Take the Eric Schneiderman case. No doubt about it, Schneiderman knew his politics. However, there was something missing. He grew up and prospered in the same place that I did on the real upper West Side of Manhattan. I use the word “real” because I know a lot of very good people who say that they live on the West Side (as in West of Central Park — Lincoln Center and all that culture, you know). Well, maybe technically they do, but in fact when you are talking the 70s, 80s, and 90s, that’s the real West Side. That’s where Schneiderman grew up. To be fair, the West Side was a lot less rough when he grew up there than when I did, remembering that I’m in my seventies. When I grew up on the West Side, the side streets where every home now sells for millions of dollars were regarded as less then, well, fancy. Around the corner from Joan of Arc Junior High School, the public school I went to, was the Trinity School, long regarded as one of the elite institutions. I was president of the Joan of Arc General Organization (GO) and had to campaign and fight for that job, but that’s another story.
Every day my friend Steve and I would go to Yellin’s delicatessen on Columbus Avenue and for a buck have two hotdogs with sauerkraut, French fries, a coke and a pickle. Our enemy was a rather large kid in a blazer who went to Trinity. We gave him an unprintable name. One day he threw a snowball that landed in my friend’s soup (as I remember it although it may have been the other way around.) That meant war, although my recollections of those imagined semi-military campaigns are anything but fresh. So, as far as I was concerned every time I walked past Trinity, my flesh began to crawl. Of course, when I read in the paper that Schneiderman went to Trinity I had an “ah-ha” moment. Save your letters, folks. Intellectually I know that the school has produced some of the best and brightest people in our country. I apologize in advance for scapegoating. After all, Eliot Spitzer went to Horace Mann and I have no such negative feelings about that place. But the point is that we do make associations based on our past.
Now I run a lot of public radio stations. When the Attorney General position opened up a number of years ago and a lot of people (maybe six) were running for the Democratic nomination, we had a debate. All the candidates came except for one, Schneiderman, who played the odds as the front runners often do. Okay, maybe I occasionally forget things but I never forgot Schneiderman’s no-show at our debate. Sure, we left a symbolic empty chair out, but it rankled me. Every time Schneiderman’s name came up I thought of his lack of sportsmanship in that election. You mentioned Schneiderman and I saw that empty chair. By now you may be laughing, but as the psychiatrists say, “It goes to character.” (Mine or his.)
My father, who worked for the City, used to say, “Never kick a kid who works for you in the pants, he may end up as your boss.” Well, it may not be a true analogy but there is an element of schadenfreude when I think of that empty chair. Obviously a terrible price was paid by the alleged victims and we can all relate to their pain and suffering. But this column is about something else — it’s about how what you do to someone may come back to bite you in the behind. Andrew Cuomo says that he will debate Cynthia Nixon. I hope that he will and that it will be timely and fair. My advice: don’t be a bully like the kid from Trinity.