The Bear Mountain Compact
Andrew Seger (AS): Hi. I’m Andrew Seger.
Kacie Candela (KC): And I’m Kacie Candela.
AS: Before we start, we just want you to know we’ll be talking about sexual harassment in explicit terms, and some people may find it difficult to listen.
KC: Maybe you’ve heard the term Bear Mountain Compact before?
State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky (TAS): Oooooh yes. What happens in Albany stays in Albany.
KC: Toby Ann Stavisky has been in New York politics for a long time. Since 1999, she’s been State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky. But for a long time, she was Leonard Stavisky’s wife.
TAS: We had just been married when he was elected to the assembly and he did not-- you know-- approve of what went on. And he saw a lot of the bad stuff. Because-- its sort of like locker room talk. Like male club. And some of the stories he came home and told me were really embarrassing.
AS: Toby Ann and Leonard got married in 1964. Two years later, Leonard was elected to New York State Assembly to represent a new district in Queens. He would commute up to Albany for session days, and unlike most lawmakers wives, sometimes Toby Ann went with him.
TAS: I remember we were in Albany. He was going to dinner, and I picked up food. We didn’t have cell phones, so I went back to the motel to eat. I get a call, “Pick me up. Now.” So I dropped my food, I went to pick him up. Apparently the meeting was to let them know the phone number to call in Albany during the night if you wanted to see a woman. Now, we had just been married, and he was horrified. We couldn’t believe the crassness.
AS: And that sort of thing was common?
TAS: Very common.
KC: Albany’s night scene wasn’t really Leonard’s thing, but many of his colleagues spent their evenings drinking, making deals, and trying to pick up women.
[MUSIC - Teresa Broadwell “Pick Yourself Up”]
TAS: The Democrats stayed at the DeWitt Clinton. The Republicans stayed at a hotel literally across the street, called the Ten Eyck. I don’t know what went on at the Ten Eyck but I do know what went on at the DeWitt Clinton. They would meet their friends at a bar on the mezzanine floor called the Shelf. My husband used to call it the Charleston slave auction. And women would come by, and you know they would just go off. That does not happen today.
AS: But it happened for a long time. When Teddy Roosevelt was first elected to the New York State Assembly in 1882, he was shocked by what he saw. Shortly after arriving in Albany, he wrote in his diary about his fellow legislators, calling them “vicious, stupid-looking scoundrels with apparently not a redeeming trait.”
KC: But why did these men behave this way? What is the Bear Mountain Compact, and why did it survive for so long?
AS: Legislators in Albany have always had a lot of power and a lot of time. The unspoken agreement was that as long as everyone kept mum about what happened north of Bear Mountain, no one’s wives downstate had to know a thing.
KC: Senator Stavisky admits her husband had a lot of free time in Albany, but she knew how he spent it.
TAS: My husband, I must tell you, he would take stuff back to the hotel room to read. Our child was born five years later, so I’d be home at night. He’d be in his hotel room, and we would sort of watch television together! He was bored! So we would watch programs, the advantage was we didn’t have to fight over the remote, but on the other hand, he was very troubled by what went on. Somebody once commented everybody fools around, name two who don’t. And one of the people who was named was my husband.
AS: Senator Stavisky believes her husband was one of the first in a new generation of lawmakers who didn’t want in on Albany’s nightlife. But over the decades, the cocktail of unfettered power, time to kill, and next to no accountability proved irresistible for some lawmakers.
State Senator Seymour Lachman (SL): Because the senators come to Albany and they see this beautiful chamber and beautiful chairs, some of them lose their balance. Not all of them-- most of them don’t. That’s very important. Some of them lose their view of reality.
KC: Seymour Lachman was a State Senator in Albany. He served alongside Senator Stavisky in the 90’s and early 2000’s. Before that, he taught government and politics to college students.
AS: When he first got elected, he was shocked to see most of the legislative power in NY was held by only three men. Still, despite having little control over the budget process, lawmakers commanded power and respect from just about everyone else in Albany.
KC: This power showed itself in very subtle ways. When he got to Albany, he wasn’t Dr. Seymour Lachman anymore. He was Senator.
