One of the last of New York’s Rockefeller Republicans directed his driver to pull off the New York Thruway en route to Albany on Nov. 27. Roy Goodman wanted to concentrate on a telephone conversation, because the subject at hand was the possible extinction of his career and, with it, a tradition of old-fashioned liberal Republicanism-both of which are in peril 32 years after he first went to Albany as a State Senator representing Manhattan’s Upper East Side.
Within days, pending the final count of absentee ballots, Mr. Goodman will find out whether he has been ousted by Liz Krueger, a little-known Democrat who leads Mr. Goodman by a couple hundred votes in the still- unresolved election. And the patrician Mr. Goodman, heir to a pharmaceuticals fortune, is certainly aware that he faces a potentially bleak outcome.
“After 32 years, perhaps there are advantages to being returned to civilian life,” Mr. Goodman said. “It’s rather arduous to be a State Senator. You have to go to Albany, which involves rather radical temperature changes-going into deep freeze all winter long.”
Albany has been a frigid place of late for the pro-choice, pro–gay rights Mr. Goodman. Many of his fellow Rockefeller Republicans have long since retired. He is now surrounded by suburban and upstate Republicans whose icon is not Nelson Rockefeller, but Alfonse D’Amato. “In many ways, Roy is sort of alone,” said Eric Schneiderman, a Democratic State Senator from the Upper West Side. “Albany is not a gentleman’s club anymore-things are done much more through the exercise of pure political power.”
Then there is the small matter of Ms. Krueger. If her slim lead holds, it will drop the curtain on a political career that began with a casual conversation with then- Governor Rockefeller on a beach in 1968, weathered the Watergate-era backlash against the G.O.P., survived the rise of conservatives like Ronald Reagan and Mr. D’Amato, and now may come to a quiet end at a time when social liberalism is anathema to Republicans in New York and throughout the nation.
There’s no question that Ms. Krueger, a political neophyte, mounted a formidable campaign. Her husband, Harvey Krueger, a vice chairman at Lehman Brothers, raised more than half a million dollars for her effort. She argued that Mr. Goodman’s eagerness to please the more conservative Republican leadership has trumped his good intentions.
“His voting record shows that he is the kind of Republican the rest of the State Senate is,” Ms. Krueger said. “It’s not a party of Javits, Rockefeller and Lindsay-it’s now a party of Joe Bruno and upstate conservative Republicans. Goodman has gone along with it, even if his rhetoric hasn’t.”
As of Nov. 27, as the count of paper ballots dragged on, Ms. Krueger led Mr. Goodman by several hundred votes out of more than 120,000 votes cast. Mr. Goodman credits her strong showing to the fact that Al Gore and Hillary Clinton topped the Democratic ticket, and they ran well in Manhattan. Still, he was clearly startled by her tough challenge.
Asked when it dawned on him that he might be in trouble, he said: “I’d say some time around 9:30 on election night.”
Mr. Goodman-whose verbal repertoire draws on Borscht Belt schtick, stilted 19th-century political discourse and tortured Kempton-esque syntax-is an anomaly, even something of an antique, in Albany. He has made the drive to and from Albany nearly 1,000 times during his career. In an age of Palm Pilots, he still notes the day’s chores on what he calls an “action card”-an index card stored in his breast pocket. A Harvard graduate turned public servant adrift in a legislative body dominated by lawyers and party hacks, Mr. Goodman exuberantly plays his role of gentleman legislator.
An Endangered Species
“He is certainly an endangered species in the workaday world of the legislature,” said fellow Senator Serphin Maltese of Queens.
Mr. Goodman’s patrician air and lack of the common touch have inspired no shortage of in-house mockery in Albany. One story about Mr. Goodman goes like this: During Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s 1993 re-election campaign, he was traveling back from an event with the Mayor when Mr. Giuliani’s van pulled over at a White Castle. Mr. Goodman offered to treat the van’s eight occupants to a meal. Apparently unfamiliar with White Castle’s trademark tiny hamburgers, he returned to the van with eight of them-eliciting boos from his hungry companions, who no doubt had their hearts set on three or four apiece.
“He had never had a White Castle hamburger,” laughed one politico familiar with the tale.
