From A Different Mold
not your typical politician. He doesnt really enjoy campaigning. Hes not what
youd call a people person. Hes sure not a loyal follow the party
line type guy. He doesnt embrace his political leaders and they dont
is a hard-working, fulltime elected official. Hes bright very bright. Knows
his stuff real well. He sets a standard that is higher for himself than most
elected officials can live by. In his 24 years in the Council, hes been the prime
sponsor of 42 pieces of legislation and co-prime on another 92 a record, he claims
with pride, that is unique and illustrative of the fact that unlike many colleagues, he
gets things done.
known Sheldon Leffler for more than two decades. Ive met him in restaurants, movie
theaters, on the street campaigning, at cultural, charitable and political dinners.
Ive chatted often for just a couple of moments with Shelly and his
wife Joy, his constant companion. I was pretty sure what to expect, but this was the first
time Sheldon Leffler and I sat down alone, to chat.
was good, but not exciting. He quoted Cardozo and was filled with usable one-liners, but
delivers everything with bland efficiency. Dont get me wrong its not
bad. Its just not what you expect from a candidate for Borough President.
carries around a diary containing recorded notes from a long career and regularly reaches
for it as back up to substantiate his claims and validate his memory. But even without his
weighty briefcase, you believe Sheldon.
believe he is independent and not beholden to any special interest or party boss. You
believe he conducts his political life with impeccable scruples guiding the way. Hes
certainly not afraid to criticize those who stray from his straight and narrow.
have diary entries of Peters [Vallone] inappropriate actions, he told me in
response to my question concerning the Speakers use of public funds to further his
candidacy. Leffler offered, Similar things happened when he ran for governor, but
they never raise it in budget. Im a stickler that there is no conflict of
poetically concluding the subject Sheldon smiled and said: Theres no
substitute for good judgment.
quickly rejected the label liberal and described himself as a fiscal conservative citing
his background as a Wall Street attorney, with Debovoise and Plimpton, who is progressive
on social issues. Then he accepted the liberal term when it referred to: equal
justice for all, tenants rights, and First Amendment freedoms.
was more positive than negative to Rudy Giulianis mayoralty. His effort
to fight crime bore fruit and the mayor did his job with tremendous effort.
But Leffler cited, government by attacking people, as the biggest flaw in the
rejects the common political wisdom that he is running third in a field of three. We
have a poll that it can go to anyone of the three of us, he insisted. When the
Campaign Finance Board is done distributing funds, and his seven scheduled fundraisers are
held, he believes that he will have as much to spend as either of the other candidates.
according to Sheldon, has a corrosive effect on politics and shouldnt be a factor
when people vote. He believes the public is ready to elect qualified candidates from a
number of different groups.
he campaigned for the second referendum to dilute the term limit law, he rejected outright
any attempt to legislatively overturn the will of the people and is very suspect of those
that were involved in the attempt. He was super-critical of the State legislature ending
the commuter tax.
he claims his effective use of the Borough Presidency will achieve more for the people of
Queens, he cites education, economic development and housing as the three most important
shown I can get things done.
believes each community must provide its fair share of services to the most needy and
recognized the neediest areas require greatest help and therefore the greatest funding.
against increasing taxes even for education; hes for equal rights and benefits for
domestic partners and he opposes legalized gambling.
credits public financing with enabling him to be a viable candidate but reserves judgment
on its effectiveness noting, I wasnt for it originally and its too early
seemed to frequently return to the question of honor and government. He readily attacks
big money in campaigns and insists, They [the lobbyists] do not simply want
one should serve two masters, he said as he explained why he is a fulltime
dont know how someone like Brian [McLaughlin] does it, he says of what he sees
as a conflict of interest for any candidate working for any special interest group
when you try to pin him down, Leffler reaches into his bag of aphorisms.
of my rules in life, he said almost smiling, is not to have fixed rules.
live the values of the Queens of my parents generation, he said with pride.
From hard work comes achievement.
goal is simply, To do good things in government. If elected, after eight
years, he wont stop at Borough President.
