Richard Brodsky can take the heat. At the former assemblyman’s annual August barbecue, guests feasted on the elk, lamb, and beef he brought home from his vacation in Montana. The A-list roster of local candidates, judges, legislators, Democratic Party leaders, and real estate lawyers were sweating profusely in Brodsky’s backyard, but the host was as cool as ever in full ranch regalia: blue jeans, long-sleeved denim shirt, cowboy hat atop thinning white hair, boots. The meat traveled packed in ice in Brodsky’s luggage. “We’ve never lost anything,” he boasts.
In 2010, Brodsky took the biggest gamble of his political career: He gave up the Assembly seat he’d held for almost three decades to run for New York State Attorney General. But when the votes were tallied in the five-way Democratic Party primary, Brodsky came in fourth overall and even lost in Westchester County to the ultimate winner, Eric Schneiderman. The morning after the primary, a reporter covering the election asked him what was next. His response? A succinct but cheerful, “Lunch.”
At home on a hot morning almost three years later, Brodsky, 67, is wearing cowboy boots and drinking hot tea without breaking a sweat. When asked about what he’s been up to since leaving the Assembly, he talks about being a columnist, a talking head, and an issues guest on various television and radio programs. “I’m a real f—king journalist,” he says, adding almost parenthetically that he practices law to pay the bills. While discussing his work, Brodsky also talks at length about chopping wood, baking bread, his family, tea leaves, music, gun control, and his distaste for hypocrisy. As he speaks, his hands and eyebrows punctuate every sentence. He never misses an opportunity for an anecdote.
Brodsky’s house, located in Greenburgh, was built in 1793 (though its foundation dates all the way back to 1684) and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, it served as Greenburgh Town Hall—a historical significance Brodsky enjoys talking about.
Brodsky, who’s been a County resident since the age of 10, served on the Westchester County Board of Legislators for seven years, sought and lost the County Executive seat twice, and spent 28 years representing Greenburgh, north Yonkers, Valhalla, and Pleasantville in Albany. He cites the new Elmsford Little League field house, funded through a member item in the Assembly, as a way he could help give back to the community. “I’m glad I stayed,” he says. “It’s nice to do things for people you grew up with.”
Brodsky’s wife of 30 years, Paige, who grew up in Montana, is a yoga, fitness, and dance teacher and a former actress who appeared in Woman of the Year on Broadway, among other productions. Their daughter Emilyn, 27, is a musician and will appear in an episode of HBO’s Girls in January. Daughter Willie, 22, is a junior at New York University studying psychology. The Brodskys spend a few weeks every summer in Wilsall, Montana, where Paige’s family owns a 4,000-acre ranch. The ultimate New Yorker holds forth on breeding cows and on the characteristics of various grains—he once won the Park County Fair for his seeded rye bread—with the same in-depth knowledge he has about politics and public policy.
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Brodsky writes about current affairs in regular columns in The Huffington Post and the Times Union, and he’s a frequent guest on the Regional News Network (RNN) and Your News Now (YNN). He is a named plaintiff and lawyer in a case against the Nuclear Regulatory Commission over safety practices at the Indian Point Energy Center. In July, in an appearance on CNBC’s Closing Bell, he called the Hostess reorganization that put Twinkies back on grocery store shelves “another example of impoverishing workers with executive pay going through the roof.”
In addition to practicing civil rights and immigration law, being a litigator, and being of counsel to the White Plains law firm Oxman Tulis Kirkpatrick Whyatt & Geiger LLP, Brodsky, who has a degree from Harvard Law School, is soon to be a mediator for dispute resolution firm National Arbitration and Mediation. He also teaches at NYU’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, and is a senior fellow at the public policy organization Demos.
New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver calls Brodsky “one of the brightest members of the Assembly, a hard worker who accomplished a lot.” He would not say he exactly misses Brodsky, but calls him a friend and someone whose perspective he values. “I know he has the bug,” Silver says about whether he thinks Brodsky will pursue a political race again, but he also assumes Brodsky is more financially comfortable now that he is out of politics. Indeed, Brodsky’s chief complaints about public service are, “You never get rich and you have to deal with idiots.”
In talking about whether he will pursue another political race, Brodsky says, “I’m having a good time doing what I’m doing.” But, he adds in words that sound like they may have been spoken before, “This is a business in which one never says anything absolutely unequivocally. That being said, I’m not looking, thinking, or doing anything about elective office.” About giving up his Assembly seat in 2010, Brodsky says, “It was time. Sitting around waiting for Shelly Silver to get hit by a truck is not a life’s work.”
Former County Executive Andrew Spano thought Brodsky would have run for the County Executive seat this year. Citing Brodsky’s aggressiveness and willingness to take on big issues and big players, the former pol says, “He still has something left in him. He’s good for the times.” Yet Spano, like others, says aggressiveness is both Brodsky’s strength and weakness. “It’s hard work dealing with him. He’s tiring.” With a hearty laugh, he adds, “I really like him now because I don’t have to deal with him.”
So what does the future hold for the urban cowboy living in a 18th-century house in 21st-century Westchester? His talents are formidable, his contacts are many, his interests are infinite, and his thirst for attention is insatiable. That may sound like a recipe for a campaign, but Brodsky seems determined to make it all work in the private sector. Paige Brodsky says that, while her husband might miss the camaraderie and power of the Legislature, “he’s found a voice. He’s really found a way to get his ideas and thoughts out there.”
Of his time in the Assembly, Brodsky says, “I had genuine, real, measurable impacts on things I cared about. It was fun. I like to think I can say the same thing about what I’m doing now.”
Susan Wolfert is a freelance writer who has covered Greenburgh politics since 2002. She lives in Westchester and does not wear cowboy boots.