Category Archives: Introductions at Student Seminars

Bradley Tusk, Paths in Public Service

On April 24, 2013 Bradley Tusk spoke to Hunter College undergraduate students about his previous experience as the Lt. Governor of Illinois and chief campaign strategist for the 2009 Bloomberg campaign. Jonathan Fanton opened the event with an introduction of Mr. Tusk.

It is a great pleasure to welcome my friend Bradley Tusk to Roosevelt House. We met almost 10 years ago when he was Deputy Governor of Illinois, an appointed post, and I was President of the MacArthur Foundation. We hit it off immediately, two New Yorkers in the Windy City feeling nostalgia for mutual friends like Ed Koch and former Parks Commissioner Henry Stern.

Some of you may recall that Commissioner Stern gave code names to people, something like the secret service. I was Opera, Phantom of the Opera. Bradley was Ivory because the Commissioner thought he stood high among the top young talent in his agency.

I thought Bradley would be good for the Pathways series because he understands the public, private and not-for-profit sectors. He earned his BA at the University of Pennsylvania and law degree at the University of Chicago.
He came to understand the city working for Henry Stern in his mid-twenties, then handled communications and policy for Senator Schumer, then was a Special Assistant to Mayor Bloomberg, creating the campaign promise index so the Mayor could report to the public on his campaign promises.

Moving on to Illinois as the appointed Lt. Governor he had major managerial experience something like the Chief Operating Officer. You may be familiar with the sordid record of Governor Rod Blagojevich who was sentenced to 14 years in prison on corruption charges ranging from wire fraud, attempted extortion, and a conspiracy to accept bribes — most notably in the form campaign contributions in exchange for Barack Obama’s vacant Senate seat.  While all the political chicanery was going on Bradley stuck to policy and came out clean in a vigorous federal investigation.

Under his tenure, Illinois became the first state to guarantee health care for all children, the first state to offer pre-school to all 3 and 4 year olds, the first state to convert its entire tollway system to Open Road Tolling.

He returned to New York to be a Vice President of Lehman Brothers and did better than the firm. After the bankruptcy he started his own consulting firm, Tusk Strategies. His clients include WalMart’s effort to enter the New York market, AT&T’s effort to enhance its New York profile as well as Michelle Rhee’s educational reform effort Students First. Bradley loves issues campaigns, for example, the successful campaign to raise the number of charter schools allowed in New York which helped New York win $700 million in federal Race to the Top money. The campaign was called a “coup for the charter school movement” by the Wall Street Journal, a “huge win for the kids” by the New York Daily News, and a “significant victory” by the New York Times.

Probably his most recent high profile assignment was directing Mayor Bloomberg’s successful bid for a third term.

All this and he isn’t even 40 yet! Bradley is an unusual person, not just because he is bright and precious. He understands how the political process works, keeps policy goals front and center, knows how to compromise without sacrificing principle, moves easily across party lines and brings together the public, private and non-profit sectors in pursuit of the public good.

Adam Wolfensohn Introduction

On February 27, 2013 Adam Wolfensohn, an environmentalist who works with businesses and government agencies to enact sound environmental practices, spoke with Hunter College undergraduate students about his work. Jonathan Fanton introduced Mr. Wolfensohn before his talk.

Adam Wolfensohn Introduction
February 27, 2013

I am Jonathan Fanton, Interim Director of Roosevelt House and it is my pleasure to welcome you to a conversation with Adam Wolfensohn, Managing Director at Wolfensohn and Company, an investment firm that focuses on investments in emerging market economies. Mr. Wolfensohn leads the firm’s environmental markets initiative, helping invest in environmentally-sound, low carbon energy companies.

He is an active member of the Roosevelt House Board of Advisors, which is guiding the development of our Public Policy Institute. From time to time we invite members to meet with students and share their experiences.

