Henry J. Stern

HENRY J. STERN, Co-Founder and President

Henry Stern’s career in public service has spanned fifty years of New York City politics. A native New Yorker, Stern attended public schools in upper Manhattan and graduated from the Bronx High School of Science in 1950. He entered City College at 15 and graduated in 1954. At CCNY, he was vice president of the student government, managing editor of the newspaper Observation Post, and president of the Young Liberals. He then attended Harvard Law School where he was president of the Harvard Law Record, the student newspaper.

In 1957, Stern began his career in government as a law clerk for New York State Supreme Court Justice Matthew M. Levy.

In January 1962, Stern was appointed Secretary of the Borough of Manhattan by Borough President Edward R. Dudley, who President Truman had previously appointed the first African-American Ambassador in United States history. Stern continued in this position under Borough President Constance Baker Motley, the first woman elected to that office, and later, by appointment of President Lyndon B. Johnson, the first African-American woman to serve on the federal bench.

In 1966, Stern joined Mayor Lindsay’s administration as Executive Director of the New York City Parks Department by appointment of Commissioner Thomas Hoving. After a year at Parks, Stern moved to Deputy Mayor Timothy W. Costello’s office, where he served as Assistant City Administrator. In 1969, Bess Myerson, Lindsay’s newly appointed commissioner of Consumer Affairs, appointed Stern her first deputy. Four years later, he continued in the post under Myerson’s successor, Betty Furness.

In 1973, and again in 1977, Stern was elected City Councilman-at-large from Manhattan, as a candidate of the Liberal Party—the last member of that party to be elected to public office. In the Council, he introduced smoke-free and gay rights bills which were passed years later. A law he sponsored that was passed requires that photographs of any building be submitted before a demolition permit is granted by the City.

On February 14, 1983, after nine years in the Council, Stern was appointed New York City Parks Commissioner by Mayor Edward I. Koch. In 1989, Stern founded the Historic House Trust, which unified 23 historic houses across the city to better insure their preservation, and the City Parks Foundation, a nonpartisan organization that builds public-private partnerships to care for and grow green spaces and conduct recreation programs. He also founded the Natural Resources Group, an environmental guardianship team of park employees.

After seven years in the Koch administration, at the end of the Mayor’s term, Stern was selected by his former colleague in the Council, Robert F. Wagner Jr., to be President of Citizens Union, the city’s oldest extant good government organization. In 1991, while at Citizens Union, he formed 7A (American Association for the Advancement and Appreciation of Animals in Art and Architecture), which conducts safaris to view the most beautiful local examples of animal sculpture in architecture. Stern and current NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe are co-top dogs of 7A.

In 1994, Stern was reappointed parks commissioner by Mayor Giuliani, and remained in that position for eight years. As commissioner, Stern was credited with improving the cleanliness and safety of New York City’s 1,700 parks and playgrounds. Most notably, Central Park was substantially restored, in partnership with the Central Park Conservancy, which raised over three hundred million dollars in public funds, the largest such private gift in City history.

He also acquired several thousand acres of additional parkland for the city, most coming from other agencies, created over 2,000 “Greenstreets” at traffic intersections, and erected 2,500 historic signs and 800 yardarms for city park flagpoles. Over his 15 years as Parks Commissioner, Stern built over a billion dollars worth of park improvements as part of the capital construction programs of Mayors Koch and Giuliani.

Stern is most proud of the hundreds of young people he brought into public service by actively recruiting college seniors. Many went on to distinguished careers in public service, including former NYC Deputy Mayor Edward Skyler, current NYC Environmental Protection Commissioner Caswell Holloway, and Bradley Tusk, former Deputy Governor of Illinois.

After Stern retired from government at the close of the Giuliani Administration, Mayor Bloomberg appointed him to the board of directors of the Hudson River Park Trust. He is also a director of the Battery Park Conservancy and the Greenbelt Conservancy. In addition, Stern is an advisory board member of The Greenwich (CT) Tree Conservancy and has served as a trustee of Trees New York for the past 25 years.

Stern has received several honors in recognition of his environmental protection efforts, including the National Audubon Society Lifetime Achievement Award and the City Club Earthling Award for Environmental Excellence.

In 2000, Stern was granted an honorary doctorate by City College. He is a past president of the City College Alumni Association and is a recipient of the John H. Finley Medal, the Association’s highest honor, and the Townsend Harris Medal.

