2012-03-08 / A Hometown View From Albany

A Hometown View From Albany

Fidler’s Health Concerns Get Me Thinking About Other Politicians And Their Health
By Marc Gronich
Capital Bureau Chief

In light of City Councilman Lew Fidler’s cancellation of a couple of debates recently due to health issues, I wondered how the 28-member Brooklyn delegation in the state legislature was feeling.

I also wondered if it was appropriate for elected officials or candidates to voluntarily disclose to the public, through any media venue, their health issues.

Of the eight Brooklyn Senators, four said the public does have a right to know the health condition of the person they are sending to office. Three Senators said it is a private matter and should not be disclosed to the public. One Senator said maybe and he holds a high standard for disclosure.

Of the 20 Assemblymembers from Brooklyn, nine said the health of a public official or a candidate running for public office should remain private. Eight lawmakers responded yes, public officials have an obligation to tell the public if they are fit to hold office. One lawmaker said disclosure of an illness should only be made public if it impacts the job performance of the elected official. Two Assemblymembers from Brooklyn could not be located.

The lawmakers were asked how their health was. Some had funny answers, others refused to answer and most were forthcoming with information.

Assemblyman Peter Abbate, whose district includes part of the Senate district left vacant by the resignation of Carl Kruger, said he takes Jack Daniels regularly to ward off any illness.

But seriously, the ailments run the gamut from being overweight, having high cholesterol, diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer, healing a broken ankle, suffering from two herniated discs, recovery from a stroke and knee surgery.

Thirteen of the 18 lawmakers in the Assembly said they are in perfect physical health and do not take any medications on a regular basis.

Five of the eight Brooklyn Senators claim to be medication-free. Senate Democratic Leader John Sampson was the most reluctant to discuss this issue and was uncomfortable with the entire topic. He did not want to say if he was taking medications on a regular basis for any ailments. Senator Martin Golden said he has high cholesterol levels but he runs and jogs regularly to keep healthy.

Some lawmakers use their illness as a learning experience, a teachable moment, if you will. Assemblyman Steve Cymbrowitz (D – Brighton Beach) suffered a massive stroke seven years ago this month, at age 51.

“We can always take something away when we talk about someone’s health,” Cymbrowitz said. “The stroke is what I publicize often so that people know how to recognize when a stroke is occurring and what to do. I’m on Coumadin, a blood thinner and I take that each day.”

Assemblyman Vito Lopez (D – Bushwick) said, “I am currently under serious health treatment but I’m competent and capable of serving my constituents.” Lopez, the Brooklyn Democratic Chairman, fought Leukemia, a cancer of the blood or bone marrow, in 1993. In July 2010 he was treated for a recurrence of the cancer.

All agreed that the President of the United States should disclose his health records. Others reminded me that Franklin Delano Roosevelt held office while in a wheelchair suffering the effects of polio. Others reminded me how John F. Kennedy suffered from tremendous back pain without disclosing his ailment and the medication he was taking to relieve the pain.

On February 24th, a few days after Fidler entered the hospital, he let the public know about his hospitalization. The announcement came after Fidler began canceling debates and other public events.

When asked about his health status for a piece that ran in the January 26 edition of the Canarsie Courier, Fidler said, “My health, in terms of being able to handle the rigors of life, is pretty good. Obviously when you’re 265 pounds, and I’ve been more I might add, you develop issues that you have to deal with but my health is pretty good. I see a doctor once every six weeks.”

Fidler, a Democrat, is running against attorney David Storobin, a Republican, for a vacated Senate seat. The election is Tuesday, March 20.

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