Elizabeth Holtzman

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Elizabeth Holtzman
Elizabeth Holtzman.jpg
Holtzman in the 1970s
40th Comptroller of New York City
In office
January 1, 1990 – December 31, 1993
MayorDavid Dinkins
Preceded byHarrison Goldin
Succeeded byAlan Hevesi
District Attorney of Kings County
In office
January 1, 1982 – December 31, 1989
Preceded byEugene Gold
Succeeded byCharles J. Hynes
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 16th district
In office
January 3, 1973 – January 3, 1981
Preceded byJohn Murphy
Succeeded byChuck Schumer
Personal details
Born (1941-08-11) August 11, 1941 (age 80)
Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
EducationHarvard University (BA, JD)

Elizabeth Holtzman (born August 11, 1941) is an American attorney and politician who served as a member of the United States House of Representatives. A Democrat, she represented New York's 16th congressional district for four terms.[1] She was the first woman to hold the office of New York City Comptroller, and the first woman to serve as District Attorney of Kings County. In 1980, Holtzman was the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate, losing to Republican nominee Al D'Amato.

Early life and education[edit]

Holtzman was born in Brooklyn, New York, the daughter of attorney Sidney Holtzman and college professor Filia (Ravitz) Holtzman. She is of Jewish descent. She graduated from Brooklyn's Abraham Lincoln High School in 1958. In high school, Holtzman and her twin brother, Robert, launched a joint campaign for student government. Robert was elected president and Elizabeth vice president.[2]

Holtzman graduated from Radcliffe College of Harvard University (magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, 1962),[3] and Harvard Law School (1965), where she was one of 15 women in a class of nearly 500 men.[4][5][6] At Harvard Law, she was a member of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), assisted in creating the Law Students' Civil Rights Research Council, taught English at Harvard College, and was a law clerk for civil rights attorney C. B. King.[7]


In 1965, Holtzman joined the New York City law firm of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, and she was admitted to the bar in 1966.[8][9][10] Holtzman served on the staff of Mayor John V. Lindsay from 1967 to 1970, and worked as a liaison between the Mayor's office and the city Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs.[11] From 1970 to 1972, she was a member of the New York State Democratic Committee and Democratic Committee leader for the New York State Assembly district that included her residence, and she was a delegate to the 1972 Democratic National Convention.[12] She was also a founder of the Brooklyn Women's Political Caucus.[12]

U.S. House of Representatives[edit]

In the 1972 primary election, Holtzman upset Judiciary Committee chairman Emanuel Celler, the 50-year incumbent and the House's longest-serving member at that time. At 31 years old, she was the youngest woman elected to Congress[13] until Elise Stefanik was elected in 2014 at age 30.[14][15][16] Holtzman served on the House Judiciary Committee.[17][18] She was also a member of the House Budget Committee and Chairwoman of the House Immigration Subcommittee.

Before the end of the bombings during the Cambodian Campaign on August 15, 1973, Holtzman filed a legal challenge in United States Federal Court in the case of Schlesinger v. Holtzman. She voted against the Case-Church amendment, as she wanted an immediate end to the bombings, and subsequently filed suit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York seeking an order to end them. On July 25, 1973, U.S. District Judge Orrin Grimmell Judd granted summary judgment to Holtzman and issued an injunction ordering the military to refrain from participating in military activities in Cambodia. His order was to become effective on July 27, but on that day a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit unanimously stayed his order. Holtzman then attempted to get the Circuit Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court overseeing the Second Circuit, Justice Thurgood Marshall, to vacate the stay. Marshall refused to do so, issuing an in-chambers opinion. Holtzman then turned to Justice William O. Douglas, who granted Holtzman's motion to vacate the stay on August 4, 1973, and ordered the U.S. military to cease all bombing in Cambodia. The military ignored his order, and six hours later the other eight Justices of the Supreme Court voted to reverse Douglas's order.[citation needed]

In 1974, Holtzman was one of the Judiciary Committee members who recommended three articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal.[19][20] After Nixon resigned as president and was pardoned by his successor, Gerald Ford, the judiciary committee held hearings on the pardon, in which Holtzman asked Ford whether his action had been a quid pro quo. Ford cut her off, declaring, "There was no deal, period, under no circumstances."[21] After the Watergate scandal, Holtzman authored a bill that allowed an independent counsel to be appointed by a Washington, D.C., appeals court if requested by the attorney general. The law, passed in 1978, had a five-year sunset provision and expired in 1999.[22]

