When he was a senior at Byram Hills High School in Westchester in 1970, Doug Berman was asked by a state senatorial candidate to arrange a small gathering of friends for him to meet. To help attract an audience, the candidate arranged for a guest speaker — Bill Bradley, the Hall of Fame forward of the New York Knicks.
“Because it was Bradley, I said yes, absolutely,” recalls Berman, a 6-footer who was captain of his basketball team. “He was my boyhood hero.”
The night before the gathering, the Knicks won their first championship. Nevertheless, Bradley showed up the next morning to greet Berman’s school friends, their parents and others.
“That really impressed me, that he kept his commitment,” says Berman, 47.
Seven years later Berman, then a Columbia Law School student, heard that Bradley, who had recently retired from the Knicks, was considering running for the U.S. Senate from New Jersey. Through a mutual friend, Berman sent word to Bradley that he would like to help.
The friend told Berman to go to Denville, N.J.
“I drove there and met Bill and we spent a few days driving around New Jersey talking about how someone puts together a statewide campaign,” Berman recalls. “I ended up being his deputy campaign manager.”
Bradley won that race and now is running again, this time for the Democratic nomination for president of the United States. And Berman again is running alongside — as his campaign manager.
“I think he’d make a great president,” Berman says without hesitation in a phone interview from Bradley headquarters in West Orange, N.J., a short trip from his Montclair home. “I think he has a unique feel for the people of this country, for their variety, their talent and their possibilities. He has a leadership style that is committed to achieving goals that have the prospect for making life better for millions of Americans.”
In the nearly 30 years since he met Bradley, Berman has worked in the campaigns of other Democratic candidates, both in paid and volunteer positions. He volunteered in former New York City Mayor John Lindsay’s failed presidential campaign in 1972, served as campaign manager for then-New Jersey Gov. Jim Florio’s 1989 re-election campaign, and as senior adviser to Frank Lautenberg in his successful campaign for the U.S. Senate from New Jersey. He also served as campaign manager when Bradley won re-election in 1984.
Along the way, Berman clerked for a federal judge, served two years as treasurer for the State of New Jersey and was involved in private industry.
His last job in 1996 was as head of Campaign for America, an organization dedicated to working for federal campaign finance reform. The issue is a staple of the Bradley drive.
Berman, raised in a secular Jewish home in a small community in Westchester, began exploring his Jewish heritage when he was 16.
“I began trying to figure out the richness of our tradition when I was in high school,” he recalls.
At Yale University, Berman took courses in Judaism and studied with the Jewish chaplain there, Rabbi Arnold Wolf. While there he met his future wife, Karen Rozenberg, a student at Wesley College and the descendant of 11 generations of rabbis. Her father, Martin Rabbi Rozenberg, is rabbi emeritus of the Community Synagogue in Port Washington, L.I.
The Bermans have two children, Avi, 18, and Jennie, 16, both of whom attended the Solomon Schechter Day School of Essex and Union in New Jersey, and where Berman was vice president and continues to serve on the board. Berman was also a 1990-92 participant in the Wexner Heritage Foundation program for Jewish education.
“Jewish day school is very important to us,” he says.
And despite a hectic schedule with the Bradley campaign, Berman still made sure to leave work early two weeks ago to put up a sukkah at his home.