Will Schwartz save Paterson?

Kimberly found on the LI Biz Blog post Winners, losers in Paterson shakeup that Larry Schwartz will replace William Cunningham as Secretary to NY Governor David Paterson.

Well, in a much less mature version of myself, I was a Democratic Committeeman for a decade.  During that time I met Mr. Schwartz.  Now, LI Biz Blog reports that this bodes well for former Suffolk County Executive (now lobbyist) Pat Halpin, since Mr. Schwartz had been his Deputy County Executive.  In my view of things, Mr. Schwartz’ greater achievement was as one of the architect’s of Halpin’s victory, not his time in Suffolk County government.

Back in the day, I was a cog (a  small cog) in the Halpin campaign.  I was working the phone banks every night, and walking targeted districts with literature.  From a technical standpoint, Halpin’s Suffolk County Executive campaign was perfect.  There was phone banking and lit dropping with precision, and on a scale I had never seen in Suffolk County.  (Though, I can’t remember what the actual issues were.)

The next year at the ripe age of 22, I managed the NY State Senate campaign of a Democratic challenger to State-Senator-for-life Owen Johnson.  (This was back before Democratic County Chair Rich Schaffer cut a deal to not run anyone against Johnson.)  We were lucky in the State Senate campaign to be able to call Schwartz occasionally for advice.   Within the State Senate campaign, we affectionately referred to Schwartz as “Yoda”, in deference to his campaigning wisdom and as a reference to Spaceballs.

Considering the debt I owe Schwartz, I feel slightly guilty mentioning that his time as Deputy County Executive was much less effective.  Pat Halpin moved from Assemblyman to County Executive with heavy help from the New York Assembly Democratic operation, many of whom, including Schwartz, became Halpin’s County Executive staff.  These people had a deep understanding of the State Senate and Assembly, where the four party leaders control everything.

Halpin’s staff thought they could apply the same political tactics in dealing with the Suffolk County Legislature.  This was a disaster which wasted not only Halpin’s honeymoon, but his whole first year.  Halpin never recovered from this.  The Suffolk County Legislature is much more grassroots than the state legislature.  The eighteen county legislators are much more independent.  The Suffolk Legislature has a history of shifting alliances and cutting edge legislation including the phosphorus ban in laundry soap and hand-free cellphone use.

Now, the failure in Suffolk County does not not necessarily bode negatively for Schwartz in his new position.  Schwartz’s weakness in dealing with the Suffolk County Legislature was that he was dependent upon his deep knowledge of of how the state legislature works.  Since nothing has really changed in how the state legislature works in the 20 years since Halpin was in office (only the faces have changed), Schwartz’ knowledge may be a strength for Paterson.

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