Leffler believes in himself and his ability to produce.
closed by asking him, What difference would your election mean to the people of
the Queens Borough Presidents office as productive as possible and make our lives
Gentle Wisdom, Firm Management
have to learn not to prejudge politicians. I know that already. My folks taught me well.
You dont prejudge people not even an old-time Brooklyn pol.
have to work hard to remember not to paint everyone with the same brush. I mean. . . I
know that already, but . . . .
Berman & Mike Schenkler
all politicians are not bad or self-serving. On the contrary, the majority a large
majority are into it because public service is a rewarding and honorable calling.
They dont need the free meal, the questionable contribution and, more often than
not, can get another job that is as rewarding financially. Herb Berman told me that.
agree with Herb, most of them are in the game for the right reasons.
sometimes I run into an abuse by a public official and to borrow a Dennis Millerism, I go
on a rant. Its deserved and Im sure Im right.
I gotta stop hanging out with myself so much. Sometimes my rants are so effective (at
least to me) that they are crusade-like and I lose sight of all the good guys. And yes,
there are many, many of them even from Brooklyn.
Berman is a 24-year Brooklyn Council veteran who serves as the Council Finance chair and
is one of two Democratic candidates for Comptroller the Republicans dont even
have a candidate. Herb Berman is an old-time Brooklyn Councilmember. Herb Berman is one of
the good guys.
meeting his dynamic, bright, black opponent (also from Brooklyn), I could have easily
convinced myself to write Herb off. His opponent is impressive, looks better, and seems to
be the package for the new New York. I could have easily convinced myself.
a mistake I would have made.
is not as tall or as scholarly as Alan Hevesi, as aggressive as Mark Green, as powerful as
Peter Vallone or as new-American as Freddy Ferrer. But as one who has spent two hours with
each of the Democratic candidates for mayor, I believe Herb Berman understands and cares
about this city at least as much, if not more than the four of them.
hes not the good-looking package smooth and well-spoken. He is just New York.
He is everything good about our city and everything right about our city. He understands
it the old-timers and the newcomers. He loves it: the people, the neighborhoods,
the government, the structure.
is honest scrupulously so. Hes a politician and has difficulty criticizing
his colleagues for doing things he would never do.
reaction to the gray area expenses of the Speakers mayoral campaign, Herb
disapprovingly begged the question: Im not prepared to say hes
without pause asserted firmly, I dont do it!
shook his head disapprovingly each time I cited an alleged abuse of public funds for
campaign purposes. He was disappointed at the acts, but chose not to condemn the
he convinced us, Herb Berman wont cheat the people.
Berman is a cut above.
you havent figured it out yet, I liked Herb Berman.
there is any validity to the argument that New York City needs experienced public servants
to help guide the city while the new Council learns the ropes, there is no better mentor
for the newcomers to rely on or the people to choose.
compassionate, yet skilled in the ways of city government. He had no trouble praising the
incredible job done by Rudy Giuliani, adding But we can do more for
stands for all the right things and respects peoples rights. He doesnt get
rattled. Hes a charmer with a warm, endearing smile. If only he didnt live in
Brooklyn, I could be his friend. As a matter of fact, this guy has so much to offer,
Id overlook the fact that he probably grew up rooting for the Dodgers.
brings to the table the experience, skills and knowledge to oversee the citys
budget. He is firm enough to give us confidence while maintaining the flexibility that
comes from working in a city burdened with political bureaucracy.
volunteered that Queens must get the largest share of the school systems capital
budget because of the shortage of seats for our school children. He knows the boroughs
Queens and the other four, too.
reference to the stringent administration of Campaign Finance rules, Herb said of the
board, They often come down too hard on candidates. They torture people instead of
providing guidance and help.
has managed and mastered the budget process. He is socially a liberal proudly so.
and affordable housing came before economic development on Herbs list of priorities.
If I needed to pick
someone in this city to teach me the finer points of city government, Id pick Herb
Berman. As a matter of fact, next time I need a city expert, Im going to call Herb.
He impresses me as the kinda guy, who no matter how busy he is, will find the time to
share his wisdom.
by Dom Nunziato
Michael Schenkler can be reached at: MSchenkler@QueensTribune.com
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