On a Half-Century of Navigating a ‘Maze Lined with Flypaper’

When Richard Gottfried ’68 first joined the New York State Assembly, another Richard—Nixon—was in the White House. He’d go on to hold his seat continuously for 52 years, serving under nine governors. Retired in December 2022, Gottfried now boasts the all-time record for New York State legislative service—and is one of the longest-sitting politicians in U.S. history.

A progressive Democrat who represented several Manhattan neighborhoods including Chelsea, Hell’s Kitchen, and part of the Upper West Side, Gottfried is known for his passionate commitment to affordable healthcare; he was also far ahead of the curve on such issues as same-sex marriage and legalizing marijuana.

Another signature achievement: the creation of the West Side’s Hudson River Park, much-beloved greenspace on land once earmarked for a highway.

Chinese characters in black against a white backgrouns
Provided One of Gottfried’s works of calligraphy bears a quotation from RFK: “The future is not a gift; it is an achievement.”

When Gottfried first took his seat in January 1971, Republicans held the governorship as well as the majority in both the Assembly and State Senate.

In the ensuing decades—spurred in part by the Democratic surge that followed the Watergate scandal—he’s been in the vanguard of a sea change in New York politics, rising to become a leader in the body’s dominant party.

A government major on the Hill (where his sister, Judith Gottfried Ruttenberg ’63, preceded him), Gottfried earned a JD from Columbia—in fact, he was elected to the Assembly while still in law school.

He and his wife, Louise, have been married for more than half a century; they have a son and two grandchildren.

Cornellians spoke with Gottfried about his start in politics, Chinese calligraphy, and how it feels to be retired after 52 years. Read the interview on the Cornellians website.

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Person wearing a suit standing behind a desk, speaking seriously
Provided Richard Gottfried '68 speaking on the Assembly floor