Dr. Chartock’s travels with Sen. Chuck

Chuck Schumer came by the other day for a radio chat. I have to tell you, you’ve got to like the man. He has a bit of a reputation as a hard-driving, self-centered fellow but trust me, it is undeserved. He started as a kid in Brooklyn. His father was an exterminator, which is one of the reasons why he may have chosen to major in chemistry in college. He has been a bit of exterminator, himself, when it comes to Republicans, having gained the credit for delivering the Senate to the donkeys. He didn’t like chemistry so he switched to political science. One thing led to another — he did some internships, he was bright and an outspoken light in his community. When his activist mom was asked to run for the Assembly, she told them that she had no interest and, according to Chuck, she warned them not to ask her son. In fact, they thought that was a good idea and asked him, needing a sacrificial lamb and warning him that he had no chance of winning. Well, the anti-Viet Nam war activist did run, worked his tail off, and defied all the odds by winning. He’s been winning ever since.

The next stop was Congress, which he loved, but then he decided to take on Senator Al D’Amato, the man who couldn’t lose. I knew him a little when he was in the Assembly and he showed up at a television station where I did commentary every night and took me to a watering hole across the street. He turned over a paper placemat and showed me exactly how he was going to win. I told him he couldn’t do it; that D’Amato was too powerful and that Senator Pothole even had the support of conservative and orthodox Jewish groups. He denied it and named names of outstanding Jewish leaders who were in his corner. In any case, he won. D’Amato was shocked. I was delighted.

The next time I met him was when he came to a public gathering put on by the radio station I run. He was there to explain his vote for the Iraq War. There were a lot of unhappy folks in attendance, one of whom was acting out and being very rude to the young intern at the door. He was screaming at the kid that he was going to confront Schumer, in violation of my rules about questions being written on cards. As I remember it, the guy was abusive enough to use a few choice expletives about Schumer and about me, even though on Chuck and I were on different sides on the Iraq matter. When I told the guy he was out of line, he threw a cup of hot coffee in my face. Well, there was hell to pay. The cops came in force and asked me if I wanted to press charges. “No sir,” I said. I wasn’t about to make that guy a hero. Well, Schumer’s staff must have told him what happened because when he came in, he said at the top of his voice, “Where’s the peacenik who threw the coffee in Chartock’s face?” Now that’s funny.

Recently, Chuck and I have had our differences about his obvious problems with an open primary for Senator Gillibrand’s seat in the upcoming election. Chuck says that he never told anyone not to run but that he did tell a host of potential candidates that he would be supporting Gillibrand against them. Considering the fact that Gillibrand’s polling numbers are so low, Chuck may be making a mistake. People like Long Island’s Steve Israel and the Manhattan East Side’s Carolyn Maloney would have cleaned Gillibrand’s clock. Schumer says that when Democrats go into primaries, they often lose. Primaries are costly and drive a wedge that sometimes cost elections. In other words, the ends justify the means. That may be so but I still think that primaries are a tent pole of democracy and that they tend to produce the best candidates. But hey, he’s the senator, I’m not.

Two more things about Chuck: he took his family to hear Bob Dylan and he didn’t like the fact that when Dylan sings his old songs, he changes the tunes but uses the same words. I agree with him about that. Also, when I told him that there’s this guy on Law and Order who is a dead ringer for him, he said he had never seen the guy. When my wife and I see him (he plays a defense lawyer) we always say, “There goes Chuck again.” He’s everywhere.

Originally Published in the Legislative Gazette, 4/12/10

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