The Defining Moments-More comment 5-12-06



 “The Defining Moment” FDR’s First Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope

Comments to Jonathan Alter


Richard J. Garfunkel

May 12, 2006




In 1928 FDR ran against Albert Ottinger, the conservative Republic New York State Attorney-General. He was the uncle of former Congressman Richard L. Ottinger who represented congressional districts on both sides of Westchester County for twenty plus years from 1964 through1982.  When he represented the old 24th CD, which was on the Long Island Sound side of the County, my wife Linda, who had earlier political experience with Howard Samuels and Robert Kennedy, worked for him from 1972 through 1981.


As an Administrative Assistant in his District Office she ran his Service Academy Review Board, a blue-ribbon panel that selected, on a non-partisan basis, his appointments to our military academies. During those years, as an active Democrat and a district leader on the White Plains Democratic City Committee I worked as his “advance man” from time to time. Ottinger, who was a bright guy with an under graduate degree from Cornell and a graduate degree from Harvard but had a tendency to be shy, was one of the first environmental heroes from this region.  When he first elected to Congress in the mid-1960’s, he represented the Yonkers side of the County in the 25th CD and was instrumental in the effort to clean up and revitalize the Hudson River. Ottinger eventually spent a good piece of his US Plywood inheritance in a failed bid for the US Senate and was criticized for excessive spending. Today, even in “adjusted for inflation” dollars his spending was a pittance compared today’s mega-buck races. In 1970 he took on the liberal anti-war Republican Charles Goodell, who had been appointed by Governor Nelson Rockefeller to fill the seat of the late Robert Kennedy, and the Conservative Party choice James Buckley, brother of the National Review’s William F. Buckley. Because of the split in the moderate anti-war vote, the state was saddled with James Buckley for six long years.


Originally, in 1964, he ran and beat conservative Republican Robert Barry, who spent most of his time in California. In fact, after he lost, Barry ran unsuccessfully in two California districts, the 11th and 38th. Ottinger spent $200,000 in that race, and in the subsequent races he won handily after establishing an excellent record regarding “river preservation” and conservation. It seems that after the redistricting of 1970, that shifted too many Democrats out of the 25th CD, Ottinger decided to run for the Senate. Bill Dretzin fought a hard campaign in the primary with the slogan “He can save Ottinger’s seat,” and upset the favored opponent, Bill Greenawalt (my current foe) who stayed in the campaign with the Liberal line. In the general election Dretzin lost to Peter Peyser (who later changed parties.) Of course Greenawalt, who only polled 5,697 votes or 3% and did not really affect the outcome. Peyser won by approximately 10,000 votes or 6% with the added burden of a Conservative Party candidate, one Anthony DeVito, who polled over 31,000 votes and 17% of the vote. I can certainly understand Ottinger’s trepidation about running in the old 25th.


In 1970 in the Senate race, appointed Senator Charles Goodell was running far behind in all of the polls. Goodell, an upstate Republican Congressman, was appointed in 1968 to fill Robert Kennedy’s seat, became won of the Senate’s leading and outspoken doves and liberals. The views of the liberal Ottinger, who won the Democratic primary with a saturation television campaign, were indistinguishable from Goodell. In the general election, James Buckley, a well financed Conservative, was able to match Ottinger’s spending dollar for dollar, about one million dollars for each campaign. The liberal vote was split; the GOP had become more conservative with their alienation with John Lindsey, who represented the more liberal Protestant wing of the Republican Party. Lindsey had lost the support of many of the party’s Catholic supporters in Queens and Staten Island. Unlike Jacob Javits, who could rely on Democratic crossovers in the general election, liberal WASP Republicans were more vulnerable. Ottinger ran a strong environmental campaign, and the NY Times endorsed Goodell, who polled only 14% citywide. But in Manhattan he polled 30%. If that 16% margin had gone to Ottinger he would have won. The final vote was: Buckley 2,288,190 or 39%, Ottinger 2,171,232 or 37%, and Goodell 1,434,472 or 24%.


In retrospect, Ottinger’s spending in the primary had probably insured his nomination, but turned off the Times, who felt that Goodell deserved to be elected because of his stands on the war. They probably felt that moderate and liberal voices in the Republican Party were good for America. In retrospect it is hard to believe that the State would have no Democratic state office holders except Arthur Levitt. New York had elected statewide Democrats for many years. People like Al Smith, Royal S. Copeland, Franklin Roosevelt, Robert F. Wagner, Sr., Herbert Lehman had dominated NY State politics until the rise of Thomas Dewey!


With regards to 1928 campaign, there were accusations hurled the FDR camp over anti-Semitism used against Albert Ottinger. Roosevelt, though obviously helped by that rumor, vigorously denied any connection with that type of low-level spurious tactics. Also, the fact, that his running mate for Lt. Governor was Herbert Lehman muted the criticism. FDR won by a narrow vote of 28,000, which was about one vote per NY State election precinct. Roosevelt eventually won re-election by 725,000 in 1930, a record for any majority in any statewide election throughout the electoral history of the United States. (Of course New York State had by far the most voters at that period of time.)  His record didn’t last that long.


