"T he mayor would like to see you in 15 minutes,” the mayor’s bodyguard told me.

“Okay,” I replied. “Where?”

The guard waved his hand. “In the Italian restaurant down the block.”

I was attending a reception sponsored by the new speaker of the New York State Assembly, Carl Heastie, when I was summoned to meet Mayor Bill de Blasio. I wasn’t sure what the topic of this late-night meeting was, but I figured it was likely connected to my five-year quest to get free security guards for yeshivos and other nonpublic schools.

Back when I was a kid I saw a cartoon called “I’m Just a Bill,” produced by Schoolhouse Rock, an educational video series on American government. The video has a kid track a bill from inception to signed law in less than three minutes. If only it were that easy!

The reality is that most ideas don’t become bills and most bills don’t become laws. In the City Council’s last term we dealt with some 15,000 ideas that were so serious that council members put in legislative requests to draft those ideas into bills. Of those only 6,000 or so actually made the cut to be drafted and of those only 600 or so actually became law. So the odds of a “serious idea” actually becoming law? Around 4%. Of course, almost all of those bills were noncontroversial. The odds of controversial bill becoming law? Far less than 1%.

My bill was considered very controversial. After all, the City of New York did not have a history of being very generous to yeshivos. For example, it was only after I led a consortium of groups that threatened to sue the previous mayor that we received federally guaranteed Title I third-party services in our yeshivos. These remedial services for things like reading, writing, and math are now a lifeline to tens of thousands of yeshivah kids. Even for these “guaranteed” services we had to fight. Even worse, several civil liberties groups opposed my bill on the grounds of separation of church and state. This despite the fact that there was clear legal precedent that this bill would be lawful.

Years earlier the city allowed nurses to work in private schools. I figured that if nurses could work in schools, certainly security guards could work outside. (I would later be vindicated by no less than the US Supreme Court when they cited my security law in a landmark case guaranteeing religious schools government funds.)

But back when I first started working on the security guard bill, I couldn’t even get the New York City Council’s staff to allow me to introduce the law. The best I could get them to agree to was a “free security review” for yeshivos. Five years later, however, the facts on the ground had changed. I had been reelected to the Council by a landslide and elected by my colleagues as chair of the Land Use Committee — one of the most powerful positions in New York — and became a member of the budget and leadership teams. In short, I had worked my way up to a seat at the proverbial table.

By the time Carl Heastie invited me to his reception, 46 of the 51 members of the council had signed on as cosponsors of the bill. In fact, just days earlier I secured a commitment from the new Council Speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito, who, to her credit, supported the will of her members and agreed to bring my bill for a vote to the floor before the end of the year.

As I walked into the Italian restaurant, I was surprised to find it empty. The waiter told me it was closed. I told him I had a meeting. He motioned for me to go into the back. There I was greeted by the mayor’s senior aide sitting alone in a booth with two bodyguards within earshot. I pulled up a chair and made small talk. The mayor arrived and slapped me on the back.

“How’s it going, David?” he greeted me cheerfully.

“All good, Mr. Mayor.” I had known the mayor since before he was an elected official but I always thought it odd that people referred to him as “Bill.” My yeshivah upbringing drilled into me the respect that was required for our elders and leaders.

“You know I used to represent Boro Park in the City Council. I care deeply about yeshivah kids. So what do you want?” asked the mayor, after he sat down next to his aide.

“I want security guards for nonpublic schools,” I replied.

“No, what do you really want?”

My answer was the same.

This was politics at its finest. The mayor of the largest city in America was negotiating with me. To his credit, this mayor did understand the yeshivah community and knew that yeshivos had a lot of different needs. This was my opportunity to “make a deal” and get something good for my community.

“You know, Mr. Mayor,” I said, “I have a super-majority of council members on my bill and an agreement from the Speaker that we’ll have a vote.” The subtext: I was pointing out that: 1. I had the ability to bring this bill to the floor. Simply put, you need to have the support of the Speaker to get your bill on the floor of any legislative body, and 2. The bill would pass overwhelmingly — meaning that even if the mayor vetoed the bill, we could override the veto.

“Sure, Councilman,” the senior aide interjected. “Of course, we don’t have to carry out your bill.” That was the ultimate threat. The law on this was fuzzy in New York. Just because we passed a law didn’t mean the mayor would have to “carry out” that law — especially if it included a fiscal cost. My bill was estimated to cost NYC some $50 million per year.

“Okay,” I conceded. “I think we all want to avoid years of litigation. So where do we go from here?”

The mayor offered, “I can do your bill for the largest schools — 500 students and up.”

Now we were getting somewhere. “Mr. Mayor, that won’t cover even half of the schools and would completely eliminate Catholic and Muslim schools,” I responded.

I’d probably spent 100 hours preparing for this exact negotiation. We had crunched the numbers and knew that my original law to cover all schools, regardless of size, would cost $50 million per year. We also knew that covering schools with only 500 children or more would cost $10 million. The sweet spot? Two hundred students.

To make matters even more complicated, I certainly didn’t get to this point on my own. No controversial bill could pass without an army of advocates, lobbyists, and PR professionals. In order to get this bill passed, I had pulled together a consortium of groups that was led by the Orthodox Union and included Agudath Israel of America, the Sephardic Community Federation, the Archdiocese of New York, the Diocese of Brooklyn, and the Islamic School Association. Each one of these groups had different issues that would have to be sorted out in the final bill and the amount of children per schools was critically different for each group. Suffice to say, it was a well-placed call from the cardinal that had taken us over the top in our efforts to pass this law. I had to look out for all of our partners who had collectively spent thousands of hours calling, rallying, and twisting arms for this bill.

“How about we do 100 students?” I offered. The mayor quickly countered. After some back-and-forth we settled on 300 students and up, with additional guards for each 500 students. That would cover 85% of nonpublic schools and give larger schools more security coverage.

“There’s only one outstanding issue, Mr. Mayor,” I said. “We need to wrap this up by Thanksgiving.” I had seen other legislative deals drag on. I knew that after negotiating with the mayor, I would spend dozens of hours negotiating the final phrasing of the bill with a myriad of government agencies — and that could take forever.

“Okay, my staff will reach out to you in the morning,” the mayor said.

“Thank you, Mr. Mayor. Our community will always remember that you were the first mayor ever to protect our kids,” I concluded.

Mayor de Blasio smiled. “Congratulations, we’re going to make history together, brother.”

And that was it: After five years, thousands of calls, hundreds of meetings, dozens of articles, and a late-night meeting in the backroom of a closed Italian restaurant, the deal was done.

That’s how a bill becomes law.

Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 693. David G. Greenfield is a lawyer, adjunct law professor, and CEO of New York City’s largest Jewish charity. For the past 15 years he has worked at the highest levels of city, state, and federal government. In this column, he explores timely issues from the vantage point of “the Insider.”