Passing the Test

He slapped me on my back so hard I thought I would fall over. “Welcome back, Jerry!” the voice boomed. I turned around. It was the governor. In the spring of 1984 I was the deputy campaign manager for Walter Mondale’s primary campaign in New York and the governor had come to headquarters to urge us on. Earlier that year I had run U.S. Sen. Alan Cranston’s presidential campaign, but it went nowhere. After Cranston dropped out, I signed on with Mondale over Gary Hart. The governor was glad to see me, of course. He also, not so delicately, reminded me that I should have been with his candidate from the start.

In 1997 the governor and I were on the phone talking about the proposed New York state constitutional convention. Voters decide every 20 years whether to have such a convention and very few of us supported the idea. The governor was going on and on about how no one understood that this was a great opportunity to rewrite our laws. All I could do was—figuratively—nod my head, “Uh-huh.” Finally, he exploded: “These people are so petty. The enormity of their pettiness is astounding!” After hearing himself utter that oxymoronic line, he repeated it. He thought it was great, and started laughing. “The enormity of their pettiness!” With that, he was finished with the conversation. He simply continued laughing and hung up.

In early 2010, I found myself in an elevator with the governor, just us. He didn’t say hello. Instead, he blurted out, “Jerry you are wrong. Your analysis is wrong.” I had just published a scholarly article in the New York Law Journal on whether the state Senate had the authority to expel Sen. Hiram Monserrate, so I instinctively knew he was referring to my piece. I told him that he should review the court cases I had cited to support my analysis, and proceeded to explain why my thesis was correct. After about five minutes, I was finished. He looked at me. I looked at him. He said nothing. Instead, smiling broadly, the door to his floor opened, he walked out. I was a bit dumbfounded. But then I realized that I’d finally passed his test.

Jerry H. Goldfeder is special counsel at Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP and served as special counsel to Andrew Cuomo when he was state attorney general.

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