PSS Winter '13


Rocky’s Right-Hand Man

by Jessica Evangelista Balduzzi ’05

Honorary Trustee Richard M. Rosenbaum ’52, P’86

FIRST JOB: Editor, Typist, Machine Operator and Newsboy, The Oswego Daily Cub

CURRENT JOB: Senior Counsel, Nixon Peabody LLP

“The fact of the matter is, I was driven. From the beginning, I was out there to make a buck,” says Honorary Trustee Richard M. Rosenbaum ’52, P’86.

Quickly advancing to the pinnacle of state politics in the 1970s, Rosenbaum was one-time chairman of the New York State Republican Party, Governor Nelson Rockefeller’s right-hand man and one of the youngest justices to be elected with bipartisan support to the New York State Supreme Court for a full 14-year term (a position now held by his son, Matthew Rosenbaum ’86).

Born in 1931 to a Jewish immigrant family in Oswego, N.Y., Rosenbaum loved reading newspapers. When he was about 10, he started his own penny-a-copy neighborhood paper, a one-or two page sheet he called The Oswego Daily Cub—despite the fact that it came out once a week.

“I bought a mimeograph machine from a friend for $5 and became the Cub’s publisher, editor, typist, machine operator and newsboy,” says Rosenbaum. “I tried to report on everything that was going on in the neighborhood and wrote a column called “Predictions of Things to Come,” in which I forecast the coming of the war a week before the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.” The paper flourished, earning him well over a $1 a week, until the day he divulged some private family news. Shortly thereafter, his parents made him sell his mimeograph.

In high school, still inquisitive and eager to learn, Rosenbaum took a job at a local newspaper making copies and mastering one of the most difficult jobs at the press.

After graduating from Hobart in 1952, Rosenbaum attended Cornell University Law School and was elected president of the law student association. Ready to get his legal career started, Rosenbaum tramped the streets of Rochester, N.Y., looking for a clerk’s job—even though he’d learned 48 hours prior that he’d failed the bar exam. He finally found a welcome at the firm of Wilson, Trinker & Gilbert, but he had a confession to make.

“There’s nothing like a good start in a job, but in late July 1955, I had to confess to the partners that I’d just learned the bad news: I’d flunked the bar exam,” says Rosenbaum. That hardly bothered the firm’s partners. “I was full of beans and raring to go, and they threw everything on my desk, every little thing,” he says. He passed the exam six months later.

It was in the summer of 1959 when Rosenbaum began cutting his political teeth. “I was a brash 28 year old, and I was ready to make my move,” he says. Rosenbaum rose quickly through the ranks of the Monroe County Republican Party, first serving as Penfield Town Justice and later County Legislator. In 1968 he was elected chairman of the Monroe County Republican Committee, the youngest in the history of the local party, and the first Jewish chairman.

By 1970, he had been appointed a Justice of the Supreme Court of New York State by Governor Nelson “Rocky” Rockefeller, a valuable connection that gave Rosenbaum entrée into national politics when Rockefeller assumed the vice presidency under Gerald Ford. In 1973, he became the chairman of the New York State Republican Committee under Rockefeller, a position he held until 1977.

By that time, Rosenbaum had become a national force in politics. Known as the “Iron Chancellor” for his leadership style, he had a seat on the National Republican Committee until 1988. He would later serve as chair of the New York State Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board, an appointment of Gov. George Pataki until 2006.

Rosenbaum’s career took yet another turn when he became spokesman for Governor George Pataki. “It was an interesting job, occasionally a challenge, but challenges have always been my meat-and-potatoes,” Rosenbaum reflects.

In 2008 he released a political memoir, No Room for Democracy: The Triumph of Ego Over Common Sense, about his prominent rise in the national GOP. The memoir was an instant success, receiving accolades from the New York Times, the Cable-Satellite Public Affairs Network (C-Span), and other national news and radio outlets.

A member of the New York State Bar for more than half a century, Rosenbaum is currently senior counsel at Nixon Peabody LLP, where he was formerly a partner. He has served as an honorary member of the Colleges’ Board of Trustees since 1990, and served as a board member from 1971-1989. He is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Ellis Island Medal of Honor, given to individuals who, by their conduct, have distinguished themselves through service to country and by enhancing the highest ideals and accomplishments of their ethnic backgrounds.

Rosenbaum has no plans to slow down. Today he spends his time between the law office, as a frequent college lecturer, and with his wife Judith, their four children and 13 grandchildren. This spring he’ll take on the role of manager for his daughter’s re-election campaign to town clerk, a business he knows all too well.

“I am happiest when I am working,” he laughs.


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