Herbert Lehman, who was elected to his first term in 1932, faced a very tough re-election opponent with the candidacy of Robert Moses, the State and City Park’s Commissioner. Of course the campaign waged by the aggressive Moses was vituperative and insulting and resulted in the greatest numerical landslide in the history of the state or any state of the Union. It even broke FDR’s record landslide numerical victory of 1930. Lehman won by 808,091 votes, and Moses 35% of the vote was the lowest total for a major party in the 157-year history of NY State elections. In fact, the GOP lost both Houses of the State Legislature for the first time in 21 years. Within a year the GOP won back the assembly and didn’t lose it back for another 29 years until LBJ’s landslide of 1964.


The following is from Robert Caro’s book The Power Broker.


On Election Night, (Robert) Moses was careful to show an elaborate disregard of the vote. Reporters ushered into his apartment at 7 Gracie Square saw him poring over a map of the city “outlining park and playground prospects, while he whistled softly” and “giving only perfunctory attention, apparently, to the election returns relayed to him.” I haven’t the slightest regrets in any way, shape or manner,” her. “I’ve done the best I could. I’ve conducted an honorable campaign and adhered to my convictions. That is all there is to it.” And he said that he was planning to return to his park job the next morning.


There was no question about his returning to his city job, of course, but the fact that he included in the statement his state park work showed that he knew Herbert Lehman much better than his campaign attacks on the Governor would have made it appear. For Lehman’s treatment of Moses after the campaign was the definitive word on the Governor’s character.


Lehman was bitterly hurt by Moses’ charges, but he would not allow personal feelings to interfere with his duty. “We have differed in the past and probably in the future, but in planning and administration of parks, parkways and recreational facilities, Bob Moses has no superior on the face of the world,” the Governor announced. Moses would continue to head the state park system as long as he was Governor, he said. “He was terribly sensitive because he said that I called him a liar in the campaign,” Moses would recall, but “I found him a very nice fellow to deal with. A very decent, honorable, honest fellow. He always supported me when he was Governor.”


Moses should have known that Lehman would support him. After all, the “cowardly, sniveling, lying weakling” had always supported him before.




Speaking of Elections and Almost Ancient History!

Richard J. Garfunkel

December 22, 2004



In late March of 1945 President Franklin Delano Roosevelt made a trip to Warm Springs, Georgia to rest and recover before his anticipated trip to San Francisco to address the opening of the inaugural United Nations meeting. During this period of time FDR’s close associate of more than 25 years Judge Samuel I. Rosenman was in England visiting Winston Churchill at his home at Chequers. As they talked Churchill was thinking about FDR’s upcoming visit to England at the end of May.


Churchill said, “There are two things which I wish to convey for me to your great President- both matters of personal interest to me,” Churchill said. “First, as you know, the President and Mrs. Roosevelt have accepted the invitations of their Majesties to make a visit to England during the month of May. Will you tell him from me that he is going to get from the British people the greatest reception ever accorded to any human since Lord Nelson made his triumphant return to London? I want you to tell him that when he sees the reception his is going to get, he will realize that it is not an artificial or stimulated one. It will come genuinely from the people; they all love him for what he has done to save them from the destruction by the Huns; they love him also for what he has done for the cause of peace in the world, for what he has done to relieve their fear that the horrors they have been through for five years might come upon them again with increased fury.


“Here is the second thing I want you to tell you him,” Churchill continued, Rosenman noted, “a bit sheepishly.”


“Do you remember when I came over to your country in the summer of 1944 when your election campaign was beginning? Do you remember that when I arrived, I said something favorable to the election of the President, and immediately the associates of the President sent word to me in no uncertain terms to ‘lay off’ discussing the American election? Do you remember I was told that that if I wanted to help the President get re-elected, the best thing I could do was to keep my mouth shut; that the American people would resent any interference or suggestion by a foreigner about how they should vote?”


With what Rosenman called “one of his most engaging laughs,” Churchill said, “Now what I want to tell the President is this. When he comes over here in May I shall be in the midst of a political campaign myself; we shall be holding our own elections about that time. I want you to tell him that I impose no such inhibitions upon him as he imposed on me. The British people would not resent – and of course I would particularly welcome – any word that he might want to say in favor of my candidacy.”


Judge Rosenman would never have a chance to deliver Churchill’s message. President Roosevelt died in Warm Springs, Georgia on April 12th, 1945. When that British election came Winston Churchill was retired by the British electorate in a landslide. In a short period of time, as the fates would have it, the two greatest leaders and defenders of the free world would pass from the political scene. As a result Harry S Truman and Clement Atlee came to Potsdam for their fateful, first and only, meeting with Joseph Stalin, and the world was never the same. Would there have been a difference if Roosevelt had lived, visited London triumphantly, and subsequently helped Churchill to win his election, and then went on to the Soviet Union to visit the Russian people? We’ll never know. But maybe FDR, as with Moses, wasn’t allowed to enter into the “Promised Land.” Maybe, FDR, who like Moses, had used up all his “currency” with G-d, and was therefore deprived of his ultimate honor!


Funny thing about elections!


Richard J. Garfunkel




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