The More Things Change…

You know the rest, but first, I’ll lead in with an upbeat story. Today I went out to find a new Zoom shirt for my husband, as he’s tough to fit and the stores are almost switched over to fall apparel. New job calls for him to work from home sometimes so I try to find him short-sleeved button-downs that look good on camera and sometimes elicit comments from colleagues. Today I found a navy button-down with fish on it, funny as he’s deathly allergic to fish.

While I awaited an open cashier, the lady in front of me and I struck up a conversation. Turns out she’s a retired teacher of differently-abled students. She retired because when a student acted up or became upset in class, she’d kneel down to his/her level to fix the situation. When the episode was over, her arthritis was so bad she had to ask for help getting up. I understand that problem all too well.

We each checked out and met again going out to the parking lot. I thanked her for all her years of teaching and she said that she misses her students every day, especially with COVID shutting down the schools all last year. She also said that she hoped I had a career that fulfilled me as hers had. What a stunning remark. I thought about it and said that my early career in government had made my consulting career possible and that one of the most rewarding clients’ mission was getting parents in needy neighborhoods to become more involved in their childrens’ education.

Today made me think about my career and life’s work. My favorite job, bar none, was my first adult job right out of college. I joined a staff of sixty as a legislative analyst for the New York State Assembly. That was forty years ago. All the “kids” were my age, very smart and driven and because we worked all the time, we became family.

Hugh Carey was Governor then, shortly before Andrew Cuomo’s dad, Mario won the governorship. Today the prodigal son was found to have acted with sexual impropriety with female staff. I’m not surprised. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

When I was there, it was the most sexist place I’d ever seen in terms of randy men and low female salaries. I learned early on about the “Bear Mountain Rule,” which was that basically anything that happened in Albany, stayed in Albany.

One legislator, when I found myself alone with him on an elevator for a moment or two, actually said “Too bad you’re wearing tights. If you were wearing knee socks I’d just lift that kilt right up.” Then there was the lawyer assigned to my committee. For months he’d been asking me to dinner saying it was just an informational dinner shared by two colleagues. I finally said yes, chose the place that was one my roommate and I frequented for burgers, and went.

He drove me home and asked to come up to my apartment. I said no, I had an early morning and that I didn’t like guests walking through the wide-open first floor offices of a health care lobbyist downstairs. He got out of his car and kept asking. Finally he said, and I quote “You’re an attractive woman, I’m a man. We both have needs.”

I almost peed my pants. I ran inside and locked the door, ran upstairs and my roommate was there with a couple of friends having not come to my rescue at the restaurant. They were there to see how my “date” went and we laughed uncontrollably. The next morning, I was called into the office of his boss’s boss and asked to shut the door. I couldn’t think of why he needed to talk to me but figured my chairman or some other member was upset about some legislation.

He said “What happened?” I was confused. “Last night.” OMG. I told him and he almost fell off his chair laughing. The guy never asked me out again. If news got around his staff that quickly, I certainly did not want my name or reputation associated with it!

I had a huge committee, 750 bills per year to manage and track, all before computers. I worked long hours and covered for others because I was single and lived two blocks from the Capitol, standing by especially during Session when the members were in town. Raises came and went and I was happy with a cost of living adjustment. Then I found out a guy who started two years after me was making more money. I asked why.

“Because he has a wife and kids.” That was the eighties. Now New York’s governor is apologizing and hoping to keep his position. I’m advised by the news that New York hasn’t tried to impeach a governor in 100 years. There are questions as to whether his are impeachable offenses. We’ll see. Anything’s possible in politics.

They hired me because I’m smart and learn fast. In no time I was fending off pick-up lines like a pro. Nothing like a quick “How’s your daughter Anna doing, isn’t she in law school now?” to neutralize the attack. Fair play. That’s all women ask. Cheers! Dee


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