73 Votes and Why They Still Matter

(A brief history of Community Free Democrats)

by Joan Paylo

Candidate Jerry Nadler, circa 1976

Candidate Jerry Nadler, circa 1976

Fifty years of service to our community. Woven together by several hundred thousand pristine signatures of registered Democrats on Pantone 359C green paper. Collected by members of Community Free Democrats on Upper West Side streets in termperature ranging from 10 to 105 degrees. For offices ranging from the square-block County Committee Election District to President of the United States.

Half a century. At times, it’s been Camelot; occasionally, Game of Thrones. We’ve had marriages, break-ups, and babies. (Hey its a political club after all!) Yet always supported by a tradtition in which veterans teach newcomers the basics of campaigning and parliamentary procedure that we old-timers leared from our found father Jerry Nadler. Politics - so we can best meet our neighbors’ needs.

Lest we forget, the seeds of CFD were sown in the early 1960s. when a few political prodigies met on the Stuyvesant High School debate team. “The West Side Kids” included Jerry Nadler, Dick Gottfried, Simon Barsky, and Dick Morris. As they learned the art and power of petitioning and street campaigning and dealth with issues in our immediate community like recycling and tenant problems, they gathered a cadre of teammates that eventually quashed the “regular” machine Democrats. In 1969, some supported McCarthy, some Bobby Kennedy. Call it fate, dumb luck, or mitzvah, but by 1976, all were solidly united in a Primary Election battle that now promises to save the U.S. Constitution.

A heading in the journal for CFD’s 30th Anniversary read : “73 Votes and Why They Still Matter.” Some 20 year laters, ask Robert Barr and Donald J. Trump. Ask Nancy Pelosi, Elijah Cummings, or Adam Schiff. You know the answer; some of us witnessed it firsthand. A margin of 73 votes in a six-way Primary Election in 1976 gave Jerry Nadler a victory for a State Assembly Seat. In 1992, Jerry succeeded the beloved Ted Weiss in Congress, and that has made all the differnce. We have a courageous patriot and trusted friend defending our democracy in Washington as Chair of the House Judiciary Committee.

Jerry has inspired us all to keep up the fight and turn out the vote. He’s mentored many CFD members who have continued on to be judges, government staggers, and others dedicated to public service. Foremost among them is former Nadler staffer Scott Stringer. Inthe early 1980s, Scott sharpened his campaigned skills by masterminding victory in Lou York’s citywide Civil Court race and by working the streets to make Ken Sherrill the first openly-gay elected official in the state - a District Leader from CFD! Scott’s clear mind and tenacity, along with Jerry’s example and wise counsel, lifted him to succeed Jerry in the Assembly in 1992, become Manhattan Bourough PResidnet in 2005, and win the City Comptroller race in 2013. Now, Comptroller Stringer aspires to even higher challenges.

Just as Jerry first met Maffi Peyton when she was on her way up the street to petition, Scott met Linda B. Rosenthal at the 94th and Braodway subway station. THe Upper West Side native was on her way to her editor job, he was campaingin at 92nd and Broadway for rent regulation. Linda’s landlord was harassing tenants and she needed help. Scott recruited her for CFD. A natural-born political tactician, Linda is sharply intelligent and unflaggingly dedicated to public service, which made her a greatmatch for Jerry. When he went to Congress, she became his Manhattan District Director. In 2005, she won Scott’s vacated 67th Assembly Distric tseat in Albant. Building on the achievements of Jerry and Scott and forging her own path forward, “CFD’s Favorite Daughter” continues to champion affordable housing and constituent services. Perhpas she’s best known for her nationally groundbreaking legislation on companion animal and humane issues. Like Ginger Rogers, she does it backwards and in high heels.

Community Free Democrats, long may you live, with dedicated members who preserve - through political skill and experience - the princles, compassion, and ideals of our Democratic Party. We can’t wait to see which local leaders and political superstars will emerge from your ranks in the next 50 years!


Who Were “The Kids” (continued)

The group of political prodigies known as The West Side Kids met at Steuyvesant High School in the early 60s. The included Jerry Nadler, Dick Gottfried, Simon Barsky, and Dick Morris, all members of the debating team. Morris wanted them to be like the Kennedy brothers, says Jerry : They would remake the world, not by accident of birth, but ny a common desire, fired by their liberal viewpoint and political skill.

As freshmen at Columbia University, they began to influence votes in local elections and primaries. They attracted others of like mind and talent, including Helayne Baron, Frank Baraff, Dick Dresner, Carol Goldstein, Neil Goldstein, Joe Mercucio, Ed Rogoff, Mark Alan Siegel, and Andy Tulloch. In 1968, they split running two storefronts, one for Kennedy, the other for McCarthy (Sheila Bassman was in charge). Morris and Barsky founded CFD, while Gottfried founded a club to the south called Park Lincoln. Also to the south, Ronnie Eldridge was a district leader for the Manhattan West Democratic Club.

Why Do They Call it Free?

No one knows for sure, but probably to distinguish from the Regulars, who required recommendations and a background check for members. Decisions came from the top down. The Stevenson campaign sparked a Reform revolt against this Tammany system that was pro-civil rights, anti-war, and democratic. In 1959, Eleanor Roosevelt herself came to the Upper West Side to campaign for reform district leader candidates!