Steve Israel Interview: Eight Term US Congressman Now Cool Bookstore Owner
Diana Landau | August 09, 2023
Carl has interviewed CEO’s, entrepreneurs, artists, and athletes, but this is his first interview with a U.S. Congressman. In this episode he talks with former U.S. Representative Steve Israel of New York. After leaving office in 2017, Steve has been a political commentator on CNN, MSNBC, HBO and more, is a frequent author for many media outlets including the New York Times, Washington Post and The Atlantic. He is also Director of the nonpartisan Institute of Politics and Global Affairs at Cornell University. In addition, he has written two books, (Big Guns and The Global War on Morris.) Then in 2021, he became an entrepreneur and launched a new dream job—as the owner of an independent bookstore, Theodore’s Books, in Oyster Bay, NY. “Independent bookstores have always been my sanctuary. They make me feel good, safe and optimistic.”
Steve was born in Brooklyn and raised in Levittown on Long Island. He had the classic, middle-class family. “I took those valuable lessons with me to Congress,” Steve says. “It was tough to meet bills but there were plenty who struggled more than we did.” He started writing as a boy. (Does anyone else remember typing away on a Smith-Corona?) In high school, he worked for the student newspaper. “It put me on the path to being able to communicate.” He eventually became very interested in news and politics and knew even then that he wanted to work to make a difference in the world.
Carl asks Steve what it felt like to walk into Congress that first day in 2001. “It was the most extraordinary and surreal experience of my life. When I raised my right hand for the oath, I felt goosebumps—still do!” Steve ran for office 8 times and won 8 times. Carl asks him what most of our listeners would be surprised to know about Congress. “Congress is a far more civil and tranquil place than you see on television. There are people working together on both sides to create solutions. The news media is conflict entertainment, but there’s another story to be told.”
The scoop: You’ll have to listen to the podcast to hear Carl and Steve talk about Steve’s successor George Santos, the huge void of local, investigative journalism, voter complacency, plus big disaster relief antics from Florida Governor Ron De Santis.
Steve started thinking he was ready to move on from public service but got some good advice from a mentor to postpone his retirement for two years, in order to make sure he was making the right decision. "Best advice!" Steve says. When he did retire in 2017 at the age of 59, he began political and media consulting, teaching at Cornell University, wrote two books, and more. "I think one mistake I made at first was to take on a bit too much." Since 2021, Steve is passionate about his bookstore. "It's hard, it's a challenge and I love it." In addition to running Theodore’s, Steve still does ALL the other things he does and is now working on his third book.
Steve Israel’s (Un)retirement Advice:
“The transition to (un)retirement wasn't easy, it took a little time to get used to it. Opening my own bookstore gave me a sense of empowerment in a different way than before. Try to take that risk, focus on the one thing that will be fulfilling.”
(On filling up the daily schedules) “I’ve had to struggle with the discipline of saying, "No.” I’m still working on it.”
“Accept the fact that we're not put on this earth to do one thing forever. Try something new and be courageous. You can do other things with your life—you can pursue different passions!”
Diana Landau is the Content Wrangler for Pickleball Media. After 15 years in corporate marketing, in 2012 she pivoted to write and wrangle content for Niche Media's weekly blog. She now manages the “I Used to Be Somebody” blog.