“It is not a miserable place,” he said last week over an afternoon glass of sauvignon blanc at the bar in the Fitzpatrick Hotel on Lexington Avenue. By New York State Legislature standards, where careers are measured in geologic time, Mr. Lancman is barely amphibious, having won his seat in the State Assembly only in 2006.
“But it is a place where at some point one’s desire for greater responsibility is stymied by a rigid seniority system and a culture that doesn’t really support that kind of institutional ambition.”
“I don’t want out,” he added. “I want up.”
This is true. Almost as soon as he got elected, Mr. Lancman’s colleagues say that he was floating his name for Anthony Weiner’s congressional seat—presuming Mr. Weiner became mayor. When a Twitter sex scandal ended Mr. Weiner’s congressional career, Mr. Lancman put his name forward as a replacement. A special election was called, and the powerful Queens County Democratic Party, led by Congressman Joe Crowley, had full control over who would be the nominee.
Sources close to Mr. Crowley say that Mr. Lancman launched a full-scale assault to be named to the seat.
“He lobbied too hard,” said one member of the county organization. “He might actually have been the choice, but he had everybody he knew call Joe Crowley and tell him to support him for Congress. Joe was thinking how could he work with a guy who was so over-the-top like this.”
The general assumption in political circles was that the seat would be eliminated during the once-a-decade redistricting cycle, since whoever won the seat would be the junior-most member of the congressional delegation and Mr. Crowley had his eager eye on some of its territory.
Mr. Crowley thus needed someone who would slip away quietly by the time the next election rolled around, and although Mr. Lancman said he had no designs on Mr. Crowley’s seat—he suggested to some lawmakers that he would be up for a federal judgeship or a job in D.C.—the party named instead the plodding David Weprin, a longtime insider, who promptly went down to defeat at the hands of Republican Bob Turner.
Almost as soon as the ballots were counted, Mr. Lancman began preparing to run against Mr. Turner. “We’ve always had good strong Democrats in this district—Anthony Weiner, Nita Lowey—and then I wake up and we’ve got a Republican … My interest crystallized within days.”
The district still seemed likely to be eliminated, but Mr. Lancman started what he termed “a shadow campaign” against Mr. Turner.
“For six or seven months I didn’t know if there was going to be district or not be a district. Some people say I am on a fool’s quest, a fool’s errand—is that what it’s called? A fool’s errand?—and that in the end it is all going to be for naught. And they were at least 50 percent right.”
But when rumors emerged that the district was to be saved, but redrawn to include parts of the Far Rockways, or areas in Long Island, Mr. Lancman promptly began stumping in those areas. In the end, the district was eliminated, and a new district was drawn. That new district included Mr. Lancman’s neighborhood, but otherwise didn’t have a sitting incumbent congressman residing within it.
“I look at that district and I think, well, that is the perfect district for me. My house is in much of the district. I have lived in it my entire life. I am going to run in that district.”
Those plans were upended, though, when Gary Ackerman, a popular congressman from Long Island, found himself living in the district of another long-time rep; even though he was 69 years old, he decided he would move to Queens and run for the seat.
So once again Mr. Lancman started a shadow campaign—contrary to advice from supporters—against Mr. Ackerman even though the congressman had one time employed him as an intern.
Asked his reaction when he heard that Mr. Ackerman was moving to Queens, Mr. Lancman paused for several seconds, and stared out the window onto Lexington.
“I was a little … annoyed. Or disappointed. I wasn’t thrilled. Nothing against Gary, but the whole idea of people shopping around for a district is, I don’t know, unseemly,” he said.