Pat Moynihan Remembered

Senator Moynihan Remembered
As a Gifted Writer and Thinker
Who Helped Shape Public Policy
Henry J. Stern is the founder and president of New York Civic.
Wednesday, October 1st, 2003
    Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (1927-2003) was eulogized yesterday evening at Hunter College.  Several hundred former colleagues, employees and admirers of the late Senator heard about ninety minutes of tributes and watched video clips of the Senator on Meet the Press, where he appeared 24 times in 31 years.  (Tim Russert started as a Moynihan staff member.) The event is described in today's Times by Thomas Lueck and in the Post by Deborah Orin.
    Moynihan was a remarkable man who had an extraordinary career in academia and public service.  One can reflect that there are no Moynihans in public life today, in either party.  No one comes close.  If you can think of anyone who approaches, or who could grow into his stature, press that reply button.  We will list the nominees, if any.
    His election was something of a fluke; in the Democratic Senate primary in 1976 there were three far-left candidates, Bella Abzug, Ramsey Clark and Paul O'Dwyer.  Then there was Moynihan, a moderate, possibly a pre-neo-conservative but slowly moving left, who was to the right of the other three.  The fifth candidate was Abe Hirschfeld, whom I will desist from describing in detail.  Clark had narrowly lost to Jacob Javits two years earlier, and was not yet in the long slide that ultimately led him to represent the PLO in a lawsuit by the daughters of Leon Klinghoffer, a 69-year-old passenger on a cruise ship, who was shot and rolled in his wheelchair into the Mediterranean by PLO hijackers in 1985.  O'Dwyer had come in fourth in the 1965 Mayoral primary, Bella was the principal candidate on the left, having served in Congress for six years while earning a national reputation as a colorful, ferocious radical.
    Moynihan had just served as the United States representative to the United Nations, where he had vigorously defended Israel from the "Zionism is racism" resolution, adopted in 1975 and repealed in 1991.  The Abzug-Moynihan race, in which the two were only 10,000 votes apart, was probably decided by the New York Times endorsement of Moynihan, when Punch Sulzberger, then the publisher, became convinced to overrule the editorial board, which had supported Abzug.  As a result, John B Oakes, another Ochs descendant, resigned as Editorial Page Editor.  The choice of Moynihan in 1976 was Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, Sr.'s great gift to the United States and the world.
    My minor role in the 1976 election was as the Liberal Party's Senate candidate (stalking horse) until the Democratic primary in September.  After Moynihan won the five-way race I was nominated for a judgeship in order to vacate the line so the Liberals could replace me by nominating Moynihan to help defeat James Buckley (Bill's brother), the Conservative-Republican incumbent.  In New York State there are only three ways for a candidate to get off the ballot: die, move out of the state, or receive a judicial nomination.  At that time I had just been married, and wanted to live and raise a family.  I was an elected City Councilmember, and I couldn't even move out of Manhattan.  Since I was a lawyer, however, I could try to become a judge.  (I know that I told this story once before, but our circulation has doubled since that time.)
    Few people today know that Pat Moynihan had been defeated in his first candidacy for public office.  He ran for president of the New York City Council in 1965 on a ticket headed by Paul Screvane, who had been Sanitation Commissioner, Deputy Mayor and then Council President under Mayor Robert F. Wagner.  He lost to Abe Beame, who in turn was defeated by Mayor Lindsay.  Orin Lehman, a relative of the great former Governor, ran for Comptroller.  He lost to Mario Procaccino, who was elected Comptroller, but defeated for Mayor by Lindsay, running on the Liberal Party line, in 1969.
    At that time in New York politics, the three citywide positions were contested by slates, consisting of an Italian, Irish and Jewish candidates.  The man who defeated Moynihan, Queens District Attorney Frank O'Connor, was the Democratic nominee for Governor in 1966.  He lost to Nelson Rockefeller, and soon became a State Supreme Court Justice.  After he passed away, the City Council named a playground in Queens in his honor.
    Prior to his local candidacy, Moynihan had served on the staff of Democratic Governor Averell Harriman (1955-58).  The Senator was graduated from Benjamin Franklin High School, which was built by Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia for the then-Italian population of East Harlem.  The school has since closed.  Moynihan also attended City College for a year (1942-43) before he joined the Navy in World War II.
    A unique aspect of Moynihan's career is that he served Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and Ford, two Democrats and two Republicans.  All four respected his high intelligence, his remarkable abilities, and his loyalty to his country.
    While a Senator, among many other interests, he, along with his Republican colleague for eighteen years, Al D'Amato, was an ardent advocate of funding for New York State.  The Intermodal Surface Transportation Act (Ice Tea) was a major success.  There were many others.
    As Parks Commissioner, I corresponded with the Senator, who whimsically addressed me in his letters as Lord High Commissioner.  He was the person most responsible for the development of Foley Square and Thomas Paine Park, which is located between the state and federal courthouses and the Javits federal office building.  As part of his interest in urban design Moynihan committed federal funds to the project, which otherwise would not have been undertaken.  Of the two men honored, Foley and Paine, he particularly admired the former, a nineteenth century Irish Tammany Hall leader, known as "Big Tom Foley," whose name he insisted be preserved and honored.  He personally wrote a plaque which is now in the park.
    This article is not a biography of this great man. It simply deals with some of his adventures in New York politics, and his interface with Parks and Liberals.  It is not even a complete account of last night's memorial, which deserves to be transcribed and published.
    Richard Ravitch, Stephen Mann and Maura Moynihan organized the tribute, which was hosted by Hunter College and sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council.
    Last night, Former Senators Bob Kerrey, Bill Bradley and D'Amato spoke warmly about their experiences with Senator Moynihan.  An unusual aspect of the event was that Governor Pataki and Mayor Koch both attended, but did not speak.  Leonard Garment, a brilliant colleague in the Nixon White House and a friend of Pat and Liz for thirty-five years, was compelling.  Joel Motley spoke for the staff.
    The Senator's daughter, Maura, the closing speaker, was magnificent as she described his argument before the United Nations, possibly his finest hour.  Her son, Michael, the Senator's grandson, was introduced as helping to teach his grandfather about sports. Afterward, the Senator's staff and friends adjourned to a neighborhood bar.

[A Moynihan biography, "The Gentleman from New York", by Godfrey Hodgson, was published in 2000 by Houghton-Mifflin.  It is available from the publishers, or Amazon.]

Henry J. Stern is the director of NYCivic



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