By Michael McDowell
Congressman Jerry Nadler has been a ‘West Sider’ since 1965, when he turned down a full scholarship to Yale to attend Columbia.
“I’ve lived on the Upper West Side my entire adult life, since I was 18 years old, and I can’t imagine living anywhere else,” he told the West Side Rag in an interview at his New York offices.
In the second portion of our conversation with Rep. Nadler, the Rag asked Nadler about neighborhood issues. After all, even with his name appearing regularly in the national papers, all politics is local, and Nadler’s politics are inextricably tied to the Upper West Side.
It was on the Upper West Side that Nadler first battled a now-familiar adversary, Donald Trump, over a familiar neighborhood issue: high-rise construction. Then an assemblyman, Nadler fought Donald Trump, developer, over the Lincoln West complex—which ultimately resulted in Riverside South, the Tetris-tile apartment buildings that run parallel to the West Side Highway and Riverside Park, from 59th to 72nd Street.
What does he see as the most pressing issue facing the neighborhood today?
“Housing affordability,” he answered. “And that’s been true for a long time.”
With rent regulations up for renewal in June and Democrats in the majority in Albany, Nadler hopes to see some progress on tenant protection and housing affordability this year. He also supports commercial rent control to protect local businesses, as well as the Small Business Jobs Survival Act.
“I was for it thirty years ago, and I’m still for it,” he said, emphatic.
Before he enrolled at Columbia, Nadler first held elected office at Stuyvesant High, where at debate club he met Dick Morris, soon-to-be New York State Assembly Member Richard Gottfried, and future entertainment industry executive Simon Barsky. It was Morris who managed Nadler’s successful campaign for president of student government at Stuyvesant, where Nadler “spent four years trying to figure out how to combine a career in politics and astrophysics—and never figured it out.”
Politics it would be, and along with his debate club acquaintances, Nadler mobilized an effective political machine in support of campaigns like Dump Johnson in 1967 and Eugene McCarthy in 1968.
“We all ran as soon as we turned 21, which was the voting age in those days, seven of us for district leader against seven incumbent district leaders who were all supported by the congressmen, the senator, or the assemblymen. We beat the seven incumbents, and established two new clubs, one of which is Community Free Democrats.”
That was in 1969, and it was the first time Nadler appeared in The New York Times: “Tammany Tiger Finds That Its Cubs Can Bite.”
In 1976, Assemblyman‐elect Nadler from Manhattan’s 69th District would wed Joyce Miller, at Temple B’nai Jeshurun, on 88th Street.
“When I first got married we lived on 94th Street, and then we moved to 92nd Street—West End in both cases. We used to go to Murray’s, and whenever we went to Murray’s, [Nadler’s son] Michael was very small, and the guy at Murray’s would give him a little herring or something, they called him the little Litvak,” he said, with a smile.
Nadler seems to prefer life west of Broadway—favoring Riverside Park over Central Park, for example, as he is particularly fond of walking near the Hudson.
Among the local issues he’s worked on is reducing the number of helicopters that fly over the neighborhood. Along with disturbing the peace of many Upper West Side residents, the copters have recently been accused of spoiling Shakespeare in the Park.
“Helicopters are the bane of our existence,” emphasized district director Rob Gottheim.
“We have worked very hard on the helicopter issue,” Nadler agreed.
“And have not, unfortunately, been successful,” Gottheim sighed.
“We’ve worked to get the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] to ban them, and I’ve tried to ban tourist helicopters altogether,” Nadler began.
“They’re worse than leaf blowers, a total nuisance,” an outspoken Rag reporter interjected.
“I don’t see any reason for tourist helicopters in New York…The de Blasio administration argues, as Bloomberg did before, that the tourist industry is dependent on this. Nonsense! I do not believe, I see no evidence whatsoever, that people contemplating a week-long vacation between New York and Disneyland are going to [make a decision one way or the other based on the availability of tourist helicopters],” Nadler said, thumping his hand on a table.
“This is something I’ve worked on religiously,” Gottheim said.
“The tourist helicopter industry apparently has a major political influence,” Nadler concluded.
To soothe those helicopter-induced headaches, does Nadler think marijuana will be legalized in New York this year?
“It will be legalized. Whether they’ll finish it this year or not, I don’t know…It certainly should not be a Schedule I drug on the federal list.”
Oversight of the Drug Enforcement Administration is within the purview of the House Judiciary Committee, which Nadler acknowledged, without comment.
Upper West Siders have also rallied to make subway stations more accessible. Stairs not only create an obstacle for the disabled, but are a danger to parents with young children and a burden on elderly residents. Following the tragic death of Malaysia Goodson after carrying her child down subway stairs at 53rd Street, how do we make New York City—and the subway—more accessible?
“That was a tragedy,” Nadler shook his head. “It’s a question of funding and priorities…Maybe we’ll look at tightening up the ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act]. Under the ADA, if you’re making certain kinds of capital improvements you have to make certain things accessible. Maybe for mass transit we’re going to tighten that up,” he mused.
Considering the tumult and political upheaval of his formative years, what does Nadler say to young people turned off by the vitriol of modern politics — particularly those who might want to work for the government or run for office?
“I would say exactly what I thought back in 1960. We’ve got to redeem the country. We’ve got to make sure it’s a decent place to live, we’ve got to make sure liberty is preserved, we’ve got to make sure that Nixon, or Johnson, or Trump can’t run wild. This is a democracy, meaning that it’s up to the people to preserve it. So if you have an interest in government, we need you.”