By ROSS M. WALLENSTEIN
arlier this year, I read the newsthat the legendary assembly-member from Queens, NettieMayersohn, was retiring after 28years in the state legislature at the ageof 86.I had known her longtime chief of staff, Michael Simanowitz, from myyears working for another Queenslegend, Representative GaryAckerman. When I heard aboutNettie’s retirement plans, I calledMichael and asked if I could run hisinevitable campaign to replace herin the Assembly. We began a con-versation and, by June 1, I hit theground running as his new cam-paign manager.We knew that the governorwould call a special election. If not,Michael would have to run inNovember to fill the remainingyear of his boss’term. The year wasdestined to be boring politically.But, by the end of June,Representative Anthony Weinerhad resigned, as did five moreassemblymembers from around thestate. The governor called the spe-cial election for primary day, Sept.13. This meant that we had approx-imately 100 days to raise moneyand — through contact with votersand local media — make Michael’sname as synonymous to voters asNettie’s had been during her timeas their representative.Many political observers saidthat the election was Michael’s tolose and that such a serious cam-paign was unnecessary. But wehad a Republican opponent onthe ballot and we were not goingto take anything for granted. Wemounted an aggressive fieldoperation.Michael, the early favorite, couldhave stayed home at night with hiswife and four children, but insteadspent several hours each day(except Friday nights andSaturdays) knocking on doors. Heknocked on close to 1,000 doors perweek. He talked to voters through-out the 27th Assembly District,which stretches south from CollegePoint all the way down toRichmond Hill. He answered ques-tions on topics ranging from thestate budget to the redevelopmentof Willets Point. He was wellreceived everywhere he went.The best part about managing acampaign for a veteran politicalstaffer like Michael is that he didnot need any training or preppingwhen it came to important policymatters. From his 15 years as chief of staff to AssemblywomanMayersohn, he is very, very famil-iar with anything a potential votercould throw at him.Every campaign deals with curve-balls along the way. Our curveballcame in the form of the hotly con-tested race for Weiner’s former con-gressional seat, whose district over-lapped with ours. We contended withthe race — which received nationalattention — for press and financialcontributions.But we persevered. We foundother sources of funding frompeople who knew Michaelthrough his years of service. Andwe got free press from reporterslooking to cover something inQueens besides the congressionalrace.
lections in this country are gen-erally held on Tuesdays. Sincethe 9/11 attacks, primary day oftenconflicts with remembrances in NewYork and around the nation. Thisyear posed a particular challengewith the anniversary coming outright before voters went to the polls.We decided early on not to campaignon Sunday, Sept. 11. That day,Michael went to as many memorialceremonies throughout the district ashe could, but he didn’t knock on anydoors.Obviously, with an observantcandidate, Saturdays are out aswell. This meant that from lateFriday afternoon until Mondaymorning, my candidate was not ableto talk to any voters. We trusted vol-unteers to help get out Michael’sname at events on Saturday, Sept.10 and also were confident thatMichael had done a good job con-vincing voters that he was the rightchoice.Monday, Sept. 12 was a verylong day. I was in the campaignoffice from early in the morninguntil close to 11 p.m. We had overa dozen dedicated volunteersmaking calls to voters until justafter 8 p.m. and I stayed late to setup the office for the morning.Tuesday was — as expected — aneven longer day. I was up at 5 a.m.and in the campaign office by 5:45— ready for the hordes of peoplewho would be coming in and out forthe next 18 hours.That last day, we coordinatedvolunteers (by then I had some veryexperienced hands pitching in dur-ing the last 48 hours) and executedour crucial strategy for ElectionDay visibility. We were able tohave multiple volunteers out with“Simanowitz for Assembly”posters at a majority of the 26polling places throughout the dis-trict. We even had several promi-nent elected officials, includingState Comptroller Thomas DiNapoliand other local legislators, standwith Michael in front of poll sites orbus stops to campaign.We orchestrated a very well-runelection night operation, whereby wehad people help us “close the polls” (astandard practice of tallying votesfrom each polling place to ensure anaccurate count). There are 26 pollsites throughout the district. Twentyof them were staffed with very ablevolunteers who called into our head-quarters with the aggregate numbersfor each election district as they weretacked to the walls by Board of Election workers.At 10 p.m., after much hard workby everyone involved, we knew thatMichael Simanowitz would be thenext assemblymember from Queens.He had carried almost every part of the district. He did especially well inareas where he regularly knocked ondoors. When all the votes were tallieddays later, he had won 76 percent of the vote — a feat unheard of for anon-incumbent.
• NOV. 25 - DEC. 1, 2011
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Simanowitz’s successful manager offers post-election view from the trenches
Michael Simanowitz is sworn in after winning the special election to replace Nettie Mayersohn in the 27th Assembly District.
Running a politicalcampaign can beextremely difficult,depending on thecandidate. I hadthe pleasure ofworking for a manwho genuinely cares about thepeople he nowrepresents in Albany.