Mr. Goodman confirmed the episode. “These were little squares that were hardly worthy of the name ‘hamburger,’” he said. “They were diminutive and not very nutritious. I was trying to be munificent, but it was not exactly what you’d call a memorable gastronomical delight.”
Mr. Goodman’s current plight in the State Senate reflects the transformation that the Republican Party in New York, and local politics in general, have undergone in the last generation. When Mr. Goodman arrived in Albany, towering New York Rockefeller Republicans like Jacob Javits and John Lindsay were important national figures. Mr. Goodman’s party followed Rockefeller’s lead in expanding the size and scope of state government. Under Rockefeller, New York built a huge state university system, legalized abortion three years before Roe v. Wade and raised the state personal income tax to historically high levels.
It is fitting that Mr. Goodman’s political career was born during a conversation with Rockefeller. In 1968, when Mr. Goodman was a high-level official in the Lindsay administration and a failed Assembly candidate, he and Rockefeller were strolling on a beach in Puerto Rico watching their 2-year-old sons playing in the sand.
“We were talking about our futures, and Rockefeller was saying he thought the real fun in public service was in elective politics,” Mr. Goodman said. “Just at that moment, my wife stepped out of the room and said, ‘There’s a long-distance call from New York.’ It was my finance chairman telling me that Seymour [State Senator Whitney North Seymour Jr.] was running for Congress. Would I like to run for State Senate? I went back and told Rockefeller, ‘I have just been offered a chance to run for office. Would you recommend that I do?’ And he said, ‘Absolutely-I would seize the opportunity.’”
The New Breed
He did. But by the late 1970′s, the Rockefeller wing of the party had withered. Rockefeller was gone, New York City was in the throes of a fiscal crisis brought on, in part, by Rockefeller’s spending and borrowing, and the upheavals of the 1960′s created a backlash among cultural conservatives. Rockefeller’s place as party-builder was taken by a distinctly un-Rockfeller Republican, Mr. D’Amato, who infused local public life with a bewildering blend of attack politics and pothole-fixing. Mr. D’Amato also bolstered his party by tying its fortunes to the Conservative Party, which was founded by right-wing Republicans who loathed Rockefeller and his ideological allies.
And so Mr. Goodman found himself adrift in a world controlled by the likes of Mr. D’Amato and, more recently, Mr. Bruno, a longtime ally of the former U.S. Senator. When Mr. Bruno tried to abolish rent regulations in 1997, Mr. Goodman became one of the few Republicans in the State Senate to rise to their defense, putting him at odds with his party.
Mr. Goodman rejects the idea that Rockefeller Republicans are a vanishing breed. “We are rather the proliferating breed,” Mr. Goodman said. “We’ve convinced a number of others to come to us-including Giuliani and [Governor George] Pataki.”
But now Mr. Goodman is in danger of losing the job he has held for more than three decades. Ms. Krueger’s candidacy attracted the attention of powerful city Democrats who view the seat as critical to the party’s efforts to recapture the State Senate. (Of course, they have been trying to recapture the State Senate since, well, the days of Nelson Rockefeller.) What’s more, some of Mr. Goodman’s allies are quietly distancing themselves from him in behind-the-scenes conversations, saying that he has lost his clout with the Senate’s Republican leadership.
“Look, on the one hand, there’s no question that it’s been valuable to have Goodman there,” said a prominent lobbyist for the city’s cultural institutions, which rely on another relic of Rockfeller Republicanism-state funding for the arts. “But I don’t think he’s come through nearly as dramatically as some might have you believe. There are certain Republican members of the State Senate from outside of New York City who have often done more to produce real dollars for the city’s cultural institutions. Everybody clung to him symbolically.”
Just days after Election Day, the answering machine at Ms. Krueger’s campaign headquarters offered callers a message: Ms. Krueger had already declared victory. And her narrow lead is growing daily as the count goes on. But Mr. Goodman remains optimistic.
“We’re doing fine,” he said. “All our people say we’re in like Flynn. But in this case, we’ll have to defer Mr. Flynn until we await the sound of chickens clucking in the barnyard.”
Sensing puzzlement on the part of his questioner, Mr. Goodman translated: “Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched.”