There are very few people who read this column who know much about a man named Richard Ravitch, which is their loss.
Ravitch passed away a few days ago at the age of 89. There are some people who you could write about who accomplished one thing and that could be monumental.
But Ravitch did multiple things for the people of our state, which makes his loss so historic. His passing is a strong reminder of how few, if any, real leaders are left in New York.
Ravith was first and foremost a builder. His company HRH built many affordable housing projects such as Waterside and Manhattan Plaza, the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Citicorp Center.
These were accomplishments in and of themselves but he did so much more.
At times when the state was in need of a creative mind, he was there with ideas and was able to get results.
When New York City was on the verge of bankruptcy, he stepped in with a bold plan to save the city and its eight million residents from the possible collapse of the Big Apple.
When the state’s mass transit system faced a literal shutdown, he was asked to take over the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
He came up with numerous suggestions on how to rebuild an aging and dying system. He found ways to buy new subway, bus and commuter equipment without saddling the riders with massive fare increases.
Every day the MTA was a challenge, but Ravitch was never afraid to take on more and more headaches, followed by solutions.
My favorite Dick Ravitch story took place during my time as chairman of the Assembly Ways and Means Committee. We were in the middle of a late-night session when Ravitch asked if I had a few minutes to spare.
While the floor debate droned on, he sat down to make what he called a “minor request.” I asked what he needed and he wanted “$500 million to create a Metro card system for the subways and buses.”
My response was, “Dick are you asking for a half a billion dollars” and he replied “yes.”
I asked for more information, especially about the issue of what the unions might say to a proposal that might cost them some jobs.
“If you get me the money I will take care of the union issues and give the riders a faster way to use the mass transit system,” he said.
I wasn’t quite sure how to get that much money but promised to try to help him carry out a brilliant idea. Two months later, I got a commitment from the governor for the funds and gave Dick Ravitch the money he needed to create the Metro Card system.
Somehow, whenever New York State had an emergency the name of Richard Ravitch came up.
In 2000, when Lt. Gov. David Paterson was elevated to the position of governor, he turned to Ravitch and asked him to be his lieutenant governor.
At that stage in Ravitch’s life, the last thing he needed was to go back into public service.
But Ravitch never ran away from a challenge and he accepted the assignment. By joining Paterson he accomplished two things. He helped firm up the state operations and gave Paterson instant credibility.
Once Ravitch finished his term in Albany, he could have retired from the public scene, but instead took on more and more challenges.
In 2011, he joined with Paul A. Volcker, a former chairman of the Federal Reserve to form a state budget crises task force to draw attention to the fiscal vulnerabilities of governments across the country. T
hat was followed by his appointment to advise a federal judge and the governor of Michigan on how to keep Detroit from falling into bankruptcy.
I look upon Dick Ravitch as the last of the master builders.
I don’t refer to just bricks and mortar alone. He was a brilliant strategist, a smart negotiator and a person who never quit until he got the job done.
There are no more Dick Ravitchs on the horizon, which makes his passing, a more gigantic loss for every New Yorker.