Richard Rosenbaum was recently featured in the Democrat and Chronicle newspaper, in advance of a book signing he’ll hold on Sunday, Oct. 18. In the first of what appears to be a series of articles, Bob Marcotte writes about Rosenbaum’s entry into the state Supreme Court to fill a vacancy and his unanimous endorsement by all parties when he ran to serve a full-term in that position.
“Now, in retrospect, that seems astonishing. After all, just a year before, Rosenbaum, as county GOP chairman, had helped orchestrate a stunning upset, sweeping the Democrats from control of Rochester City Hall for the first time in 10 years,” Marcotte writes of Rosenbaum.
The article also notes how Rosenbaum overcame cultural and societal obstacles to succeed:
“What Rosenbaum had discovered along the way was an ability to laugh at himself, ‘and in doing so, other people became comfortable with me and liked me. … What had begun as a handicap became a tremendous asset.'”
Born in 1931, Rosenbaum overcame the obstacles of growing up Jewish in a predominately Gentile neighborhood and suffering with alopecia (a rare disease resulting in premature loss of hair). While attending Hobart he majored in history and political science and went on to become a graduate of Cornell Law School and a heavyweight champion before beginning his political career.
The full article with information about Sunday’s book signing follows.
The Democrat and Chronicle
Justice made most of hairy situation
Bob Marcotte • Rochester Rewind • October 12, 2009
In fall 1970, Richard Rosenbaum – who earlier that year had been appointed to fill a vacancy on state Supreme Court – sought the public’s ratification as well. He sought election to a full term.
And that’s when something truly noteworthy occurred.
Rosenbaum was endorsed not only by his own Republican Party, but by the Liberals, the Conservatives and even the Democrats.
Now, in retrospect, that seems astonishing. After all, just a year before, Rosenbaum, as county GOP chairman, had helped orchestrate a stunning upset, sweeping the Democrats from control of Rochester City Hall for the first time in 10 years.
So why on Earth would the Democrats want to endorse the man who had played such a big role in defeating them?
As Rosenbaum recounts in his highly readable political memoir No Room for Democracy: The Triumph of Ego over Common Sense, he walked into the Democratic convention, went up to Democratic chairman Bob Quigley, and announced “You can spend a lot of money trying to beat me, but you know I’m going to win this election. It’s up to you, but let me tell you, I’d really love to run on your line.”
And as a result, Rosenbaum ran unopposed, blessed even by the party he had helped beat.
“It was really a proud moment in my life,” Rosenbaum told me during a recent interview.
And it speaks volumes about the sheer determination of a man who learned early in life to overcome discrimination, and even to turn a potentially embarrassing physical “handicap” to his advantage.
Indeed, as I chatted with Rosenbaum, then read his book, what intrigued me most were the experiences that helped shape the man before he came into prominence.
Big man on campus
Rosenbaum, who went on to serve as state GOP chairman under Nelson Rockefeller and later made two unsuccessful bids for New York governor, was born in Oswego in 1931 to Jewish parents.
“In those days there were only about 10 Jewish families in Oswego,” Rosenbaum recounted. He was the only Jewish child in his elementary school and endured not only racial slurs but also physical assaults by other children.
Rosenbaum was further mortified when his hair began falling out while he was still in grade school. It was an irreversible condition called alopecia, in which the hair follicles starve because of a circulatory problem. In Rosenbaum’s case, it eventually led to total baldness.
“Believe me, being Jewish in Oswego, New York, in the 1930s, and going bald was a doozey of a double handicap for a kid,” Rosenbaum wrote. “I became so self-conscious I was ashamed to be seen on the streets. I took to wearing a sailor hat with its brim turned down, and when I saw some kid coming toward me I’d cross the street rather than suffer the taunts I expected to be thrown at me.”
However, by the time Rosenbaum entered law school at Cornell University, he had “done a complete 180 degrees in my thinking. I had learned that the best girls, the intelligent ones, the ones with character and depth, couldn’t have cared less … that I had almost no hair, nor could any of the guys I was friends with.”
Indeed, the personable Rosenbaum was soon a “Big Man on Campus,” and was elected president of the law student association.
What Rosenbaum had discovered along the way was an ability to laugh at himself, “and in doing so, other people became comfortable with me and liked me. … What had begun as a handicap became a tremendous asset.”
Moreover, Rosenbaum said he had “learned some important lessons: that persistence, tenacity, and refusing to let things in life get you down can help pave the way to success. Not only had I become cavalier about my appearance, I was actually proud of the way I looked. I had made lemons into lemonade.”
Rosenbaum’s bald head, in fact, became a trademark of sorts, making him instantly recognizable. And that would be a real advantage for Rosenbaum in his later pursuits.
(Next: Rosenbaum’s rapid rise in the GOP.)
Richard Rosenbaum will give a talk and sign copies of his book, No Room For Democracy: The Triumph of Ego over Common Sense, at 11 a.m. Sunday at the Bagel Bin Café, 2600 Elmwood Ave. in Brighton.
Have you ever been reading the newspaper or watching television and had one of those flashes of “I wonder whatever happened to …?”
That flash might have been of a local TV celebrity from your childhood, or a well-known politician who has fallen from sight.
Suggest your ideas for my Rochester Rewind column to Bob Marcotte, care of Democrat and Chronicle, 55 Exchange Blvd., Rochester, NY 14614, or call at (585) 258-2642.
My e-mail is bmarcott@DemocratandChronicle.com