Jack Newfield: Why I’m Not for Bella


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September 28, 1972, Vol. XVII, No. 39

Why I’m Not for Bella
by Jack Newfield

We have all gone through some pain with the death of Bill Ryan, and the bitter succession fight over his seat. I was called at home by a supporter of Bella Abzug, asking for an endorsement, even before I had a chance to go to Ryan’s wake.

Bella’s politics are fine; the problem is her character, and in the end, I reluctantly think this disqualifies her from taking Ryan’s seat. I have seen her call too many good people “cocksuckers” — and worse. There is a limit to the personal viciousness permissible within the politics of change.

I was there when Bella said at the VID in 1970 she was against the jets for Israel. And then I watched her deny she ever said it. And finally I lied, and denied she ever said it, so that she might defeat Barry Farber. I am now ashamed of all that.

Bella is a divisive figure. She cannot represent the Irish working class of Inwood, or the Ryan faction of the reform movement. She brings out the worst in people because humility and charity are not in her. You cannot disagree with Bella and have a human conversation.

Also, I think Bella is an invention of the media — pure Frankenstein.

But the fact is the people — the true repository of politics — don’t like her. She defeated Barry Farber by the smallest margin any Democrat ever won the 19th C.D. She lost to Bill Ryan by 18,000 votes. And her book has not sold more than 5000 copies, at a time when a book by her colleague — Don Reigle — is a national best-seller.

In the end, the thing that is in Bella that let her decide to run against Bill Ryan in the first place, is the thing that has made politics such a miserable profession.

I hope that either Priscilla Ryan, Paul O’Dwyer, or Franz Leichter win the seat this Sunday. The issue is neither ideology nor sentiment. The issue is character, and the diminution of the politics of insult and ego.

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