Despite the seeming inevitability of Ferrer’s crushing loss, Jef Pollock C’93 readily characterizes his work as Ferrer’s pollster as “a long-time labor of love.”
“When Ferrer won the Democratic primary with 40 percent of the vote, I was so proud of him and so proud of what the team had achieved,” says Pollock, head of the New York- and Washington-based Global Strategy Group.
“It was a great moment to cherish,” he says. “Then we walked into an $80 million buzz-saw named Mike Bloomberg.”
Pollock has been Ferrer’s pollster since 1997, running all of the quantitative and qualitative research for his campaign. His job consists largely of targetingfiguring out which voters the candidate should talk to or avoidand sculpting the candidate’s message.
“As a New York City-based consultant, though, when you work on a race in your home town, it’s never quite that simple,” Pollock says, citing his other function as general spinmeister. “A mayoral race can become all consumingjust ask my wife or daughter how much the phone never stops ringing, the conference calls keep going late into the night, and more.”
That said, “I love New York City politics and wouldn’t trade it for the world,” Pollock says. “My wife [Deb Brown, C’93] and I have lived and worked in both New York and D.C., and enjoy being ‘outside the Beltway.’ I think it gives me a real perspective on how things are playing outside of D.C.
“I love the fact that most of our friends are not in politics here,” he adds. “In D.C., that’s an impossibility. But the politics here are serious, and certainly bare-knuckled. It reminds me of being back in my native Philly sometimes.”
Pollock is a long-time Democrat, but it took Republican pollster Frank Luntz C’84’s “Candidates, Consultants and Campaigns” class at Penn, which Luntz taught in the early 1990s, to spur his interest in becoming a political pollster.
“I’d always loved politics, but [Luntz’s class] taught me to love polling,” Pollock says. “Frank and I didn’t agree on anything politically, but I learned about the art of language and how message can make a huge impact in campaigns.”
His experience at Penn also showed him how important it was to convey that lesson to students. Pollock currently teaches a similar class in polling as an adjunct professor at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.
For most political consulting firms, the “odd years” are down time between prominent races. Not so for Pollock, who was involved in many races “downballot” in Virginia, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and California in addition to Ferrer’s. His current projects include Eliot Spitzer’s New York gubernatorial bid, Chet Culver’s gubernatorial bid in Iowa, and the upcoming U.S. Senate race in Tennessee, whose Democratic candidate is one Harold E. Ford Jr. C’92.
“Election Day is probably the greatest natural high, or low, on the planet, in my opinion,” Pollock says. “More than anything, I enjoy attempting to elect good candidates, and good Democrats who I believe will serve us.
“In order to be in this business and not get cynical, you have to know that you are making a difference for people that can impact their lives,” he adds. “There is no doubt in my mind that what we do actually matters.”
Republican U.S. Congressman Vito Fossella W’87 is on the opposite side of most issues from Pollock, but he’d agree with the idea of making a difference. “I chose public service because I felt that you could make a positive difference,” he says. “Don’t just stand on the sidelines and complain. Step up to the plate and do something about it.”
Fossella may have been programmed to do so genetically: His great-grandfather represented Staten Island in Congress from 1935 to 1944, and his uncle was a New York City Councilman who lost his seat to Susan Molinari in her first bid for elected office. In 1994, Fossella won a special election to replace her on City Council when she went to Congress, and in 1997, he got to Congress himself, representing New York’s 13th Congressional District, including Staten Island and certain Brooklyn neighborhoods.
As the sole New York City Republican in Congress and a staunch conservative, he laughs when asked about his experience working with the city’s other congressional representatives. “We have a quality delegation, I’ll say that,” he says. “You learn to work well with others to the extent that you can. You try to find areas of common ground.”
Since Giuliani’s election in 1993, the blue city has progressed under (at least nominally) red leadership at the mayoral level. Are there more closet Republicans in New York than New Yorkers might want to admit? Fossella laughs again.
“I think voters and citizens should be given more creditpeople are wise to choose elected leaders, especially for mayor, who put governing principles and ideas above party politics and partisanship,” he says. “Just getting the job done, being accountable, and having integritythose are qualities that don’t belong to just one political party.”
He’s not laughing, though, when questioned about whether heas an article in The New York Times hintedis interested in Bloomberg’s job down the road.
“My focus is on the job I’ve been elected to do: to represent Staten Island and Brooklyn,” he says. “I am humbled by the trust people have placed in me, and that is my focus.”
On September 11, 2001, Fossella was at Newark Airport, boarding his 9:15 a.m. plane to head back to D.C. From the window of the plane at the gate, he could see the smoke billowing from the World Trade Center sitewhere he himself had worked in finance before attending law school. The plane was grounded, and Fossella found his way to Ground Zero within hours.
“Almost 10 percent of the people killed on September 11 were from Staten Island and Brooklyn,” Fossella notes. “I knew many of these people. They went to my high school, they belonged to my church. Some of their kids are on my kids’ soccer teams. It really puts a human face on it.
“We have an obligation to those families,” he says. “We owe it to them to demonstrate that our country is strong and vital. I think the men and women in the armed services in Afghanistan and Iraq are carrying it in their name and their honor. At the end of the day, the United States remains the beacon of light.”
It’s almost 10:30 p.m. on Election Night, and the crowd at the bar Remedy on Second Avenue and 51st Street is packed body-to-body. The “Garod Squad,” as Garodnick’s supporters jokingly call themselves, are out in full force to celebrate. Garodnick has captured 63 percent of the vote to his opponent’s 35 percent, and his political future, at least for the next few years, is set and raring to go. Garodnick enters the bar with his beaming parents, and the applause ripples from the front to the back of the room as word travels that the new City Councilman has arrived. Garodnick hugs everyone within sight, with a special word of individualized appreciation for each person, acknowledging their contributions, their volunteerism, their timeever the politician. He is definitely more relaxed, and his smile now borders on a happy grin. Unlike Robert Redford’s famous closing line in The Candidate“What do we do now?”it’s clear that the only question here is what he will do next.
Jordana Horn Marinoff C’95 L’99 is a lawyer and writer living outside of Philadelphia. She can be reached at email@example.com.
©2006 The Pennsylvania Gazette
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