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Joseph Zaretzki

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Joseph Zaretzki (March 9, 1900—December 20, 1981) was an American lawyer and politician from New York. He was Majority Leader of the New York State Senate in 1965, the only Democrat in this position since the adoption of the New York State Constitution of 1938 until Malcolm Smith attained the position in 2009.

Early life, education, and military service

Zaretzki was born on March 9, 1900.[1] He was born in Warsaw and came to the United States in childhood.[2] He served in the U.S. Army during World War I.[2] He graduated from Columbia College and Columbia Law School.[2]


Zaretzki practiced law in Upper Manhattan and entered politics toward the end of the Great Depression, and rose within Tammany Hall, becoming a district leader.[2]

In November 1947, he was elected to the New York State Senate, to fill the vacancy caused by the appointment of Alexander A. Falk as Civil Service Commissioner.[3] Zaretzki represented the Washington Heights area of Manhattan from 1948 to 1974, sitting in the 166th, 167th, 168th, 169th, 170th, 171st, 172nd, 173rd, 174th, 175th, 176th, 177th, 178th, 179th and 180th New York State Legislatures. He was the Democratic Minority Leader from 1957 to 1964, and from 1966 to 1974.

As a state senator, Zaretzki could be both "fiery and humorous"; he once called for Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller to be impeached, but later admitted that "he had merely intended to capture the interest of spectators in the gallery."[2] New York Times editorial board member William V. Shannon said, "To call Zaretzki a hack, would be undue praise."[4] Zaretzki was allied to Mayor Robert F. Wagner Jr. and Tammany Hall leader J. Raymond Jones; he was opposed by the Reform Democrats and anti-Wagner Democrats, who sought to block Zaretzki from power in the state Senate.[4]

In 1965, the Democratic Party achieved for the only time since 1938 a majority in the State Senate, but the Democratic senators were divided in two factions, 15 senators allied with Mayor of New York City Robert F. Wagner, Jr., and 18 senators allied with U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy. After a month of deadlock, Zaretzki—the long-time Minority Leader—was elected Temporary President on February 3 with the votes of the Wagner men and the Republicans who had voted for Earl W. Brydges, but were urged by Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller to end the deadlock.[5]

Zaretzki's political career ended in 1974, when Franz S. Leichter defeated him in the Democratic primary election.[2] Leichter, a state assemblyman, was from the Reform wing of the Democratic Party and was nearly three decades younger than Zaretzki.[6] After his defeat, Zaretzki returned to the private practice of law.[2]


Zaretzki suffered a series of strokes toward the end of his life. He died on December 20, 1981, in Beth Abraham Hospital in the Bronx.[2]


  1. ^ University Libraries: Special Collections & Archives: Politics and Politicians, University at Albany, SUNY.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Glenn Fowler, Joseph Zaretzki, Former Albany Leader, Dies, New York Times (December 21, 1981).
  3. ^ Senator Zaretzki Is Sworn in the New York Times on November 18, 1947
  4. ^ a b Jack Newfield, RFK: A Memoir (Thunder's Mouth Press: 1969), 2003 ed., pp. 146-47.
  5. ^ [1] His election to the majority leadership, in TIME Magazine on February 12, 1965
  6. ^ Linda Greenhouse, Zaretzki, Democratic Leader in State Since 1957, Is Defeated by Leichter, New York Times (September 10, 1974).
New York State Senate
Preceded by
Alexander A. Falk
New York State Senate
23rd District

Succeeded by
Irwin R. Brownstein
Preceded by
Royden A. Letsen
New York State Senate
32nd District

Succeeded by
Abraham Bernstein
Preceded by
Whitney North Seymour, Jr.
New York State Senate
28th District

Succeeded by
Sidney A. von Luther
Preceded by
Robert García
New York State Senate
29th District

Succeeded by
Franz S. Leichter
Political offices
Preceded by
Francis J. Mahoney
Minority Leader in the New York State Senate
Succeeded by
Earl W. Brydges
Preceded by
Walter J. Mahoney
Temporary President of the State Senate
Succeeded by
Earl W. Brydges
Preceded by
Earl W. Brydges
Minority Leader in the New York State Senate
Succeeded by
Manfred Ohrenstein
This page was last edited on 22 December 2020, at 04:14
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