In 1978, Holtzman secured an extension of the deadline for state legislatures to ratify the proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the United States Constitution. (House Joint Resolution No. 638 was approved by the 95th Congress.) That same year, Holtzman helped pass legislation to expel more Nazi war criminals who had immigrated to the United States. It established the U.S. DOJ Office of Special Investigations within the United States Department of Justice Criminal Division to investigate and bring legal action to denaturalize or deport them. The Immigration and Naturalization Service had kept a list of suspects but not pursued them.[23]

1980 U.S. Senate election[edit]

Holtzman was the Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate in 1980. In her party's primary she defeated Commissioner of New York City Department of Consumer Affairs Bess Myerson, former New York City Mayor John V. Lindsay, and Queens D.A. John J. Santucci. Myerson was the initial favorite, with endorsements from Mayor of New York Ed Koch, Governor Hugh Carey and Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan.[24]

In the general election, Holtzman faced Republican nominee Alfonse D'Amato and incumbent Senator Jacob Javits. After losing to D'Amato in the Republican primary, Javits remained on the general-election ballot on the Liberal Party ticket. He retained his union endorsements and drew liberal and Jewish voters away from Holtzman.[25] A theme of D'Amato's campaign was that Holtzman had never voted for a Department of Defense appropriation bill in Congress.[24]

D'Amato won the election by a margin of 1%, or 81,000 votes, over Holtzman.[26]

New York University[edit]

In 1981 and 1982, Holtzman taught at New York University Law School and the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service.[10]

Municipal offices[edit]

In 1981, Holtzman was elected District Attorney in Kings County (Brooklyn),[27] a post to which she was reelected in 1985. She held the post for eight years (two four-year terms),[28] until she was elected the New York City Comptroller, taking office in 1990. She was the first woman to be elected district attorney and comptroller in New York City.[29]

She has said that she first considered a race for mayor of New York[30] in 1989 before deciding to seek the comptroller's post instead. Holtzman viewed the comptroller's post as an extension of her work in Congress and as district attorney.[31]

1992 U.S. Senate election[edit]

In 1992, after the Clarence Thomas - Anita Hill controversy, Holtzman sought the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate to challenge D'Amato again.[32]

The Democrats seeking the nomination (Holtzman, former Representative and 1984 vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro, New York State Attorney General Robert Abrams, Representative Robert J. Mrazek and Rev. Al Sharpton) split the feminists. Emily's List endorsed Ferraro, and raised money for her. Much of the leadership of National Organization for Women was in Holtzman's camp. Former Democratic Party National Organizer Anne F. Lewis suggested women split their campaign donations between the two women. Betty Friedan endorsed Holtzman.[33] In rancorous debates, Abrams and Holtzman exploited Ferraro's tax problems, and the legal problems of her husband, John Zaccaro, and her son, highlighting Zaccaro's business links with Gambino crime family member Robert DiBernardo.[34]

Holtzman was vulnerable for an August loan to her campaign from Fleet Bank. In August 1992 she borrowed $450,000 to pay for television ads against Ferraro.[35] These charges came back to haunt her in her unsuccessful 1993 bid for a second term as Comptroller, though she was later cleared of all charges. Democrats blamed her for the expensive and brutal Senate primary that left nominee Abrams too weakened to defeat vulnerable incumbent D'Amato.[citation needed]

Holtzman finished with 13%, last behind Abrams, Ferraro, and Sharpton.[32] Holtzman did not endorse Abrams.[36] D'Amato, the Republican incumbent, won reelection in November, 49% to 48%.[37]

1993 city comptroller election[edit]

In Holtzman's 1993 campaign for city comptroller, she faced Assemblyman Alan Hevesi and former Congressman Herman Badillo in the Democratic primary. Badillo was also the Republican nominee for comptroller on a fusion ticket with mayoral nominee Rudolph Giuliani.[citation needed]

Ferraro, still angry over Holtzman's ethics accusation from the 1992 Senate primary, encouraged Hevesi to oppose Holtzman. (Hevesi and Ferraro later became estranged.) The SEIU Local 1199 (a politically powerful health care union led by Jennifer Cunningham), endorsed Hevesi. While initial polls showed Holtzman far ahead, Hevesi and Badillo made the Fleet Bank loan from the Senate race an issue during the NY1 debate, reducing Holtzman's support. In March 1993 her office included a Fleet entity on a list of recommended underwriters for the city's municipal bond sales. Her campaign still owed Fleet $255,000 from the 1992 campaign and had missed two payment deadlines.[35]

In the primary, Holtzman finished second to Hevesi; a runoff election ensued,[38] which Hevesi won, 67% – 33%.[36] He then defeated Badillo in the general election.[citation needed]

Later career[edit]

Holtzman at Pentagon Papers 50th Anniversary Webinar

Holtzman's last term in elective office ended in 1994. She was then an attorney in private practice in New York City, and became co-chairperson of the Government Relations Group at Herrick Feinstein LLP in New York City, in addition to authoring books and articles on politics.[39] She published a memoir in 1996, Who Said It Would Be Easy?: One Woman's Life in the Political Arena (with Cynthia L. Cooper).

