An article by Democrat and Chronicle columnist Mark Hare featured Richard Rosenbaum ’52 recalling his early days in politics – and sharing some of the stories that are in his new book, “No Room for Democracy: The Triumph of Ego over Common Sense” (RIT Press, September 2008). Hare calls the book, “part autobiography, with stories of his growing up in Oswego, and part philosophy” and recounts Rosenbaum’s philosophy that “You have to have fun … And not take everything to heart.”
Rosenbaum will return to the HWS campus on Thursday, Sept. 25, as the first President’s Forum Speaker this year. He’ll talk about his new book and share firsthand experiences.
The full article from the Democrat and Chronicle appears below.
Democrat and Chronicle
“Politics is serious business, but it should also be fun”
Mark Hare September 16, 2008
When the Republican National Convention convened in Dallas in August 1984, Richard Rosenbaum, then a national committee member and former Monroe County and New York State Republican chairman, had heard enough speeches.
“I was in the amphitheater and I just didn’t want to listen,” says Rosenbaum, 77, of Penfield. “I was bored and then Charlton Heston came up to the podium. I was not a big fan so I left.”
The next day, Rosenbaum, often called “Rosie” by his friends, attended a lunch for national committee members and heavyweights in President Ronald Reagan’s administration. He brought his son Matthew, then a convention page and now a state Supreme Court Justice (as was the senior Rosenbaum in the early 1970s). At some point, Rosenbaum got up to speak to an administration official. “And Charlton Heston came in the room,” Rosenbaum says. “I said, ‘Mr. Heston it’s a great pleasure to meet you. I thoroughly enjoyed your comments yesterday.”
Heston, he says, gave him a funny look. Back at the table, son Matt informed his father that Heston had merely led the Pledge of Allegiance. Rosenbaum knew he’d laid an egg, but bluster (also known by more earthy terminology) is part of politics.
And you have to laugh at yourself when you put foot in mouth. Rosenbaum recounts meeting an Associated Press reporter at the 1980 convention. He told the young woman from Albany that he was happy she wasn’t like another “obnoxious pushy” AP reporter from Albany – only to learn moments later that she was married to that reporter. They’ve all laughed about it ever since.
Rosenbaum retells lots of stories in his new book, No Room for Democracy: The Triumph of Ego over Common Sense (RIT Press, September 2008). It’s part autobiography, with stories of his growing up in Oswego, and part philosophy – Rosenbaum believes political parties are at their best as quasi-dictatorships, with clear agendas and no freelancers raising money for themselves.
Many of Rosenbaum’s favorite stories involve the late Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, who tapped him for the state chair and whom he recalls fondly “as a second father.” They traveled in Rockefeller’s private jet and stayed in the best places. The plane was equipped with caviar, but the governor always preferred Oreo cookies, he recalls.
On one late-night trip back from Minot, N.D., Rockefeller asked Rosenbaum if he’d ever seen Mount Rushmore. “I said ‘No,’ and I thought maybe we’d stop over. Instead the governor made a phone call and all of a sudden, as we were flying by, Mount Rushmore was lit up like it was daytime. We made three passes and it went dark again.”
Rockefeller had evidently called in a favor with someone in the National Park Service.
Rosenbaum recalls growing up in Oswego, where he started losing his hair as a child because of a condition called alopecia areata. He was on the receiving end of many a cruel wisecrack, “but I’ve been blessed by it,” he says. “I learned humility and I learned compassion.”
He recounts the stunning City Hall victory he engineered as county chair in 1969. Rosie kept the candidates on a grueling schedule, greeting workers at the factory gates, ringing doorbells and handing out literature. The Republicans took eight of nine seats on Council and won the school board, too. It was a victory not repeated since.
The best part about his life in politics is that it was all fun, especially the wins. “You have to have fun,” he says, summarizing his book. “And not take everything to heart.”