Al D'Amato

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Alfonse D'Amato

Alfonse Martello D'Amato (born August 1, 1937) is a former New York politician. A Republican, he served as United States Senator from New York from 1981 until 1999, after his loss to Democratic Congressman Charles Schumer.

D'Amato was born in Brooklyn, New York and raised on Long Island. His political career started with the Nassau County Republican Party, where he was elected public administrator in 1970 and town supervisor for Hempstead, New York in 1977. As a rather obscure candidate, he then defeated incumbent Jacob Javits in the 1980 Senate Republican primary, taking advantage of Javits' 1979 diagnosis of generally fatal amytrophic lateral sclerosis. Javits nevertheless pursued the seat on the Liberal Party ticket, splitting the left-wing vote in ordinarily liberal New York with Democratic Congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman and leading to D'Amato's 45% plurality victory. This victory is largely credited to his campaign manager, Arthur Finkelstein.

D'Amato drew the nickname Senator Pothole for his delivery of "constituent services," helping citizens with their individual cases. Many New Yorkers meant the nickname as a pejorative; D'Amato had a reputation for focusing on constituent service mostly during election years.

Senator D'Amato also hold the record for the second and seventh longest filibusters ever recorded in the United States Senate. In 1986, a filibuster he conducted against a military bill lasted 23 hours, 30 minutes and in 1992, a filibuster against a tax bill lasted 15 hours, 14 minutes. He was known for reading the District of Columbia phonebook during a filibuster.

While he was in office, he was chairman of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, and was a member of the Senate Finance Committee. As a member of the latter, he championed the cause of Holocaust survivors trying to recover relatives' funds from accounts in Swiss banks.

D'Amato is divorced from his first wife, with whom he has four children. He has dated several well-known personalities, including Claudia Cohen, entertainment television reporter. On July 18, 2004 he married Katuria Elizabeth Smith. He is now managing director of Computer Associates.

D'Amato was known for being fairly conservative, yet very popular among New York's liberal voters. His 1998 loss was attributed to a lack of support among moderate voters in New York City, where his successor Charles Schumer served as Congressman. Another factor contributing to his loss was his labeling of Rep. Schumer as a "putz-head," which means "fool" or "penis-head" in Yiddish. This was ironic on several levels: first, D'Amato had previously had much Jewish support because of his efforts to help Holocaust survivors. Second, D'Amato won in 1992 for the same reason he lost in 1998; his 1992 opponent, then-attorney general Robert Abrams, called D'Amato a "fascist," which people (including D'Amato himself) interpreted as an ethnic slur because D'Amato is Italian.


D'Amato is also known for his public controversies and brash style. After a series of investigations in 1991, the Senate Ethics Committee reprimanded D'Amato for allowing his brother Armand, a lobbyist, to use office stationery to help solicit million-dollar Navy contracts for Unisys. The Senator was fined and reprimanded, while his brother served time in jail. The committee stated: "The activities of Sen. D'Amato's brother on behalf of Unisys constituted a misuse. Sen. D'Amato conducted the business of his office in an improper and innappropriate manner."

During the Don Imus radio program on April 4, 1995, he used a mock Japanese accent to impersonate Lance Ito, a Japanese American judge overseeing the ongoing O. J. Simpson trial (Ito does not, in fact, have an ethnic accent). He later apologized on the Senate floor for his comments.

In 1994, he insulted Betsy McCaughey Ross, the Republican candidate for New York Lieutenant Governor; he joked that in order to get an endorsement for her running mate, George Pataki, she should have sex with New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, who had endorsed Mario Cuomo.

In October, 1998, D'Amato was criticized for insulting Congressman Jerry Nadler. According to USAToday, D'Amato "referred to the heavyset Nadler as 'Congressman Waddler.' He also did a physical imitation of Nadler, D-N.Y., waddling like a duck." [1] ( D'Amato subsequently apologized, saying, "It was a poor attempt at humor, and I was wrong, and I apologized to him."

Preceded by:
Jacob K. Javits
U.S. Senators from New York
Succeeded by:
Chuck Schumer

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