Richard Brodsky, Public Hearing Advocate

A DESCENDANT OF RUSSIAN JEWS, Mr. Brodsky grew up in Flatbush, Brooklyn, in a crucible of midcentury New York liberalism. His father organized an engineers union and his mother worked on Henry Wallace’s 1948 campaign. They left the same year that the Brooklyn Dodgers did, 1957, and moved to Westchester County. After attending Brandeis and Harvard Law School, the young Brodsky took on a variety of posts aiding politicians, before settling on a private practice that focused on entertainment law.

A thespian in college, he always kept a foot in that world, and maintains a flair for the dramatic. He ended up marrying someone whom he proudly refers to as a “former Broadway showgirl,” Paige Massman, with whom he has two daughters, aged 16 and 22. He plays piano in his spare time with a bunch of other legislators who call themselves the Budget Blues Boys. When he walks, he leads with his chest and shows off his broad forehead by combing back his hair. When he talks, his forceful speech hits you like an ocean wave, and when it recedes, he will throw in a line from Shakespeare or an anecdote about Henry Miller.

Among constituents, Mr. Brodsky is well liked, consistently winning reelection by wide margins. But he has had a hard time advancing to higher office. He ran for Westchester county executive twice, unsuccessfully. Earlier this year he tried to get enough votes among Assembly members to fill the State Comptroller vacancy, but that post went to a chummier rival, Thomas DiNapoli. A legislative insider attributed the loss to Mr. Brodsky’s personality: “He lets everybody know he is the smartest guy in the room, and you are talking about people who have big egos of their own.” A political consultant said, “His meetings are not civil and he takes on causes just for headlines.”

Assemblyman Adam Bradley, a fellow Democrat from Westchester who used to work as Mr. Brodsky’s counsel, was more generous with his assessment.

“In order to implement what he believes is the best public policy, he’s willing to ruffle some feathers,” he said. “That is not true of everybody and that is a courageous approach.”

Mr. Brodsky maintains that he has become more collegial over time.

“We’ve all made mistakes,” he said, “and I have made my share, maybe more, but behind it all is the idea that you have a principled vision of how you would like your community to look and you tell the truth, and you can do that any number of ways, sometimes with charm and sometimes by being feisty.”

Mr. Brodsky is by no means an outsider. He holds a high-ranking committee chairmanship, and his politics are comfortably in synch with those of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. Mr. Brodsky defended the speaker from an attempted putsch a few years back and helped lead the drive to repeal the tax on suburban commuters who work in New York City. Mr. Brodsky also opposed the West Side Stadium, which Mr. Silver ended up killing.

 

AS FOR CONGESTION PRICING, Mr. Silver has been much more skeptical than other government leaders, such as the governor and heads of the State Senate and City Council. It is hard to tell whether he is dictating terms to Assembly Democrats like Mr. Brodsky or if the reservations of Assembly Democrats like Mr. Brodsky have led to Mr. Silver’s ambivalence.

In August, in a clear vote of confidence in the Westchester legislator, Mr. Silver appointed Mr. Brodsky as one of his three appointees to a 17-member panel that is supposed to determine, by Jan. 31, what, if any, congestion-pricing system New York City will impose on drivers. Supporters of congestion pricing worry that he will act as an obstructionist, treating the committee meetings, which are open to the public, as just more hearings to nitpick the proposal to death. His allies, meanwhile, applaud the chance he is giving them to voice their objections and to pound out numerous details in their favor.

The panel’s first meeting, on Sept. 25, did resemble a Brodsky hearing, after all: He asked question after question to reveal the weaknesses, uncertainties and contradictions of the mayor’s plan and the way the M.T.A. wanted to implement it. And yet even some proponents of congestion pricing said that Mr. Brodsky’s questioning was largely helpful.