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Arthur J. Finkelstein, RIP

September 9, 2017

I learned only this afternoon that, on August 18, 2017, campaign consultant and pollster, Arthur J. Finkelstein died from lung cancer at his home in Ipswich, Massachusetts. For the many who never met him, this obituary in the Washington Post is as informative of Arthur’s career and personal life, as any.

In January I saw an encomium in National Review to Arthur written by Reagan historian, Craig Shirley that looked like an obituary. We hadn’t been in touch in quite awhile, so I sent Arthur a message of my own expressing my admiration.

Arthur replied with one word, “Neat.”

Arthur and I were friends for more than forty-five years. In 1972 I joined the faculty as an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the College of New Rochelle in New York. Up from New Rochelle on the Post Road was the office in Rye, New York of Arthur Finkelstein.  We became friends and I invited Arthur to teach a course in campaign management in my Department. In turn, Arthur invited me to join a little political action group he founded, the New York State Political Action Committee where I joined a little group of Republicans. Among them were Priscilla Buckley and Carol Learsey, Bill Buckley’s sisters, Liz Doyle and many others.

Arthur preferred PACs because donations were not limited and he was an early champion of the National Conservative Political Action Committee (NCPAC) founded by Terry Dolan.

I would meet Arthur for meals at Gipfels, a Swiss restaurant, near his office in Rye, and Arthur graciously invited me and my wife to his home in Chappaqua. We were probably one of the few so honored by this very private public man. I recall that once he drove me to my home in Tarrytown from some political meeting and told me that he was amazed that homes could still be bought for $75,000.  His home in Chappaqua was probably purchased for $500,000.

Arthur had an intuitive grasp of the nuances of American voters and was responsible for providing polling data that led to the election of James Buckley to the United States Senate.

His career as a pollster was world class and a list of “his” candidates was surpassed only by the hilarious account of their eccentricities that Arthur would share in private.

But, Arthur was also an unfailing observer not only of the mistakes of others, but also of his own. He was an inveterate gambler and aficionado of thoroughbred racing and when on travel to Las Vegas would place a one hundred dollar bill in his shoe–just in case Lady Luck wasn’t on the same trip.

Once, Arthur told me that he blew that hundred dollar bill and was broke. He needed a way to pay for travel back to New York. He picked up his phone at his hotel to make a call and somehow another person was on the line. Arthur persuaded the caller on the crossed line to give him what he needed to get to the airport and back home.

Campaigns run according to fixed schedules and in off years, Arthur’s income was less than in years when he was involved in many campaigns.  He persuaded me to try and get some government contracts for polling research. On our first try, we won a bid to survey the cost of government regulations for the U.S. Small Business Administration.

In one class at the College of New Rochelle, Arthur challenged his students to give just one reason that they opposed the war in Vietnam. Arthur was an astute observer and knew that much of the opposition to that war was uninformed. But, on that day, a student raised her hand and said, “Mr. Finkelstein, I am opposed to the war because my brother was killed in Vietnam.”

In my case, when in the first year of the Reagan Administration I was fired by Charles Z. Wick, Director of the United States Information and Communication Agency, from my presidential appointment as Director of Education and Cultural Affairs, Arthur arranged for me to join the staff of Sen. Alfonse D’Amato. Arthur was responsible for Al D’Amato’s election to the U.S. Senate and in one meeting with Sen. D’Amato where Arthur was present, the topic of the right to abortion came up. I didn’t share my opposition to abortion with the Senator and Arthur took me aside and berated me. “You owe him,” he said.

On two occasions I tried to get Arthur to open up about his campaign work, first by encouraging him to write a book and on another occasion to do an online course. He didn’t write the book, but he did give a lecture on campaign management that I recorded and that I’ll post in a few days.

I don’t handle well the death of those I love, and learning of Arthur’s death was no exception.  The best I can do now is include him in my list of friends–living and dead—for whom I pray nightly. I owe that to Arthur J. Finkelstein.

Rest in Peace Arthur.

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