She testified against the impeachment of President Clinton before the House Judiciary Committee in 1998, arguing that Clinton's alleged crimes did not come close to those of which Nixon had been accused.[40]

Holtzman was a public member of the long-running Nazi War Crimes and Japanese Imperial Government Records Interagency Working Group (IWG), a commission established by a 1998 act of Congress to locate, identify, inventory, and recommend for declassification, currently classified U.S. records relating to Nazi and Imperial Japanese war crimes. Along with other public members, she had some sharp and public disagreements with the CIA's interpretation of the law.[41] On September 28, 2007, the Archivist of the United States presented to Congress, the Administration, and the American people the IWG's final report.[42]

On January 11, 2006, The Nation published her essay calling for the impeachment of U.S. President George W. Bush for authorizing "the wiretapping of hundreds, possibly thousands, of Americans, in violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act."[43] She expanded on her arguments for impeaching Bush in a 2006 book coauthored with Cynthia L. Cooper, The Impeachment of George W. Bush: A Practical Guide for Concerned Citizens.[43] In June 2008, Holtzman published a commentary on the action of U.S. Representative Dennis Kucinich in introducing articles of impeachment against Bush on June 9, 2008.[44]

Holtzman considered a bid for New York State Attorney General in 2010, but announced on May 25 that she had decided not to run.[45] She was also mentioned as a frontrunner for the special election to fill the congressional seat left vacant by the resignation of Anthony Weiner, but again did not run.[46]

Holtzman is also a member of the Board of the American Friends of Yahad-In Unum.[47] She is also a member of the ReFormers Caucus of Issue One.[48]

Holtzman served as a member of the Homeland Security Advisory Council[49] but resigned on July 18, 2018, over decisions to separate migrant children from their families.[50] In a letter to DHS Director Kirstjen Nielsen, Holtzman wrote, "DHS has been transformed into an agency that is making war on immigrants and refugees. I do think it's important for the American people to see that not everybody connected with the government is a brute, is a lawbreaker, and that actually some of us do have a measure of conscience."[51]

In 2022, Holtzman announced she would run for Congress again in New York's 10th congressional district.[52][53]


