Friday, May 31, 1996


The Democratic Reform Movement on the East Side IV

LOOKING BACK by Wally Dobelis

Murray Hill Reform Democratic Club and the Mayoral Election of 1973

The Murray Hill Citizens became established when they had a District Leader, Arthur Glixon, elected in 1959, and had a little room to manoeuver and form coalitions. In 1962 they, along with the Tilden Club, backed the four -term Assemblyman William Passannante, an old-line Democrat with a good Reform record, for re-election. But then the ferociously fighting Village Independent Democrats, who held no offices decided to try for an Assembly seat, with Edward I. Koch. The Murrays, with Charlie Kinsolving as the DL, were forced to maintain their Reform standing, and endorsed Koch and voted out Passannante for Assembly, but endorsed him (as did the Tildens and VIDs) to run for State Senate, an office for which he had no desire. Fortunately for Bill, ex-Governor and Senator Herbert H. Lehman, one of the great leaders of Reform, continued to back Passannante, and he was reelected, continuing to serve until 1991 and retiring as Speaker Pro Tem of the Assembly, and a member of the VID. That's politix, friends.

Typical reformers, the gadfly Murrays backed Sen. Eugene McCarthy in the 1968 Democratic primaries, and a whole bunch of the enthusiasts accompanied Charlie Kinsolving, their District Leader, to the Chicago Democratic convention. They came back impressed, after having seen the riots in Lincoln Park and the yuppie demonstrations, and after climbing up and down fire escapes to sneak in and hear the New York caucus, through a window opened for them by Charlie, the only official delegate. In 1972, true to form, after considering all candidates, the club backed Sen. George McGovern in the primaries and Presidential elections. The clubhouse was one biggish 2nd Floor room on Lexington near 33rd, above a bar (Josephine's ?), now gone, with a nice show window, perfect to put up posters . Someone during the 1972 Presidential Campaign threw a rock at it, and the club only had enough money to repair one half of the pane. The landlord was having a fit.

The club also backed Koch for Congress in 1968 and 1970; after that we were out of business. Koch was the first Democrat in 34 years to win in John Vliet Lindsay's Silk Stocking District (represented by Lindsay 1956-65, Theodore Kupferman in 1965-68, Bill Green in 1977- 91, Democrat Carolyn B. Maloney since 1992). The Murrays preferred the maverick Herman Badillo (nicknamed "the tallest Puerto Rican in the world"), for Mayor in 1969, and also in 1973, refusing to back Koch in the pre-primary struggle, when he wanted the Mayorality. It cost us - in the subsequent district elections, when the Murrays and and another club contended the same district, Koch went full speed behind Lou Sepersky's and Mary Stumpf's Mid-Manhattan Democratic Club, although the latter had been less than effusively supportive of Koch in his Congressional campaigns. That was true "what have you done for me lately" politics, and the Murrays became a discussion club and slowly sank into oblivion, after becoming unable to pay the increased rent and quitting the comfortable Lexington Avenue nest, much to the landlord's relief.

The 1973 Mayoral election was interesting. Lindsay, a Republican Congressman, in 1965 had inherited from Wagner a city with a bad deficit. Wagner, son of the great Labor advocate Senator Fredinand, had legalized City worker unions and raised the city employee salary scale. A legitimate question can be raised as to whether this was done for political, i. e. vote-gathering reasons, and without regard to the cost consequences for the city. The new Mayor had to impose a city sales tax and raise all real estate and business taxes, and was ripped off by Mike Quinn, the head of the Transit Workers Union, for double the customary annual salary increases. This was the beginning of our troubles, and the patrician Lindsay could not deal with them. The city sank, welfare rolls doubled, from 1/2 Million, in 1970 there were riots in the Tombs, subsequently in the Inner City, and the Mayor walked all through Harlem in his shirtsleeves, jacket slung across his back, talking and quieting the populace. It worked, and Lindasy saw himself as the next Republican Presidential candidate. But the State Republicans did not, and in 1971 he switched to the Democratic Party. Running for the Presidency while the City was losing ground cost him some credibility, he lost the backing of Alex Rose and the Liberal Party, and in March 1973 he announced that he would not run for the 3rd term. A couple of winners from the Lindsay regime were Mario Cuomo, a Queens attorney who on the Mayor's behalf in 1970 successfully negotiated a Forest Hills scatter housing for the poor situation and went on from there, and Roy Goodman, his Finance Administrator, who ran for State Senate in 1968 and has been there ever since.

Politics abhors a vacuum even more than nature, and not one but five Reform Democrats stepped forward as Mayoral candidates to replace Lindsay. They were looking for the backing of the then Reform umbrella organization, the New Democratic Coalition. NDC was organized by Paul O'Dwyer, Mayor Bill's younger brother, to pull together Democrats opposed to the Vietnam War, and had gained high Reform recognition, deservedly or not. The interested were Ed Koch, who in 1968 took over Lindsay's seat in Congress, City Councilmember Robert Postel, and West Side Assemblymembers Jerome Kretchmer (Environment Protection Administrator under Lindsay - remember the pooper-scoopers?) and Albert Blumenthal - and from The Bronx, Herman Badillo, who probably had it all, a combined minority, Jewish (through his wife Irma) and congressional service appeal. But Blumenthal rallied, had the NDC meeting exclude delegates with imperfect credentials, and the Bronxites never got in. Badillo stormed about racism, and Kretchmer, Postel and Koch dropped out (the latter with disastrous results for us Murrays, as seen above).

Meanwhile, on the organization Regular Democrat side, Comptroller Abraham Beame (also a dynamite garmento, remember the "hit a home run and get a suit from Abe Beame" slogan?) and City Council President Sanford Garelik, ex-Transit Police Dept chief with Republican and Liberal backing, were not idle. They rallied support from Brooklyn leader Meade Esposito, Patrick Cunningham in the Bronx, and Manhattan Borough President Percy Sutton. In The Bronx, Congressman Mario Biaggi, an ex-cop, had the help of Matthew Troy from Queens, and campaigned on the promise of law and order. In the subsequent primary Beame had 34, Badillo 29, Blumenthal 16 and Biaggi 21 percent of the vote. The reformers had inserted into the election law a primary runoff requirement, if no candidate reached 40 percent, and so in the runoff Beame beat Badillo with 61 percent of the vote, and was a shoo-in in the November election over the Republican's John J. Marchi, the Staten Island State Senator, who later became the active leader in his borough's campaign to disassociate itself from New York City.

If you have more anecdotes, tales of bravery and deceit, stories of poor lambs who had lost their territories and offices, additions and corrections, pixes, faxes and xeroxes, write a Letter to the Editor, or call Wally, before we die and be forgotten with the rest.

Corrections of misspellings: Frank Rossetti, Antonio Pagan, Pagan, Pagan...and thanks to the eagle-eyed Audrey Sisson Kasha.

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