Lester “The Lion” has passed at 82. Lester Shulklapper was the king of the lobbyists in Albany. He and I philosophically disagreed about pretty much everything but I loved the man dearly. He represented just about everyone who had power and money. We are talking about the banking industry and the real estate industry (big time). He was a best friend to many legislators on both sides of the aisle, including Joe Bruno and Ralph Marino, the two men thought to be the most powerful in the legislature.
One time the word went out that Lester was out of favor with the ruling powers in Albany. That was bad because when your star fell, so did that of your clients. After all, the folks who paid you a lot of money wanted connected lobbyists. That’s the way it works to this very day. So a big crowd was hanging around the Senate lobby and there was Lester with his colorful handkerchief flowing out of his breast pocket, hanging back in the crowd. Joe Bruno, the powerful Senate Majority Leader, emerged from the Senate doors and spotted Lester or “Les” as they all called him. Bruno hollered, “Les, come over here.” Lester approached the leader and Bruno threw his arm around Lester’s neck and bellowed, “Well, Les, I guess we beat them again!” You don’t get letters of recommendation in Albany but when the Majority Leader testifies that you and he “beat them again,” you can take it to the bank.
Lester the Lion was really something. He would come to my class and tell the students, “Don’t listen to a thing that he says — he’s full of it,” and we were off to races. Lester loved big dogs, Dobermans. They were the kind that scared people. When you saw Lester with one of his dogs they came up to his stomach. Whenever I ran into him in the Berkshires we would start to talk. Those conversations were very interesting as he would educate me about the way political decisions really got made. He knew all about who was giving what to whom because in Albany, then as now, money was king. Believe me —Lester knew how to use his clients’ money, not only with Republican legislators but with key Democrats, too. He would tell me his tales with a twinkle in his eye. He would find loving ways to insult me and my “lefty” friends. He’d try to get my goat by putting down my friend Mario Cuomo with whom I was conducting a weekly radio show. I would just smile and laugh.
He earned his spurs in New York City government as a real estate bureaucrat but he used that education to make a fortune. He married well to the wonderful Marilyn and had two sons, Greg and Ken, of whom he was very, very proud. An earlier tragedy with a young son weighed heavily on him for years, but when he was with you, he sure knew how to make you feel important.
He made some mistakes. While Lester made everyone feel good about themselves, he had a guy, now passed, who worked for him who took a different tack. I used to complain about the guy’s rudeness to Les but he defended his associate. Les later sold his practice to the guy but that didn’t work out and Les came back to work. He would always admit to me that I had been right about the man’s character. No matter, Les’ sterling character will remain fixed in our minds when we think of him.
In the end, it was complication from Alzheimer’s and pneumonia that got him but even when he was suffering from the disease that scares the wits out of so many of us, he stayed just as kind and giving and happy as ever. Boy, am I going to miss him.