  • Who Said It Would Be Easy?: One Woman's Life in the Political Arena (with Cynthia L. Cooper). Arcade Publishing (May 30, 1996); ISBN 978-1559703024
  • The Impeachment of George W. Bush: A Practical Guide for Concerned Citizens (with Cynthia L. Cooper). Nation Books (August 22, 2006); ISBN 978-1560259404
  • Cheating Justice: How Bush and Cheney Attacked the Rule of Law and Plotted to Avoid Prosecution- and What We Can Do about It (with Cynthia L. Cooper). Beacon Press (February 7, 2012); ISBN 978-0807003213
  • The Case for Impeaching Trump. Hot Books (January 1, 2019); ISBN 978-1510744776[54]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Holtzman, Elizabeth". US House of Representatives. Retrieved September 1, 2016.
  2. ^ Hechinger, Fred M. "About Education — Personal Touch Helps", The New York Times, January 1, 1980. Accessed September 20, 2009. "Lincoln, an ordinary, unselective New York City high school, is proud of a galaxy of prominent alumni, who include the playwright Arthur Miller, Representative Elizabeth Holtzman, the authors Joseph Heller and Ken Auletta, the producer Mel Brooks, the singer Neil Diamond and the songwriter Neil Sedaka."
  3. ^ Stanley, Alessandra (June 7, 1992). "The Way it was at Radcliffe". The New York Times.
  4. ^ Foerstel, Karen (1999). Biographical Dictionary of Congressional Women. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. p. 123. ISBN 978-0-313-30290-9.
  5. ^ "Biography, Elizabeth Holtzman". History, Art & Archives. Washington, DC: U.S. House of Representatives. Retrieved July 11, 2018.
  6. ^ Myra MacPherson (October 28, 1980). "Down &". Washington Post. Washington, DC.
  7. ^ "Biographical Note, Elizabeth Holtzman". Papers of Elizabeth Holtzman, 1945-1981. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Library. Retrieved July 11, 2018.
  8. ^ "Biographical Note, Elizabeth Holtzman".
  9. ^ Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2008. Fee. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale, 2008. Document Number: H1000123506 Source: Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2002. Entry Updated : November 21, 2002 Retrieved October 16, 2008
  10. ^ a b "Holtzman, Elizabeth – Biographical Information". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. United States Congress. Archived from the original on September 30, 1999. Retrieved October 16, 2008.
  11. ^ "Political Newcomers: Elizabeth Holtzman". The New York Times. June 22, 1972. p. 46.
  12. ^ a b "Political Newcomers: Elizabeth Holtzman", p. 46.
  13. ^ Holtzman, Elizabeth (June 29, 2016). "Not a Job for a Woman". Politico. Retrieved July 4, 2016.
  14. ^ ABC News. "Elise Stefanik, the Youngest Woman Ever Elected to Congress - ABC News". ABC News. Retrieved November 6, 2014.
  15. ^ Holtzman, Elizabeth (June 29, 2016). "Not a Job for a Woman". Politico Magazine. Retrieved September 1, 2016.
  16. ^ Iyengar, Rishi (November 5, 2014). "Elise Stefanik Becomes the Youngest Woman Ever Elected to Congress". Time. Retrieved September 1, 2016.
  17. ^ Holtzman, Elizabeth. "Elizabeth Holtzman". The Huffington Post. Retrieved October 16, 2008. (blogger autobiography)
  18. ^ Amer, Mildred L. (July 23, 2008). Women in the United States Congress: 1917–2008 (PDF). Washington, D.C.: Congressional Research Service. Archived from the original (PDF) on October 28, 2008. Retrieved October 16, 2008.
  19. ^ Holtzman, Elizabeth. "Elizabeth Holtzman". Huffington Post.
  20. ^ "The Fateful Vote to Impeach". Time. August 4, 1974. Retrieved August 24, 2017.
  21. ^ Shane, Scott (December 29, 2006). "For Ford, Pardon Decision Was Always Clear-Cut". The New York Times.
  22. ^ Helsel, Phil (May 17, 2017). "'Special Counsel' less independent now than under expired Watergate-era law". NBC News. Retrieved May 21, 2017.
  23. ^ Ashenfelter, David (December 6, 2006). "Holocaust Justice Hits a Wall: Exile or Mercy For Old Nazi Guards?". Detroit Free Press. Archived from the original on July 31, 2008. Retrieved October 16, 2008. She persuaded Congress to pass legislation in 1978 to denaturalize and deport participants in wartime persecution. The Office of Special Investigations was created the next year. Since then, OSI lawyers have investigated 1,700 suspected Nazi persecutors, stripped 84 of their citizenship and deported 63. The office has 50 open Nazi-era investigations and 15 cases in litigation. It has lost only nine cases. (Reproduced by Adelaide Institute)
  24. ^ a b "The Senate: A Thoroughbred Stumbles". Time. September 22, 1980. Archived from the original on February 4, 2013. Retrieved October 16, 2008.
  25. ^ Holtzman, Elizabeth (November 6, 2000). "Holtzman, Ehrenreich on Nader and Women's Rights". Women's eNews. Archived from the original on August 11, 2009. Retrieved October 16, 2008.
  26. ^ McKinley Jr., James C. (February 7, 1992). "It's Official: Holtzman Seeks Senate". The New York Times. Retrieved October 16, 2008. Democratic Party insiders complain that she is icy and unfriendly. Even her allies admit that she can sometimes be brusque.
  27. ^ Perlez, Jane (September 23, 1981). "Miss Holtzman Beats Rosen in Brookln's D.A. Primary". The New York Times. Retrieved July 5, 2016.
  28. ^ Raab, Selwyn; Hevesi, Dennis (January 5, 1988). "Holtzman's 6 Years: Innovations and Antagonism". The New York Times. Retrieved July 5, 2016.