SL: We used to have a great time talking to each other, and they gave me their first names. In the future, I said called me Seymour not “Senator” or “Dr. Lachman.” Then I was confronted by a colleague, and he said to me “You did something that could have these guys go to jail.” I said what did I do? He said, “You told them to call you by your first name, and they’re instructed by the leadership never to do that. They could lose their jobs.” I said even if they’re my friends? He said yes.
AS: Even though Seymour was uncomfortable with the amount of power he suddenly had, this was business as usual for Albany. Men, power, no accountability.
KC: But something changed after the 60’s. By the time Toby Ann and Seymour were elected in the 90’s, young women were getting internships, and staffing in the capital. With the bad behavior that went on for so long in Albany, it was a recipe for rampant sexual harassment and assault.
SL: At that time, my daughter was a teenager. Now she’s a mother. Most of the interns are young women and men of college age. And after I saw what was going on, I said to my wife, I would never, ever allow Sharon to become an intern in the state senate or assembly.
[MUSIC - Podington Bear “Lens Flare”]
Patricia Gunning (PG): I went to college at SUNY Albany and ultimately had an internship in the New York State Legislature for the State Assembly.
KC: Patricia Gunning interned back in the mid 1980’s.
PG: Back then it was obviously male-dominated, and for interns, like me, there were many of us kind of floating around, and there were lots of alcohol-fueled events in the evenings with legislators that were paid for by various lobbying groups. And for many interns like myself, that’s kind of how you fed yourself, right?
AS: These “alcohol fueled events” weren’t too different from what went on the DeWitt Clinton and the Ten Eyck. Instead of call-girls, there were young female interns and staffers.
PG: There were a lot of powerful men preying on young women, I think is the best way to put it, sexually or otherwise. Whether they were interns for them or just young women who ended up at these lobbyist-type events in the evenings.
KC: As a young woman new to Albany, you’re really vulnerable. You’re new in town and you’re far from home. This is your first real internship or job, and you want to make good impressions.
AS: You’re busy in the office during the day, and now’s the time to network. Maybe, you don’t know anyone at the event, but you know you’re surrounded by really powerful people. And it’s easy to get sucked into the glitz and the glam.
PG: Albany’s a bubble, it’s a unique place, because the whole city revolves around, obviously, the capital, legislation, and elected officials. People have an inflated sense of what’s going on. As a young person, you certainly feel like you’re in the middle of a very powerful arena. And certainly there are plenty of powerful men taking advantage of both their power and the young women around them.
KC: Sexual harassment isn’t about sex, it’s about power. At these work events, young women were easy targets for men drunk on their power, with no one around to keep them from using it.
PG: What I saw was plenty of young women being taken advantage of, including myself, at alcohol-fueled fundraisers funded by lobbyists. What I saw and experienced were powerful men, away from home, preying on young women, including myself.
[MUSIC - Podington Bear “Lens Flare”]
AS: We’ll hear from Patricia Gunning in a later episode about her experience of sexual harassment in Albany. Not as an intern, but at the height of her career.
KC: But before that, there’s a lot of stories we have to get through. Stories from women and men who were swept up in Albany’s culture of harassment, tried to seek justice, and met countless deliberate roadblocks along the way.
Elizabeth Crothers (EC): The mediation ended when she said, “Michael would like to apologize.” He did not apologize. And it was a disaster, and I just kind of shut down, and he sat there just...
AS: Next time on Women in the Room, we’ll here from Elizabeth Crothers who says she was raped by Assembly Counsel Michael Boxley in 2001.
[MUSIC - Teresa Broadwell “Straighten Up and Fly Right”]
KC: This week’s show was reported and produced by me, Kacie Candela, and Andrew Seger; and edited by our News Director George Bodarky. Chuck Singleton is our General Manager. Special thanks to Robin Shannon and the whole WFUV News team. Our music by Podington Bear and Capitol Region jazz singer and fiddler Teresa Broadwell. She actually did perform this song and the one you heard earlier at The Shelf in the 1980’s, where she was a regular act.
AS: Sexual harassment has been in the headlines a lot lately, and there’s only so much we can include in each episode. Follow along with us on twitter, @pricklypodcast, for updates on advocates efforts and new legislation. And check out our website: pricklypolitics.atavist.com.
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