Lew Rudin made his mark advocating for and advancing the role of real estate interests in the New York City’s civic life.
His legacy lives on in his family, but he might not have fully approved of his firm’s current signature project, the redevelopment of St Vincent’s Hospital.
“My dad always said, don’t get involved with a zoning change or ULURP,” said Lew’s son, Bill Rudin, now CEO of Rudin Management. “He wasn’t around so we didn’t quite listen to him.”
But in other ways the goals of the project epitomize Lew Rudin’s commitment to public-private partnership and a philosophy he called “enlightened self-interest.”
“My dad’s core philosophy was: the city has to adapt; it has to change. We have to be quick on our feet,” Bill said. “If the city doesn’t adapt it dies.”
Lew Rudin’s commitment to the success of New York City was the topic of much reminiscing at Baruch College Monday, more than 12 years after the developer succumbed to cancer at the age of 74. The event marked the publication this past January of “Mr. New York: Lew Rudin and His Love for the City” by Seymour Lachman, a former state senator.
Former Mayor David Dinkins spoke, as did Jay Kriegel, a senior advisor to Related Companies who worked with Lew Rudin to save the deductibility of state and local taxes in the Tax Reform Act of 1986.
Lachman and Bill Rudin took the stage together and answered questions from Jack Nyman, executive director of Baruch’s Steven L. Newman Real Estate Institute.
Lew Rudin founded the Association for a Better New York in the early 1970s. The motivation, according to his son, was fear: Rudin Management owned three new, completely empty apartment buildings, and the residential market had died.
“They went to some of their commercial tenants who were packing up and going to Westchester, and asked what was going on,” Bill Rudin said.
The answers were a litany of the trials New York faced at the time: crime, deteriorating infrastructure, dirt.
The Association for a Better New York today is a powerful organization. But it had a simple beginning, according to Lachman.
“He got a couple of hundred men and women, gave them brooms, and said let’s go to a few streets and sweep them up,” Lachman said.
Later on, Bill Rudin added, Lew kept up the momentum for “Operation Clean Streets” by sending interns out with Polaroid cameras to photograph litter, or the lack thereof. He would then follow up with either chastisement or praise for the owner of the nearby property.
“Before there was Twitter and Facebook and social media, my dad was using technology,” Bill said.
In another trash-related anecdote, Lachman recounted the time when, at the invitation of John DeLury, then president of the sanitation workers’ union, Lew Rudin met with trash collectors and street sweepers preparing to start their shifts in the wee hours of the morning.
DeLury “didn’t think Lew would do it,” Lachman said.
Lew Rudin’s commitment to the city came from a practical place. The real estate empire his grandfather founded was not the kind of thing that would easily move. From the New York City Marathon to ABNY to his role in encouraging a skeptical Mayor Abraham Beame to embrace the film and TV industry, Lew Rudin’s projects all served to maintain and improve the value of his property.
But speakers at Monday’s event made it clear: he generated a goodwill that went beyond economic development.
Bill Rudin remembers sitting with his father at P.J Clarke’s as a parade of friends and collaborators came through to say hello. “It was like the Algonquin Round Table, but at P.J. Clarke’s,” he said.
Lachman remarked that Lew Rudin continued to work with and value elected officials after they left office — an unusual sign of true friendship and respect. Former President Bill Clinton wrote a forward to Lachman’s book.
At St. Vincent’s, in spite of ignoring his father’s warning to avoid landmarks and zoning changings, Bill Rudin said the project keeps with the family’s tradition of building for the good of the city. The hospital could not be saved, he said, but a new outpatient medical facility is expected to open this summer, and the development’s 200 residential units are more than half sold.
“It was the kind of project I think he would have loved,” Bill said.