Wednesday, November 28, 2007

My Friend Bruce

I read in the Times the other day that in an effort to right his somewhat wobbly tenure that Gov. Spitzer has hired as a senior advisor, “the lobbyist Bruce N. Gyory, an easygoing Albany hand who is friendly with both Republicans and Democrats.” I don’t want to intimate that I am in tight with the movers and the shakers, but I should let you know that Bruce and I go way back. Bruce and I met in 1959, in Miss Frackman’s kindergarten class, in PS 57 in the East Tremont section of the Bronx, and for the next five years, through Miss Jackson (who read to us from the Bible, the last year that was legal, but because there were Jewish students, only from the O.T), Miss Fanger, Mrs Greenstein, and Mrs Elman, we were best of friends.



In first grade we formed a history club, I guess my first involvement in history, which basically consisted of me, Bruce, Norman Chaleff, and Ronnie Gallo, running around each other’s house, playing historical figures like the Revolutionary War hero Francis Marion, the Swamp Fox, the subject of a popular Disney series, and who is possibly the only figure in American history that I knew more about when I was six than I do now. We were close, so close that that when Norman and me went to the YMHA on Southern Blvd, Bruce came with us, one of the very few non-Jews in the afterschool program.

Brue is Catholic, with a Hungarian father and an Italian mother (who introduced me to opera, a lifelong passion.) He learned about politics from his father, a high-ranking official in the Milliner’s Union, who eventually succeeded Alex Rose as president. Nicholas Gyory was one of the very few non-Jews in that era who was an official in the needle trades union—he called himself a “shabbes goy––and had to learn Yiddish to follow arguments when they became heated.

As an associate of Alex Rose, Nicholas Gyory not too surprisingly became involved in Liberal Party politics, and I remember how excited Bruce was when his father (unsuccessfully) ran for office—I think for Congress— on the Liberal Party line, when we were in first or second grade. One of my strongest memories of Bruce is on that tragic Friday afternoon of November 22, 1963, walking home and back to his house after our teacher told us the news about President Kennedy, with the two of us, with all the accumulated wisdom of our nine years, trying to absorb its magnitude.

Well, after 4th grade we moved to Queens and Bruce and I lost touch. I read about him occasionally in the 1980s in connection with the affairs of the Liberal Party, then entering its terminal decline. And there things stood, until about five years ago, when I was doing was lobbying in Albany for the Encyclopedia of New York State with Beth Rougeux, the peerless chief lobbyist of Syracuse University. After spending a morning meeting with state representatives---I hadn’t realized that lobbyists actually spend most of their time walking around in lobbies--- we had repaired to the cafeteria, and Beth ran into Bruce, whom I did not recognize, and said, I’m here with Peter Eisenstadt from the Encyclopedia of New York State, to which Bruce replied, “Peter Eisenstadt, he was my best friend in first grade!” It was, perhaps, the most overwhelming moment of serendipity in my entire life. We talked and caught up. He had gone to law school , moved to Albany, become an influential lobbyist. I later interviewed him and his father in connection with the book I am writing. We exchanged a few emails, but it’s very hard to rekindle old friendships after a 40 year lapse.

I don’t know much about Bruce’s current politics or opinions. He is a registered independent, has excellent relations with both Democrats and Republicans, and clearly knows how to get things done in Albany. Articles describe his as an ardent student of New York State history and politics, befitting a fellow alumnus of our first grade history club, who every years pores through election data to produce a thick memorandum on demographic trends in New York elections. Spitzer had evidently had his eye on Bruce for a while evidently, and I know he has made an excellent choice. I can’t think of another quality that is more important in our elected officials and their advisors than a knowledge of New York State history, and I hope Bruce serves Gov. Spitzer and New York State well, and makes his fellow graduates of P.S. 57 (which a few years had the second lowest reading scores of any elementary school in New York City; Miss Jackson would have been so upset) proud to have known him back when.

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