Adam Wolfensohn’s life work resonates with President Roosevelt’s vision 74 years ago. He comes to us with a unique perspective of environmental issues. He received a Masters in Environmental Management from Yale and is a board member of EKO Asset Management Partners, an investment firm that helps landowners, government agencies and businesses become more environmentally-conscious. Mr. Wolfensohn also serves on the board of the Verdeo Group, Inc., which aims to reduce carbon emissions in North American gas, oil, and mining sectors and is a trustee of the Alaska Conservation Foundation, which helps preserve Alaskan wildlife. Mr. Wolfensohn recently brought this expertise to the Board of Directors of the Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors as one of its new members.

What sets Mr. Wolfensohn apart from other environmentalists is his commitment to broadening the public concern with climate change.  Trained as a musician at Princeton University, Mr. Wolfensohn — the composer of numerous film and television commercials — has fused his artistic talents to his push for sounder environmental practices. In 2002 and 2003, he worked with Conservation International to make the 2003 Pearl Jam concert tour carbon-neutral. He produced “Everything’s Cool,” a documentary on climate change that debuted at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival. It illuminates the struggles of scientists to educate and mobilize an otherwise sleepy public to action against global warming.

Yet public action and mobilizing cannot do it alone. As Mr. Wolfensohn noted in a recent interview, government and legislative leadership is crucial to limiting the harmful and dangerous impact we as humans can have on our natural surroundings.

“Many of these debates [about the environment],” he says, “come down to how we can best transform our culture, politics, and economy. Is it a bottom up or a top down process? Do we need marches on Washington and mass localization to stir the hearts of millions? Or do we need strong leadership from Washington and public acquiescence that follows that leadership? I think the latter is the more likely scenario.”

It is this sentiment that makes Mr. Wolfensohn’s talk here today so fitting. Energy conservation and protection of the environment were central themes in our work at Roosevelt House. President Roosevelt would be pleased we are having this conversation in his home. He built upon the achievements of previous progressive leaders to institute striking environmental reform. His New Deal created the Civilian Conservation Corps, which was designed, in his words, to “conserve our precious natural resources,” and he formed the Soil Conservation Service and enacted the Federal Wildlife Restoration Act to preserve some of the nation’s endangered species and non-renewable resources.

And he imagined an America where legislators prioritized the study of our natural environment and took action. Hear his words in 1939 as he implores Congress to begin a comprehensive study of energy conservation. (Transmittal to Congress of a Study of Energy Resources, February 16, 1939):
“…We now use more energy per capita than any other people, and our scientists tell us there will be a progressively increasing demand for energy for all purposes. Our energy resources are not inexhaustible, yet we are permitting waste in their use and production. In some instances, to achieve apparent economies today, future generations will be forced to carry the burden of unnecessarily high costs…

In the past the Federal Government and the States have undertaken various measures to conserve our…resources. [But] each of those efforts has been directed toward the problems in a single field: toward the protection of the public interest in the power of flowing water in the Nation’s rivers; toward the relief of economic and human distress in the mining of coal…It is time now to take a larger view: to recognize—more fully than has been possible or perhaps needful in the past—that each of our great natural resources of energy affects the others.”

So without further ado, let me turn the floor over the Mr. Wolfensohn, who will lead us in what I’m sure will be a rich conversation.

Richard Ravitch Introduction

On February 13, 2013 Jonathan Fanton, interim director of The Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute, introduced Richard Ravitch, the former Lieutenant Governor of New York, for a brown bag lunch discussion with students from CUNY Hunter College on the recent release of his report (co-authored with Paul Volcker) on the  fiscal future of New York state. For additional information on The Roosevelt House, click here.

Richard Ravitch Talk
February 13, 2013

Roosevelt House is fortunate to have a distinguished Board of Advisors who help the faculty and staff chart the course for our new Public Policy Institute. Today we welcome one of our most active members, Richard Ravitch. As you think about your own careers, here is a model to learn from.

