I really liked Speaker Stanley Steingut
Some things in Albany change, many do not. Some, I really miss. I remember when Stanley Steingut was the Minority Leader and then the Speaker. I really liked the guy and I think he liked me. Back then, when Albany was different and I was a graduate intern in Manfred Ohrenstein’s office, we used to pool our money, hire a cab and send him up to Joe’s delicatessen on Madison Avenue. If you never ate at Joe’s, you really haven’t lived. There were these phenomenal double and triple decker sandwiches the likes of which I haven’t experienced since those good old days. Funny what you remember, but I do remember walking into Joe’s and seeing Governor Nelson Rockefeller, Lieutenant Governor Malcolm Wilson and Attorney General Louis Lefkowitz. I dare say you don’t see that kind of thing anymore. Here they were, out in public at a popular delicatessen. I never saw George Pataki or Andrew Cuomo out with their lieutenant governors. Maybe it’s a bit more formal than it used to be. Maybe not. Thinking about Joe’s really gets me going. While there are a few passable restaurants in Albany, they are not like the old days.
Some people think that Albany is a dump. There is the legend that Rockefeller built the Plaza because he was embarrassed when the Dutch Queen came to visit and was quite down on the beauty (or lack of it) of the state’s capital city). I once wrote a column suggesting that it was nonsense to have the State Capitol in Albany as opposed to New York City. I heard in short order from the then-mayor, Gerald Jennings, about my perfidy. Boy, was he ticked off.
It is hard to find practicing politicians who love coming to Albany. Some like to come for reasons other than the politics or the food, but ‘nuff said about that. Politicians are a lot like the rest of us. There used to be something called the Bear Mountain Compact which was shorthand for the understanding that nothing that happened after the train passed the Bear Mountain Bridge could be discussed in pubic; a sort of old boys (and sometimes girls) understanding that secrets were required to be kept. What happens in Albany stays in Albany. Of course, a lot of people were fully aware of “secrets” that needed to be kept, even about those in positions of real power and authority.
The building of the Legislative Office Building (LOB) made a real difference in the way politics were practiced in Albany. Now the top people had offices in both places, both the new building and the old one.
Let’s try to remember when New York was a two-party state. The Republicans owned upstate and then just ruled the State Senate. There may have been more Democrats in the state, but so great was the power to gerrymander every ten years that the Republicans held on to at least the Senate. Then finally the Assembly fell, followed years later by the Senate. I regularly speak with the present Republican minority leaders so it’s kind of sad to see how far the GOP has fallen in the state. What were once red districts have turned blue, with most of the Republicans shoved into upstate areas. Now Republican Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, who started out as a Republican moderate, has turned into a Trumpista First Class. She is being mentioned (by me) as a possible running mate for her mentor, Trump, in the 2024 presidential election.
It has really been something to live long enough to witness the Albany scene change so dramatically. Things will continue to change, especially if the Democrats continue to make mistakes that will cost them big time. The fact that liberals in the Democratic Party insist on unpopular moves, especially in the area of criminal justice, may well turn their fortunes. In the meantime, just bring back Joe’s.
Alan Chartock is professor emeritus at the State University of New York, publisher of the Legislative Gazette and president and CEO of the WAMC Northeast Public Radio Network. Readers can email him at [email protected]