of some of my promised bus loads to come through, and I had plenty of back-up. Lindsay arrived to be greeted by some 200 cheering Indiana citizens – a successful event.

Once he arrived, I stayed with him about eighteen hours a day, as I recall. We flew around Indiana in a Lear Jet, which held about six passengers. My contacts at Notre Dame and Bloomington helped us. My adrenalin was running so high that I never nodded off – except once, when, during a break, I opened the law book I had taken with me for my Corporations course.

Lindsay impressed me even more than he had when I worked for him. On little more sleep than I was getting, at the end of one of those eighteen-hour days, he charmed an aggressive press corps, answering all their questions with intelligence and wit. I remember taking him to his hotel room, talking with him as he took off his shirt. I still remember how incredibly thin he was. I don’t know whether that was the occasion I heard him joke about not being comfortable outside New York City, saying “I don’t trust any air I can’t see.” Maybe he said it in some other context, and I just read it. But it was characteristic of his wit and charm.

At the end of October, I returned to Cambridge, and concentrated on law school for a few months (along with taking Tae Kwon Do classes, playing squash a few times a week, enjoying an active social life, and a few other diversions). In February, though, the Lindsay campaign told me they needed me again, this time to prepare for the March 14 Florida primary. By then, it had gradually become clear that although Lindsay could generate appreciative crowds, as we did in Indiana, his charisma did not necessarily translate into votes. He had skipped New Hampshire and Iowa; Florida, with all its transplanted elderly New Yorkers, would be an important state for him.

I was sent to work out of a small local headquarters in North Miami, near Barry College, from which I was able to recruit some canvassing volunteers to ring doorbells. One student’s name, Cookie Mello, from Rhode Island, stayed in my memory, for obvious reasons. David Manley, a co-worker, had some sort of supervisory responsibilities, apparently because his brother was a prominent attorney. I had no money, so like many other campaign workers, I lived mostly on some kind of horrible Champale-like beverage that someone had donated to the campaign, and lost quite a bit of weight. Naturally, the political side of Lindsay’s entourage, the Sid Davidoffs, Al Ungers, and the like, dominated the campaign, with lower-level staff like Manley. This was not the more attractive side. The more exposure I had to these people, the lower my morale descended.

Lindsay was not doing well either. Enough of the New Yorkers who had fled to Florida came with a strong dislike of Lindsay, probably engendered during the teachers’ strike. Lindsay lost the primary, with only seven percent of the vote. George Wallace won overwhelmingly, but Humphrey, Muskie, and Henry “Scoop” Jackson all did better than Lindsay.

One night toward the end of my stay, before the primary, I couldn’t sleep. Perhaps because of my disillusionment with the Lindsay campaign, it suddenly came to me that I should run for City Council back home in Queens. The notion seemed like an epiphany. My mind would do nothing but plan and review what I then thought were the details of how I would set up and run such a campaign. Somehow, the fact that my primary would take place in June, 1973, at the end of my third year of law school in Massachusetts, did not seem to pose much of a problem. I thought of myself as an experienced campaigner, a political professional, and could handle it.

I had become friendly with Leo Goldstein, a refugee from Hungary who ran a soccer program for young people for the Lindsay administration. Leo had little education or sophistication; even back in Hungary, I think he had focused his efforts on sports instead. He therefore gave much unearned respect to some of the disgusting political drones around Lindsay who gave Leo his marching orders. But Leo was a good man. Having no money for air fare, I hitched a ride with him back from Florida to New York, from where I would take a train or bus to Cambridge. Leo refused to let me drive, and we stopped each night at cheap motels – we needed two or three nights. Each night before we went to bed, I heard him say, quite softly, in his Hungarian-accented English, “God bless the United States.”