  29. ^ Gladwell, Malcolm (September 19, 1993). "Comptroller Holtzman Facing Runoff on Slippery N.Y. Turf". The Washington Post. Retrieved July 5, 2016.
  30. ^ Klein, Joe (July 13, 1987). "Koch Agonistes: The Mayor and the Big Questions". New York. Retrieved July 5, 2016.
  31. ^ Lubasch, Arnold H. (November 5, 1989). "2 New York City Races Seem Virtually Decided". The New York Times. Retrieved July 5, 2016.
  32. ^ a b Purdum, Todd S. (September 16, 1992). "Abrams, In Tight Senate Vote, Appears to Edge Out Ferraro". The New York Times. Retrieved October 16, 2008.
  33. ^ Specter, Michael (March 14, 1992). "Feminists Painfully Watching Holtzman and Ferraro Battle". The New York Times. Retrieved October 16, 2008.
  34. ^ Verhovek, Sam Howe (August 20, 1992). "Senate Rivals Assail Ferraro Over Ethics". The New York Times. Retrieved October 16, 2008.
  35. ^ a b McKinley Jr., James C. (April 23, 1993). "Bank Named to Bond Sale After Loan to Holtzman Campaign". The New York Times. Retrieved October 16, 2008.
  36. ^ a b Rothbard, Murray N. "The Bringing Down of Liz Holtzman". In Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr. (ed.). The Irrepressible Rothbard. Retrieved October 16, 2008. So Gerry Ferraro was not allowed to have her comeback. Defeat was snatched from the jaws of victory, as Holtzman's savage attacks reopened old wounds, and Bob Abrams, who had mildly seconded the attacks on Ferraro, squeezed into victory. But oddly enough, Holtzman herself only succeeded in self-destructing.
  37. ^ Roberts, Sam (November 5, 1992). "The 1992 Elections: New York State — The Winners Day — Victorious, D'Amato Reconsiders Vow Not to Run Again". The New York Times. Retrieved October 16, 2008.
  38. ^ Mitchell, Alison (September 15, 1993). "The 1993 Primary: The Overview — Hevesi Outpolls Holtzman, Forcing a Runoff Vote". The New York Times. Retrieved May 1, 2010.
  39. ^ "Biography, Elizabeth Holtzman". Herrick.com. New York, NY: Herrick Feinstein LLP. 2018. Retrieved June 19, 2018.
  40. ^ Lardner Jr., George White House Strategy: "It's Bad, but It's Not Watergate", The Washington Post. December 9, 1998. Retrieved 2015-03-08.
  41. ^ Jehl, Douglas (January 30, 2005). "C.I.A. Said to Rebuff Congress on Nazi Files". The New York Times. Retrieved October 16, 2008. The agency's stance poses a sharp test between the C.I.A.'s deep institutional reluctance to make public details about any intelligence operations and the broad mandate set forth in the law to lift the veil about relationships between the United States government and Nazi war criminals.
  42. ^ "IWG Presents Final Report to Congress on the Largest Single-Subject Declassification Effort in U.S. History". National Archives and Records Administration. September 28, 2007. Retrieved October 16, 2008.
  43. ^ a b Holtzman, Elizabeth (January 11, 2006). "The Impeachment of George W. Bush". The Nation. Archived from the original on March 18, 2006. Retrieved October 16, 2008.
  44. ^ Holtzman, Elizabeth (June 11, 2008). "An Analysis of Kucinich's Impeachment Case Against Bush". The Huffington Post. Retrieved October 16, 2008. President Bush abused his office by deceiving Congress and the American people into the Iraq war.
  45. ^ Thompson, Ryan. "Former B'klyn D.A. Will Not Run for A.G." The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. Retrieved May 27, 2010.
  46. ^ Bragg, Chris. Liz Holtzman Emerges As A Top Contender for Weiner Seat Archived July 4, 2011, at the Wayback Machine. City Hall News. Retrieved July 1, 2011.
  47. ^ "American Friends of Yahad-In Unum - Yahad-In Unum". Yahad-In Unum. Retrieved May 21, 2017.
  48. ^ "Issue One – ReFormers Caucus".
  49. ^ "Homeland Security Advisory Council Members". U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Retrieved July 4, 2017.
  50. ^ Clare, Foran; Tal, Kopan. "Homeland Security Advisory Council members resign over 'morally repugnant' immigration policy". CNN. Retrieved July 24, 2018.
  51. ^ Nakamura, David (July 17, 2018). "Homeland Security advisory council members resign over immigration policies". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved July 24, 2018.
  52. ^ Sommerfeldt, Chris (May 23, 2022). "80-year-old former NYC lawmaker Elizabeth Holtzman considering run for Congress in same district as de Blasio". New York Daily News.
  53. ^ Scanlon, Kate (May 30, 2022). "Nixon critic Holtzman tries for New York House comeback in a bid to battle Trump". Washington Examiner.
  54. ^ "Reviewed by Tara Sonenshine in New York Journal of Books". October 7, 2018. Retrieved December 12, 2018.

External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]

U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 4th congressional district

Succeeded by
New office Chair of the Congressional Women's Caucus
Succeeded by
Party political offices
Preceded by Democratic nominee for U.S. Senator from New York
(Class 3)

Succeeded by
Legal offices
Preceded by
Eugene Gold
District Attorney of Kings County
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by Comptroller of New York City
Succeeded by
U.S. order of precedence (ceremonial)
Preceded byas Former US Representative Order of precedence of the United States
as Former US Representative
Succeeded byas Former US Representative