A Political Insider Who Knows His Way Around the Holiday Buffet Table

Alan Flacks got the inside tip from a law clerk.

“There’s a beautiful ham on one side, and great Swedish meatballs on the other,” the law clerk said.

This was no courtroom sidebar but rather a sidewalk encounter outside a holiday party being held by the Broadway Democrats political club in a West 111th Street apartment building in Manhattan.

Mr. Flacks, 70, had walked up from his rent-controlled apartment on West 100th Street. Naturally, he had not eaten. A big reason anyone goes to these parties, as Mr. Flacks can attest, is the food, which is free and usually good and plentiful.

It was certainly true at this party. Inside, elected officials and club members gathered around a large buffet table. Within moments of entering, Mr. Flacks was sampling the ham — the meatballs were gone — and making the rounds, chatting with politicians, including Scott M. Stringer, the Manhattan borough president.

On the Upper West Side, Mr. Flacks is well known as a gadfly, activist and political obsessive who publishes a regular newsletter – a feat, given that he does not own a computer and often works with a borrowed cellphone.

Mr. Flacks, a lifelong bachelor, is trained as a lawyer, but devotes his time to unpaid activism, and lives off a modest savings. Of course, volunteer activism has its perks, and this time of year there are many holiday parties held by political clubs in Manhattan, and they offer plenty of food.

Drinking and networking are popular at these parties, but Mr. Flacks, a frugal man with a keen palate (and a nondrinker), keeps close tabs on the food. In fact, most of his meals around the holidays come from a buffet table, on a paper plate with a side of politics.

“There’s no need to go to the supermarket except for fresh milk,” said Mr. Flacks, whose newsletter, “The Flacks Report,” is sent to an e-mail list of about 300 people, mostly in the news media and in political circles in Manhattan. In December it turns into an information sheet on parties, including names of restaurants and whether there is a fee (there rarely is). In November, club officials often ask Mr. Flacks to publish their party information. Even elected officials contact him, asking for party information, he said.

“Schumer’s office called me the other day asking me about the Three Parks party,” he said, referring to Senator Charles E. Schumer and the name of the political club Mr. Flacks belongs to, the Three Parks Independent Democrats, which held its party in early December with a big buffet table and a bigger open bar. “I told them, ‘You missed it by two weeks.’”

Clubs usually send invitations to members and rely on word-of-mouth to attract nonmembers in the hopes of coaxing them into joining.

“The more people, the better your food, the more honor and glory you get,” Mr. Flacks said. “They want new members. They want to be popular. And of course, they’re hoping the big-shot politicians come.’’

Mr. Flacks is out every night in December. One recent weeknight he went to a party hosted by Prime New York, a political consulting firm in Greenwich Village.

“Let’s see: chicken breast in cream sauce, baked ziti, shepherd’s pie,” Mr. Flacks said, recounting the buffet like a waiter reciting the daily specials. After that party, he and others stopped in at another party for dessert, which Mr. Flacks said was “regular Christmas cookies.”

On another weeknight, he popped into a party hosted by the Lenox Hill Democratic Club at a Second Avenue bar and said hello to Councilwoman Jessica Lappin. The food, by the time he arrived, was down to fried bar snacks.

Mr. Flacks had filled himself at an earlier party, anyway. He walked a block to a restaurant where the Lexington Democratic Club was holding its party. He said hello to Representative Carolyn B. Maloney and tried to order a soda at the bar, but the bartender told him that the open bar had ended. He complained to several club members that it was outrageous to be charged for a soft drink at a political holiday party. Soon he had the soda in his hand.

“The club president got it for me,” he said, and Mr. Flacks went back to schmoozing.

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