After a long and distinguished career in politics and public service, Jerry Kremer is just getting started
Arthur Kremer ’58, known to all as Jerry, is not ready to retire. At age 81 he is still busy adding to his long list of accomplishments. As a New York State assemblyman for 23 years representing a Long Island district that included the Five Towns, Long Beach, and other South Shore communities, he helped draft New York’s Shield Law, which protects journalists from revealing confidential sources, and sponsored the groundbreaking Lemon Law to protect automobile buyers from the sale of faulty used cars. He also was chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee for 12 years.
The Bronx-born attorney and politician serves today as a partner at Ruskin Moscou Faltischek PC, where he chairs the Municipal and Regulatory Affairs Department, and he is president of Empire Government Strategies, a successful lobbying group. He sits on the State Commission on Professionalism in the Law, is a trustee of Hofstra University, and most recently was named chairman of the Council of Independent Colleges and Universities Governing Board, which represents 8,100 trustees who serve on 131 college boards in New York state.
In addition, Kremer has recently authored two books, adding to his distinguished resume. He just completed a short book, Waste, Fraud and Abuse: A Dark History of Constitutional Conventions, about the history of constitutional conventions in New York. In 2013, he published his first book, Winning Albany: Untold Stories About the Famous and Not So Famous, which details his experience while serving as an Assembly member. He writes regular columns for several Long Island newspapers and appears on Fox News and ABC News as a commentator.
Kremer discussed his long career in law and politics in a conversation with Brooklyn Law Notes.
What impact did Brooklyn Law School have on your career?
Coming from a family of modest means, my acceptance to Brooklyn Law School was exciting. Without my law degree I could not have achieved anywhere near the success I have had professionally. I went from law school into private practice, then I became an assistant corporation counsel in Long Beach, N.Y. I became the corporation counsel, then I was acting city manager for a year. And I thought: “It’s time to move on, move from local to state government,” and I was elected to the State Assembly. But without the law degree, I never would have had the focus on all of these challenges. Being in the Legislature, you have 14,000 bills introduced each year. Brooklyn Law School taught me the kind of analytic thinking that I needed to understand how to approach problems and the ability to see issues quicker than other people sitting around the table. So, it has left a very indelible mark on my life.
How did you become interested in politics?
It started at an early age. When I was 12 years old I developed this very intense interest in politics. I followed politics mostly locally, and I started writing for a local newspaper. When I was around 17 or 18 I focused on learning the mechanics of politics. I learned everything from the menial details, to writing speeches for members of the city council, to working on campaigns. By the time an Assembly seat opened up in 1965, not only was I ready, but I was lucky enough to get the party’s nomination. From that point on I came to understand the limits of power and what you can accomplish.
What are the legislative accomplishments of which you are most proud?
I chaired Ways and Means for 12 years, spending New Yorkers’ money throughout my tenure wisely; ensuring that it made it to places where it was needed most: putting libraries into colleges that didn’t have decent libraries, finding recreational facilities for campuses where kids needed an outlet, recognizing community programs for children with cancer and adults with learning issues, and creating the first of the pre-Kindergarten programs in the state.
I also helped New York become the first state with a Shield Law. A reporter, Marie Torre, was being held in contempt of court for failure to reveal her sources. It was a big issue at the time. I followed it closely and pushed hard to enact a Shield Law of some kind in New York which would protect journalists from having to reveal their sources.
On the Lemon Law, there was a member who retired who had sponsored the bill for two years, and once he left I looked at it and I thought it really had the potential to become a national law. So I took his bill, made changes, and battled with the auto industry. They sent every living lobbyist to Albany to try to stop the bill. We not only got the bill passed and signed into law, but after New York passed it, 29 states followed. Now it’s pretty much the law in most states around the nation.
What is the secret to persuasion and consensus in terms of passing bills?
Number one: Listening to the people around the table, understanding where they come from. Remember that everyone has their own agenda. What you really need to do is talk out the issues, listen carefully, and then don’t be the first one to try to impress people with how much you know. Good laws are made that way.
How did you develop your lobbying group, Empire Government Strategies?
When I left Albany, I took a breather for quite a while, but then decided it was the right time to get back in. I wanted to create an entity within a law firm that would focus on government affairs and public policy. Half my day is devoted to economic development, pending legislation, giving clients advice on what laws mean and how to interpret them. The rest of the time I am focused on writing, going to events, and just staying visible.
How would the people closest to you describe you?
My daughters call me intense. I swear I’m not Type A. I’m probably B+; I don’t explode, and I listen. My wife calls me distracted because I’m usually doing my own thing. “Haven’t you read enough of that stuff tonight? Can’t you hold off?” But I don’t think I’m distracted. When I am able to tell her exactly what she said 10 minutes earlier, she’s impressed.
What lessons do you think we should take from the 2016 presidential election?
We have become accustomed to traditional candidates from both parties. This year may be a new trend, or the end of one-time outsiders. Either way, the public is hungry for something different, and that is the lesson for the next election for both parties. Whatever the outcome on Election Day, things will never be the same.
What advice would you give to young people who want or are considering a career in politics and the law?
First of all, don’t be reluctant to run for something. Eventually pick out the area where you want to be part of the dialogue, and then jump in. But the idea that you can master everything based on your legal skills is self-defeating. Be prepared to be challenged when you seek public office.
The foundation of everything you do and become is really where you start. Brooklyn Law School students have an opportunity that is much more unique than mine because the skills I developed were very broad skills. Today’s curriculum allows them to really start to become experts early on. They can make informed choices earlier because they are in such a good environment.