The first time I voted was 1984, which seems like more than one lifetime ago. I was just turning 20 and very excited to take part in the process. I was going to college in the city and attended my first ever rally for a candidate and got swept up in all the excitement.
I got into my very first political argument with a friend on the platform of the J train. I remember telling him that he’d better get used to saying the words President Mondale.
Well, we all know how that turned out. For nearly a week I managed to avoid my friend by going into school a little earlier. Maybe if Mondale had won a few states it wouldn’t have been so bad. But he got crushed badly, 49 to 1.
My friend finally caught up with me while I was getting the morning paper at the newsstand near the steps to the J. He offered congratulations for winning Minnesota, Mondale’s home state, and we laughed and that was it.
My next exposure to politics came the following summer when Ed Koch, who had served two terms since defeating Mario Cuomo for mayor in 1978, visited Woodhaven while seeking a third term.
It was a lucky accident that I was there to see him at all. Me and my girlfriend at the time (I eventually won the campaign to become her husband) were walking down to the video store on Jamaica Avenue to return some tapes.
We saw a small crowd of people at the corner near the old Rexall Drug store on the boulevard and asked what was going on. Someone said the mayor was coming. I ran to my house, which was a half -block away and grabbed the little camera. It still had a few exposures left.
Just a side note to any younger readers who may stumble across this piece: in the old days we rented movies on videotapes and you had to rewind and return them on time or else pay a penalty. Also, cameras had a very limited number of pictures you could take back then. And once you took them, you had to bring the film to get developed, which could take days.
It was a warm day and people were feeling the heat. It always seems longer when you’re waiting for something in the hot sun. And then a car pulled up on Jamaica Avenue and the mayor jumped out and the crowd came alive. The heat didn’t matter anymore.
Mayor Koch stepped up on top of one of those cement box-seats that used to dot the avenue (I have no idea what they were called, we always called them cement box-seats) and called out to the crowd “How am I doin'?" and the crowd (carrying “Keep the Mayor Mayor” signs) cheered loudly, telling him they thought he was doing just great.
It was an exciting day in Woodhaven, and Mayor Koch would go on to win nearly 80 percent of the vote that fall. His third term would turn out to be his last. It was beset by problems, and he lost to David Dinkins in 1989.
It’s not an easy thing to do, to hold yourself up to public scrutiny and approval. It’s a dirty business, a hard business where people don’t hold their punches. And I’m grateful to each and every person who runs for office because it’s far from a glamorous job, but someone has to do it.
And we hope that everyone elected today will be able to ask their voters a year from now “How am I doin'?" and hear cheers and kind words. We hope our differences are settled peacefully and we chart a course forward, together. It’s the American Way.