Lew Fidler remembered as fighter, fan and friend by former staffers
Former City Councilmember and Democratic district leader dead at 62
Lewis A. Fidler, a former City Councilmember and Democratic district leader in southern Brooklyn, died on Sunday at the age of 62.
Fidler was found unresponsive in Queens on Friday evening. He was taken to Elmhurst Hospital where he died on Sunday afternoon, according to police. There were no indications of injuries, and police are awaiting the medical examiner’s determination of cause of death.
He is survived by his wife, Robin, and two children, Max, 31, and Harry, 28.
Funeral services will be held Tuesday at 11 a.m. at I. J. Morris Funeral Home, 1700 Coney Island Ave., and are open to the public.
From 2002 to 2013, Fidler represented the communities hugging the southern Brooklyn coastline from Sheepshead Bay to Canarsie. He is widely remembered as a staunch advocate for homeless youth, fighting for more funds and more beds in the city’s shelter system. He was the architect and the main proponent of the city’s styrofoam ban, and was a sponsor or co-sponsor of 452 bills that were enacted into law.
Outside of the council, he helped launch the careers of several prominent lawmakers and political operators. He was a husband and a father, and an avid baseball fan who helped establish the first-ever fantasy baseball league.
Former staffers of the councilmember remembered him Monday as a demanding but genial boss who prized constituent services and retail politics.
“He had an amazing ability to bring people in or to reach out,” said Brad Reid, who began working for Fidler as his counsel in 2009. Reid currently serves as the City Council’s assistant deputy director of the Infrastructure Division. “He was a believer that you get a lot further by talking to people and including them.”
Reid said that Fidler, a constant presence at local civic association and community board meetings in his district, would stand in the back of the room and chat up first-time attendees, schooling them on the mechanics of local politics.
“Lew used to always say to us, ‘We’re here to help.’ Every constituent who contacted us received a letter back,” Reid said. “Every letter was read and approved by Lew, and they all ended with, ‘It is my pleasure to serve as your City Councilman and I am here to help.’”
Fidler was born on May 27, 1956, and raised in East Flatbush. He attended nearby schools P.S. 208, J.H.S. 285 and Tilden High School. He graduated from SUNY Albany in 1975, and received his law degree from NYU School of Law in 1978 at the age of 22.
His parents, Milton and Sylvia, were active members in the East Flatbush community, Reeves Eisen said. Eisen served as chief of staff for nearly all of Fidler’s 12 years on the council and is currently a community liaison for State Sen. Andrew Gounardes. She and Fidler were childhood friends, having met at a Catskills summer camp in 1969.
“His mom Sylvia was head of the parent-teacher association for every school he went to,” Eisen said. “He was born into this. He learned his lessons as a kid and he ran with them. It was all about doing good for people. He was a toddler and he was going to meetings.”
Fidler’s career in electoral politics really began in summer camp, Eisen shared.
“He was one of the most popular kids in camp, and he’d give any person the shirt off his back — and he probably did at some point,” she said. “In the early 1970s, he figured out he’d be age-eligible to run for president in 1992, and he had buttons made up and he started his campaign way back when.”
Officially, his first run for office came in 1985 with an unsuccessful bid for City Council. In 1992, he became district leader of the 41st Assembly District, a role in which he served up until his death.
As district leader, he established the 41st Assembly District Democratic Club’s Toys for Tots Drive. In its 17 years, the effort has collected more than 72,000 toys for disadvantaged children during the holidays. The event’s end-of-drive party is a required stopping point for the city’s elected officials.
Fidler won his 2001 campaign for City Council and took office in 2002.
He chaired the Committee on Youth Services and was the assistant majority leader to Speaker Christine Quinn. He is remembered for his fight for runaway youth, many of whom were LGBTQ+.
“He’d speak about kids living on the street or having to turn to sex work because they were from a community that didn’t accept them for who they are,” said Mariya Yudkevich-Markh, one of Fidler’s former campaign managers and councilmanic aides. “They came to the city without a plan or money and he pushed hard so that they’d have a safe place to go.”
After several tussles with the Bloomberg administration, which attempted to cut funding to the program each cycle, the council made base-level funding a permanent part of the budget.
When term limits — which Fidler opposed — were enacted, he left office in 2013.
“Through the years he just got more energized, more determined, and helped even more people,” Eisen said of the politician’s tenure. “He loved his community, he loved his constituents and he loved his job. If not for term limits, he would love to have stayed in the job for life.”
He campaigned in the 2012 State Senate special election, losing by 14 votes to Republican David Storobin. Weeks later, the seat was eliminated in redistricting.
Fidler underwent a kidney transplant in 2015. Michael Tobman, a political consultant, donated a kidney to him.
Yudkevich-Markh said the councilmember protected those who worked for him.
She recalled an incident in which someone had said “some highly inappropriate things to me during work.” She reported it to Fidler. As “an old-fashioned guy,” she feared he might dismiss her concerns.
“This is before the #MeToo movement,” she said. “Women are worried to say something — because who’s going to believe you? He not only believed me, but went a million steps beyond to ensure this person was never in a position to say and do what he was doing to anybody else again. These are the kinds of people you want to work for.”
Outside of politics, Fidler is remembered for his sense of humor, his sense of style and his fanhood.
“I think one of his biggest identities, aside from his political identity, aside from his Jewish identity, aside from being a Star Trek aficionado and a suspenders aficionado, is he loved sports. And loved the Mets especially,“ Yudkevich-Markh said.
“He put up with the fact that I was a Yankee fan, but he loved me in spite of that,” said Reid, his former counsel. “He helped in the creation of fantasy baseball and he’s been playing it ever since.”
Fidler helped run the business of the rotisserie baseball inventors — the “granddaddy of all fantasy sports,” as the councilmember once described it. He was an “expert” in the rules and also claimed to have written the rules for fantasy hockey.
He is also celebrated for his trademark suspenders. When staffers held a council outing, they designed t-shirts with suspenders imprinted on them in Mets colors. A photo of the team was printed onto a plaque Fidler gave to all employees when his term ended.
“Thank you for the thousands you served,” it read, according to Yudkevich-Markh.
Reflecting on his career, Eisen, his friend of 50 years, said that Fidler was okay with never fulfilling his longest-held political ambition: the one he devised in summer camp.
“He said he never quite made it to the presidency, but he was really, really happy with the work he was able to do,” Eisen said. “He loved it.”
Additional reporting by Paula Katinas.
Correction (4:45 p.m.) — Fidler underwent a kidney transplant in 2015, not 2014. This story has been updated to reflect the correct year.
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