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Remembering Steven Solarz

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In the annals of Brooklyn politics, young Stephen Solarz carved a decisive niche that culminated in action, near-upheaval, victory and an unforgettable defeat.

Solarz, who recently passed, was a young college graduate when he invited me to join him and his future wife, Nina Glantz, in 1966. They had with them a piece from the New York World Telegram in which the newspaper warned that the 1966 NY State Constitutional Convention should belong to motivated persons in the community, not political “hacks.”

Captaining the “Mel Dubin for Congress” team, they invited me to join them in their efforts to elect the millionaire industrialist, a challenger who was running for the seat held by veteran Congressman Abe Multer.

They portrayed Multer as a “too little to do” representative, who had not opposed the Vietnam War that was draining the economy and the lives of our youth at the time.

I accepted the invitation, asking only the choice of a running mate, and received permission to bring Ralph Perfetto onto our team for a long, interminable political battle. Most of us did not win, although we made the regular “Democratic Machine” feel the bruises of our challenges. From our team we did elect Leonard Simon to the state Assembly and Sam Hurwitz to the City Council.

Young Solarz went on to become the first elected to the State Assembly. As his popularity grew, he won the state senate seat and went on to the US Congress for several terms. In all his years in office, Solarz and Nina remained in touch with “his people” either at open parties in Manhattan Beach or his offices in his districts, captained by young, efficient aides.

The districts were crazily laid out, winding down the perimeter of Manahttan’s East Side, then along Brooklyn’s western edges to Sheepshead Bay. But the final reapportionment by Republicans “screwed up” his territorial lines, almost purposefully carving out a “Hispanic District” between both sides of the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridge.

When the late Barry Gray interviewed Solarz, Gray questioned his vulnerability to his Spanish challenger Nydia Velasquez!

I was quick to call Barry Gray, admonishingly pointing out how Solarz won a great victory in the Spanish-speaking Phillipines when he helped his Corazon Aquino to topple Ferdinand Marcos. Solarz called me on that day to thank me “for your wonderful timely assistance at a time when I thought I had no friends.”

But on election night I sat beside a CBS-TV reporter in Bay Ridge watching the votes elect Vasquez to her Congressional seat! The column I wrote then was entitled “He climbed the highest mountain, but was ambushed in the valley.” The nicest letter came from Solarz himself, thanking me for my aide and for the title of that lamentable column.

Thanks for the memories, Stephen. You served us well!May God rest your soul. Amen.

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