Daniel L. Feldman


Schumer had endorsed Lupka, but not me, by mid-summer. My campaign printed joint leaflets and mailings with Lupka, including Schumer’s endorsement of Lupka and Holtzman’s endorsement of me. Lupka assured me that most voters wouldn’t read the material carefully enough to understand that Schumer had not endorsed me.

By the late summer, our campaign’s informal polls (we didn’t have the money to pay for formal ones, but ours turned out to be quite accurate), had me beating Margules two to one. Apparently Schumer had the same information. Now that I was virtually assured of victory, he endorsed me.

The day before the primary, the Margules campaign dropped another leaflet throughout the district filled with baseless accusations against me. Apparently, the leaflet scared our street-level campaign supporters, because a few voters must have asked them if the accusations were true. The street-level troops reported their fears to our captains. At that level, having perhaps each heard from two or three underlings, the captains got nervous. When the captains’ reports got to me that night, by that time concentrated and exaggerated through three levels of distillation, all the trauma of my previous defeats came back to me. Momentarily convinced that the voters would believe the lies, I literally writhed in psychic agony on the floor of the regular clubhouse on Coney Island Avenue.

Lupka, knowing no other way to run, had followed another valuable morsel of political wisdom throughout the campaign: run scared. Whenever I had gotten too optimistic, he had pulled me back to earth. But that night, he laughingly chided me that now, when victory really was about to be ours, I had finally decided that we would lose.

Having seen Larry’s somewhat scattered approach to organization, Lupka carefully chose a primary day coordinator from his own ranks instead. The primary day coordinator would have the assignment I had taken on in Liz Holtzman’s district leader race: assuring that our people covered the inside of polling places, to prevent cheating, and the outside, to hand out leaflet and beg for votes, in the hope of influencing those who waited until the last minute to make up their minds. The Board of Elections assigns voters to voting machines based on the “election district” in which the voter resides. The Assembly District included 104 election districts. Some polling places included only one voting machine, for one election district; other polling places could include as many as twenty.  Polling places could be the lobby of an apartment building, a library, a church, but most of the voting machines were in school cafeterias or gyms. Voters in the 45th Assembly District reported to about forty different polling places, all told.  The job also required a “pulling” operation: making sure that every voter we had previously identified as favorably inclined toward us, actually got to the polls to cast a vote.

Campaign experts know that these election day operations affect a tiny percentage of the vote – probably less than two percent. But two percent can make the difference in a close race. Also, the size and scope of the election day operation offers a good indicator of a campaign’s overall strength and efficiency: if the candidate has a lot of support and good organization, he or she will be able to mobilize more volunteers on election day (or primary day). Among the regulars, the reformers, my campaign people, family and friends, we had a fair-sized army.

The regular Democratic organization also had a tradition at this time with which I, as a reformer, was unfamiliar, called “walking around money.” The night before primary day, the club’s captains – thirty or so in number, all told – formed a line facing Lupka and Florence Campagna, the female leader. In turn, each approached the leaders and was given fifty dollars. Lupka told me that this would cover whatever expenses the captains incurred on primary day. I still don’t know what expenses those were.

Lupka made an excellent choice of primary day coordinator. To call Victor Barron a perfectionist would be an understatement. If Victor needed to confirm an assignment with a volunteer and the volunteer didn’t answer the phone at 8 a.m., 3 p.m., 7 p.m., or 11 p.m., Victor would call at 3 a.m., or so it seemed. Lupka joked that if the volunteer tried to beg off, having broken a leg, Victor would ask why she couldn’t use crutches; if both legs, why not a wheelchair? Victor, in those days an attorney, would many years later become a hard-working and intelligent judge. Unfortunately, he would also go to prison for taking a bribe. But Victor ran our election day operation to a T.

A voter could not approach a polling place without being accosted by a group of volunteers handing out leaflets for Feldman and Lupka. Barron assigned Lupka’s wife and my father to the biggest polling place, Cunningham Junior High School, on East 17th Street between Avenue S and Avenue R. My 76-year old father, warm, kindly, and a shade under five feet tall, would ask each voter to vote for me so that he could “sleep well” that night. Quite a few voters told him that he would get a very good night’s sleep, and many eventually reported the story back to me as well. Lupka later insisted that his wife had been almost equally effective.

As the polls closed at 9 p.m. on September 9, 1980, we gathered at the Kings Highway Democratic Club on Coney Island Avenue to tally the results as our poll watchers brought them in from each polling place. No bad news came. In short order it became clear that we had won a smashing victory: about 10,000 votes for me, 5000 for Margules, 2500 for Rothman. The membership clamored for a speech. I thanked them for their enthusiastic and strenuous efforts. Despite my disapproval of Margules and his campaign, I could not help but express my sympathy at that moment: “I know what it is to lose,” I said, suppressing some rumblings among the crowd that wanted to take some joy in his defeat. But I took plenty of joy in our victory.



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