Nadler Talks Neighborhood History, Helicopters and Housing in Wide-Ranging Interview


Rep. Jerry Nadler in his office.

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.

Nadler continued.

“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.”

Read part 1 of our profile here.

NEWS | 19 comments | permalink
    1. Thanks, Jerry says:

      LOVE LOVE LOVE this guy! Some will insult him here, sure, but Mr. Nadler is among the few remaining good ol’ guys in politics. And I’m not entertaining rebuttals on this.

      • Christina says:

        Love him as well! My mom knew him! As she was Vice President Of West 94th Street Black Associations. And at one time in early to mid 70’s my mom worked in her spare time at Strykers Bat neighborhood Council on 89th street. He has always fought for the people and tenants of the upper west side!!!

      • gs says:

        Thanks, Jerry…I don’t think you get to decide who gets to rebut. As much as you love this guy, I dislike him. He rode into his committee chairmanship role with “impeaching President Trump” as his top priority. He had no problem with aiding and abetting the illegal actions of the prior administration. Good to see he has his priorities right!

    2. Jason says:

      Thanks to the WSR for organizing and offering this two-part interview.

      Could not help but feel frustration at the ending quote. “We’ve got to redeem this country … we’ve got to make sure liberty is preserved… we’ve got to make sure … Trump can’t run wild.” are pretty *strong* imperatives.

      That’s the ‘My Jerry’ that I wish would show up to Chair the House Judiciary Committee. Instead, the quotes offered yesterday (about how he views his role leading that committee’s impeachment investigations) appeared *far* more slow-to-act. Few Americans have more power than Jerry right now, to ‘act’ in this regard.

      The mental distance between ‘got-to-act’ and ‘wait-and-see’ must be hard to maintain. Hopefully, in the days ahead, it will grow even harder to defend.

    3. ST says:

      The scourge of air tourism flights over the city and our parks must stop. Our parks are the solace and respite of citizens. Yet a few thrill riders disrupt that serenity thanks to noisy and ever present choppers in the air. Central Park, called by some the heart and the lungs of the city, is strafed daily by flights. Few realize that some of these choppers are old hunks of junk that endanger us as they repeatedly fly over our homes. Some pilots choose to fly in very iffy weather. People who live under and near common helicopter routes often have the sound and vibration of chopper blades as the sountrack of their lives. Tourism helicopters are just the beginning. Nearly every private helicopter out of the Hamptons flies over Central Park for the view/money shot. Sightseers from as far away as Boston and Philidelphia come to fly over our park. Developers have air rights, yet the people of New York have no say over their city’s skies. Requests for regulation and relief are continually denied.

    4. elayne dix says:

      Thank heaven someone is working on this. I have been attempting to stir up my local councilperson.
      lets East and West join forces to combat the dreaded HELICOPTORS
      elayne dix

    5. Westsidegirl says:

      Yawn

    6. Ben David says:

      Wonderful to see that West Side Rag is now part of Jerry Nadler’s public relations team!
      Nadler no longer does cares about his district AT ALL — he used to, no more.. No attention to local problems. Screw the Upper West Side; it’s all about being obsessed with President Trump. Jerry, if you want to get rid of the President, run against him in 2020 or find a candidate who can beat him — it shouldn’t be that difficult to beat a president with one of the lowest approval ratings ever. In the meantime, how about doing something for your UWS constituents?!

    7. fact checker says:

      The subway where the mother with stroller died was 53rd St/7 Av, not 57th St.

    8. John says:

      He is everything that is wrong with politics today. TERM LIMITS

    9. davidaron says:

      I’ve been noticing more and more tourist helicopters over our streets and parks in recent years. And forget about that Sunday ban. They just depart from Kearny or Linden, NJ instead. NYonAIR is one of the worst offenders. I hope Jerry and Rob help get rid of them for all for good.

    10. Jeff Segall says:

      I completely agree with Jerry, the first commentator here, but I’d like to add one observation: There’s a sick old saw prevalent in the American mind that all politicians are crooks. Jerry Nadler is one of the most honest representatives I’ve ever known. I’ve followed his career trajectory since he was elected District Leader of the F.D.R. Woodrow Wilson Reform Democrats club decades ago. First and foremost in his mind has been the improvement of people’s lives everywhere. The Jewish concept of “Tikkun Olam,” the healing of the world, has been his life’s mission and guiding principle. We need more selfless and thoughtful leaders like Jerry in our political life.

    11. RickiLS says:

      Thank you for this great interview. OurJerry is surely the best we have! Jerry has exactly the values and commitments we need in government and I am sure he will do the right thing in his extraordinary current position of influence and power. He is truly a fine, intelligent and knowledgeable person.

    12. Ruth Brennan says:

      So proud of you.

    13. ALAN PODHAIZER says:

      I am the same age as the Congressman and it was wonderful to read his interview. He is a federal legislator. His job is to deal with federal legislation. Most issues affecting the West Side is under the jurisdiction of the City Council and the State Legislature. He has a right to criticize our fact challenged President who most Americans doo not believe.
      Keep up the good work

    14. Patricia Sandler says:

      Can you do anything to stop deBlasio from ruining the schools we’ve worked hard to improve. Bringing poorly-performing kids into our excellent schools will not improve their performance, but will make it hard for teachers to teach to the higher-performing kids in their classes. I support in-place improvement by bringing the new Bronx-Plan into all poorly performing schools, not integrating with poorly-performing students.

    15. Valeria Sowell says:

      Congressman Nadler: Thank you for changing for the best as you grew. We need your integrity in politics to reign in East New York/Canarsie in Brooklyn. Starett City development was sold instead of being preserved and saved, and it gets better; the politicians turn their heads to any ADA law for accessibility to 3 train commuters. Two items the community here in East New York only wished a proto-type like you existed here. Thank you.