By Alan S. Chartock | June 1, 2018

You had to love Herman “Denny” Farrell. I counted him as a friend for more years than I can remember. He was one smart dude, a holdover from the days when politicians didn’t have some of the boundaries that are all too often the curse of our contemporary politics. He’d paid the necessary respect to his Assembly leaders, like the legendary Stanley Fink and “Boss” Heastie, the current Assembly leader. But unlike so many of the heavy political hitters, he was a kind and gentle man but one who knew how to exercise the extraordinary power he had as the number two in the Assembly and head of the powerful Ways and Means Committee who gave out the political goodies. 

I was certainly persona non grata with many of these types, a status I treasured, to be honest. But Denny knew not to count anyone out. He was extraordinarily well liked. He would reach out to lesser lights like me to talk about the way things were going. Unlike the modern leaders who only talk to you when it’s convenient for them, Denny was always there for you. 

Every morning I get on my big indoor bike for about an hour and about half way through, on some occasions, the phone would ring and Denny’s distinctive voice would come out of the phone. What I really liked about the guy was his sense of humor. A couple of years back when he was already into his eighties he called to tell me that he was going to leave his powerful spot in the Assembly and switch to the New York City Council where, he said, he had already rounded up the necessary number of votes to be the Speaker of that august group.

“But Denny, “I said, “they have term limits on the City Council.” He laughed and said, “You know very well that I’m into my eighties now. Why do I have to worry about that?” I guess he had a point, having just passed away at the age of 86. He never moved to the City Council because at the last moment, Michael Bloomberg bought himself a third term as Mayor and convinced the City Council to go along since that bought them all an extra four years in office, too. 

The thing about Denny was that while he was old in terms of years, he was young in just about every other way. He leaves a twelve year old daughter. That’s remarkable. You do the math. He liked people, especially the ladies. One time when I had started the New Paltz internship in Albany I went to one of those legislative receptions by some group or another at the then misogynistic Fort Orange Club. There was Denny, who I didn’t know at the time, talking to one of my interns. Denny was very tall and I was standing right behind him when he asked the young woman what she did in Albany. She replied that she was in “Dr. Chartock’s internship program.” To which, he responded, “Dr. Chartock is full of …” (well, you get it). Now I’ve never had to nerve to recount that story to my friend Denny. And in fact, maybe he was right.

So, it really is hard to believe that this great guy is gone. He was so accomplished and such a force and such a presence that you could only believe that he would be here forever. Just a while ago, I interviewed Denny on my statewide Capitol Connection program. He sure didn’t sound like he was failing — quite the contrary. Sometimes when someone passes we truly feel that we’ve been cheated. When a great man like Denny goes that sure applies. He was certainly one of a kind. I know I’ll miss those early morning phone calls.

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].