Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, whose career as a lawmaker stretches decades, announced Monday that he will retire next year and not seek re-election. Gottfried, first elected in 1970 and chairman of the chamber’s health committee since 1987, is one of the longest-serving legislators in the state.
Gottfried, whose district includes Chelsea, Hell’s Kitchen, the Flatiron District, Union Square and Midtown, had sponsored more than 500 laws. His bills have spanned a variety of issues including campaign-finance reform—his first bill in 1979; child health insurance—Child Health Plus in 1990; and LGBT rights—a 2003 bill to legalize same-sex marriage.
Crain’s reporter Shuan Sim spoke with him on his legacy, his work with the New York Health Act and his post-retirement plans.
Why the decision to retire now?
I’ve served for 52 years, and I’ll be 75 next year. I think it’s time. I love what I do, and I’m lucky to retire at a point where I still love what I do. Nothing really triggered it.
What bills are you proudest of sponsoring?
The two that come to mind are the laws creating the Child Health Plus program and the Hudson River Park Act.
The Child Health Plus program’s eventually becoming a national model for the federal-legislation equivalent is why I’m so proud of the 1990 bill.
The Hudson River Park Act [passed in 1998] took an enormous amount of advocacy and negotiating with people in communities who were afraid of the bill. But it was a process that made it a stronger bill. And the Hudson River Park that came out of it has been an enormous success.
Has the Legislature changed over the years?
Both houses, especially the Assembly, have become much more “small D” democratic, with significantly more input by individual rank-and-file members. The quality of our state legislators has gone up tremendously, especially in diversity. We have more younger members than we used to, more women and people of color, and people with diverse occupational backgrounds. There are many more progressive voices in both houses.
When I arrived, it was a small share of the legislators who were there because they really cared about public policy. Today that’s the rule—almost everyone in the Legislature is there because they care deeply about improving their communities.
What do you wish you had made more progress on?
My No. 1 goal for my last year is to pass the New York Health Act. The bill was first introduced in late 1991. Organizations have been making lobbying for the bill a higher priority in 2022. The key issue will be whether we can meet the concerns of the public-sector labor unions.
What will it take to win them over?
Public-sector unions have negotiated excellent health benefit packages for their members by American standards. But by most European standards, the coverage you and I have would be regarded as pathetic.
Our unions have won very good health coverage for their members, and they want guarantees, in black and white, that the New York Health Act would not cost their members more than they’re currently paying, and benefits will be better. I believe both are true.
What about …….