In February 2002, Stern, along with Alan M. Moss, former first deputy parks commissioner, co-founded New York Civic to promote good government and advocate for political reform in New York City and New York State. Since then, Stern has written nearly 750 articles on public policy, a number of which have been reprinted in The Huffington Post, New York Post, New York Sun, and various other publications. His articles, which generally are published twice a week, are subscribed to by an email list of over 12,000 readers.

In March 2010, Stern joined forces with former Mayor Koch and Citizens Union Executive Director Dick Dadey to found New York Uprising, a nonpartisan, independent coalition aimed at putting an end to corruption in Albany and restoring the public’s faith in government. Among the trustees of New York Uprising are many of the City and State’s most esteemed former elected and appointed officials.

In the last election cycle, New York Uprising successfully lobbied the majority of the state legislature and candidates for statewide office, including Governor Andrew Cuomo, to sign a pledge that they would pass historic legislation creating a nonpartisan redistricting commission, support a stronger ethics code, and enact budgetary reform. It remains to be seen to what extent these pledges will be honored.

Stories from Henry J. Stern

How Do We Get
Better Leaders?
Henry J. Stern is the founder and president of New York Civic.
Monday, September 26th, 2011
Today is the fifth day of fall in the year 2011. The political calendar has however raced ahead. We are in the midst of the 2012 Presidential campaign, and the 2013 Mayoral race is already under way.

This acceleration of political competition is due in part to campaign finance laws, which require reporting of contributions far in advance of the election. Candidates are judged by the media and the public by the amount of money they have raised. It is therefore in the interest to collect as much as they can as soon as they can.

Political Panel Praises
Partisan Redistricting,
Solons Are Discomfited
At Koch Remonstrance
Henry J. Stern is the founder and president of New York Civic.
Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

The reapportionment dance took a few steps forward and backward today as LATFOR (The New York State Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research) held a public hearing in lower Manhattan. The committee has been traveling around the state to hear from the public, but that is no indication that they will respond to the complaints that have been received from academics, good government groups and potential candidates.

The first grievance, which has been expressed by speakers who caught the road show before it arrived in New York City, was that LATFOR should not exist all, but that an independent redistricting commission should be appointed, rather than leaving the task to the assembly of incumbents now conducting the hearings and charged with preparing a plan for the approval of the Legislature, the body that will be affected by the plan.

Turner Tops Weprin
Koch's Intervention,
Distaste for Obama
Reflected in Vote.
Henry J. Stern is the founder and president of New York Civic.
Wednesday, September 14th, 2011
The election yesterday of Republican Robert Turner to Congress is significant for several reasons.

One is that the result will be widely perceived as a rebuke to President Obama and the Democratic Party, which it is. For some, the issue was jobs and the economy. For others, the administration's hostility to Israel is an important issue, which affected Catholic voters as well as Jews. The hostility of Muslim extremists extends to all other religions, and the Catholics were the original crusaders in the Middle Ages.

Ten Years Later,
They Still Want
To Kill Us All.
Do We Know It?
Henry J. Stern is the founder and president of New York Civic.
Friday, September 9th, 2011
The tenth anniversary of 9/11 has created a media stir of considerable magnitude. The tenth anniversary of Pearl Harbor Day, December 7, 1951, caused relatively little stir. But by then, we had won World War II.

Anxiety has been augmented by the authorities reporting a "credible threat" of another terrorist attack on the date of the catastrophe in 2001. By the time you read this, another attack may or may not have occurred. If it did, it most likely was on a far lesser scale than 9/11, but may still inflict substantial damage and attract world attention. Unfortunately, to many people in other countries, an attack on the United States would be a cause for rejoicing.

Asphalt Green
Set to Become
Port Garbage
Under City Plan
Henry J. Stern is the founder and president of New York Civic.
Tuesday, August 30th, 2011
For some years, the City of New York has been planning to construct a marine transfer station (MTS) on the Manhattan side of the East River, with an entrance and exit at 91st Street and York Avenue. There was such a facility on that site until 1990, when it was closed. In the twenty years since, the neighborhood has become increasingly high-rise residential and Asphalt Green, a recreation center with a swimming pool and substantial play areas for children, has been built east of York Avenue, immediately adjacent to the site.

The transfer station would be a large building which trucks loaded with garbage that would enter and then drop their contents into scows. When filled, the scows, pulled by tugboats, would travel down the East River and bring the garbage to freight cars which would carry it by rail to rural sites where the city had purchased rights to deposit solid waste.
About Author: 
Henry J. Stern is the founder and president of New York Civic.