In 1970, as the nation engaged in civil rights protests and the Vietnam War, a boyish-looking, progressive-minded, anti-war law student was elected to represent Manhattan’s West Side in the New York State Assembly.
The 23-year-old student, Richard Gottfried, became one of the state’s youngest elected legislators, and it didn’t take long for him to earn his reputation as a champion of liberal politics that was noblely ideal but also politically useless—even if the concepts later became popular within the party.
Half a century and 26 subsequent elections, Mr. Gottfried, now 74, Holds the record As the longest-serving lawmaker in New York history.
His career will soon come to an end: Mr Gottfried will not seek re-election next year and will retire when his term expires next December, 18,993 days after he was first sworn in.
“It was a tough decision because I love what I do so much,” Mr. Gottfried, a Democrat, said Sunday from his Manhattan office on the 22nd floor, which overlooks City Hall and East River. “It really is an honor to spend your life doing a job you really love and to be able to retire when you still love doing it.”
In 1987, he became chair of the association’s health committee, a position he used to formulate subsequent health care policies, such as legalizing Medical marijuana in 2014 and a program to provide children from low- and middle-income families with free insurance.
Mr. Gottfried, whose red beard is now mostly white, has become a staple in Albany, attesting to the state being slowly veering to the left and adopting many of the policies he has long supported.
It developed into a permanent presence in the nation’s capital defined by political turmoil and big personalities. Witnessed nine governors taking office in Albany, including two comos and the first in the state black And feminine rulers. He saw the two of them resign in disgrace and proceeded through financial crisesAnd Politician inversions And arrest a series of colleagues In corruption cases that tarnished the reputation of the Capitol.
Mr. Gottfried, better known as Dick, is considered a legislator by his colleagues – a politically obsessed person who often crafts his own legislative language. “Dick is a living encyclopedia” when it comes to health care, Carl E. Hesty, president of the association, said in a statement, adding that he “set the standard for what it means to be a true legislature citizen.”
Mr. Gottfried, a Columbia Law School graduate, ran for an open seat in the State Assembly as part of a wave of young people, Democrats who focus on reform who challenged the founding of the party and opposed the Vietnam War. He emerged victorious in a contested primary to represent a region that includes Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen and has been handily re-elected ever since.
“Children,” he said, “was what everyone called us.” “I was 23 and so full of myself, it never occurred to me to be intimidated by anyone else.”
Indeed, Mr. Gottfried of The Times Described in 1971 As looking “more like a page than a politician”, he was denied entry to the assembly hall on his first day as a new legislator. He remembers how a confused sergeant told him, “Okay, you have to wait for your father to get here.”
The Democrats were the minority in the Assembly, but the party, spurred by the fallout from the Watergate scandal, He regained control of the room in 1974, which is the majority they have retained since then. Gottfried said democratic control has led to a range of permanent changes, including funding for local offices, the appointment of legislative staff, and rule changes to “democratize” the body and shift power away from party chiefs.
Actor Jerrold Nadler, an old friend who studied with Mr. Gottfried at Stuyvesant High School and remembered sleeping in the same hotel rooms as Mr. Gottfried’s early assistant, said his former classmate would be remembered as a “tireless worker”.
Mr. Nadler, who was elected to the Society in 1976, said. ‘People consider the Society’s members to mail newsletters. Nobody did that before Dick. He invented the concept. later “.
Mr. Gottfried, who took office during the last years of Governor Nelson Rockefeller’s 14-year term, noted the urgency of making a series of high stakes votes as Governor Hugh Carey was trying to save New York City from the brink of bankruptcy in the 1970s.
“Everyone had a sense of the importance of what we were doing and the possibility that things could fall apart at any time,” he said.
He will never forget the 45-minute phone call he received in the late 1980s from Governor Mario M. Cuomo, who was upset that Mr. Gottfried had told an administrative official that he believed Mr. Cuomo was at war with the legislature. “I looked at my watch and thought, Oh my God, this is budget season in Albany, doesn’t the Governor have more important things to do than talk to me on the phone?”
Then there were his dealings with Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, who resigned in August After allegations of sexual harassment. Mr. Gottfried, who was engaged in arduous negotiations with Mr. Cuomo over a medical marijuana bill, paused for 20 seconds to choose his words.
“I definitely had, as many people did, a lot of friction with Andrew Cuomo because of that This was often his style‘ he said. ‘I guess I’ll leave it at that.’
The most impressive ruler? Mr. Gottfried Elliot Spitzer said, who quit After it emerged in 2008 that he was a client of a high-end prostitution network. “If he hadn’t destroyed himself,” he said, “we’d have had eight years of fantastic progress, I’m convinced.”
Mr. Gottfried served most of his term while Republicans controlled the state Senate, but he estimated that about 500 of his bills had been enacted into law.
He said that one of his proudest achievements is passing Hudson River Park Act 1998 Under Governor George E. Pataki, a three-state Republican, to protect a portion of the river in Manhattan as a park, to overcome opposition from residents who believed it would lead to commercial development.
As mentioned embarrassing fatal error While trying to pass his bill to remove criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana. The bill was introduced to the assembly hall in May 1977 thereafter an agreement It was reached after weeks of negotiations, but it was all revealed publicly after a name call showed the bill was just six votes short.
“I thought I got the votes and it turns out I don’t,” he said. “I think that was probably, by far, my biggest mistake.”
In recent years, Mr. Gottfried has become a revered mentor to a group of younger and more diverse left-wing lawmakers who have helped Democrats Regaining full control of the state legislature in 2018. Brad Hoelman, a Democrat elected in 2012 to represent parts of Mr. Gottfried’s district in the state Senate, said Mr. Gottfried “left an indelible mark on our laws”.
Mr. Gottfried, in his last year in office, said he hoped to direct his efforts to one of his long-standing political aspirations: to try to transcend New York Health Law, a bill first introduced in 1992 to create universal health coverage for the individual payer in the state.
After retirement, he hopes to spend more time with his granddaughters and travel with them Wife of more than 50 years, Louise Gottfried, to Amsterdam and Taiwan. Mr. Gottfried, who lives on the Upper West Side, also plans to devote himself to decades of adoration of Chinese calligraphy, which he described as an addiction.
“I will miss my colleagues and be able to translate my thoughts into law,” said Mr. Gottfried. “This is what I dreamed of doing when I was 13, and I’ve been able to do it for half a century.”