He is a Yale trained lawyer who has been a businessman, head of state agencies, helped rescue New York from bankruptcy in 1975 and most recently served as New York’s Lt. Governor.

We all stand in awe of how the MTA recovered from Hurricane Sandy. Indeed, Joseph Lhota is running for Mayor on the strengths of its performance. But the real hero is Richard Ravitch who was chair of the MTA from 1979 to 1983. During his tenure he thoroughly overhauled the systems –  new subway cars and buses and significant renovation of tracks, signals, and stations.

He is at his best bringing private sector experience to public agencies. Affordable housing has been a central theme in his career. He worked for HRH construction Corp, which was responsible for the development of 45,000 affordable units in major cities including New York. Governor Carey appointed him Chair of the New York State Urban Development Corporation. He served as Chair of the Corporation for Supportive Housing, Co-Chair of the Millennial Housing Commission and back in 1969 LBJ appointed him to the Commission on Urban Problems.

Many talented people move seamlessly between the public and private sectors. He was chair and CCO of the Bowery Savings Bank rescuing it from bankruptcy. And he later was a partner of the famed Blackstone Group.

And busy public leaders also find time to help non-profit institutions. Dick Ravitch has been a Trustee of the Century Foundation and Mt. Sinai Hospital.

As Lt. Governor he spoke truth to power — and the public – about our state’s budget problems. We will be interested in his impressions of Albany, frustrations and all.

He was recently at Roosevelt House to release a report that he and Paul Volcker have supervised laying bare New York’s fiscal future. They studied 6 states finding a worrisome pattern: Medicare spending, rising rapidly, underfunded retirement promises, eroding tax base, negative impact of federal deficit reduction measures and local governments deeply stressed. I am sure he will tell us about the report and the concrete recommendations he is making to improve the fiscal condition of the state. Your futures depend on clear and courageous action now .

You can tell I am a fan of Dick Ravitch – all the more because his mother studied at the New School.

Mr. Ravitch will talk for 20 minutes and then open up for your questions.

Commissioner Matt Wambua Introduction

On February 6, 2013 Jonathan Fanton, interim director of The Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute, introduced Matthew Wambua, Commissioner of New York City’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development. Commissioner Wambua led a brown bag lunch discussion with CUNY Hunter College students on the most pressing housing issues facing New York City today. For additional information on The Roosevelt House, click here.

Matt Wambua Brown Bag Lunch
Wednesday February 6, 2013

Good Afternoon. I am Jonathan Fanton, Interim Director of The Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute. It is my great pleasure to welcome you to a conversation with Commissioner Matthew Wambua of the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development.

When I was President of the MacArthur Foundation, I made the preservation of affordable rental housing a key program priority. And we assisted with the transformation of Chicago’s run down public housing system to new mixed income neighborhoods. In all we spent about a quarter of a billion dollars on housing, including a research network that established the connection between stable housing and other beneficial outcomes for individuals and families. As I wrote in 2009, “Research shows that children with a stable place to live are healthier and perform better academically; employment rates for adults are higher when they have a steady residence; and communities with longtime residents have a greater share of citizens actively involved in civic affairs and experience less crime.”
Here in New York we assisted vital institutions like the The New York City Acquisition Fund, which provides loans to real estate developers seeking to create and preserve affordable housing, and the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board, which helps residents own and maintain housing co-operatives.
I believe that housing is one of the most important investments cities can make to produce a healthy and productive citizenry. And a key element of the Roosevelt House mission is to help improve policy by bringing evidence to bear on decision-making and to foster a healthy public discourse on key issues.

And that is why we are so glad Commissioner Wambua can be with us here today.

Mr. Wambua heads the nation’s largest municipal housing agency. He is responsible for implementing Mayor Bloomberg’s landmark New Housing Marketplace Plan, which helps transfer recently foreclosed homes to new owners, and aims to create 165,000 new units of housing for middle and low-income New Yorkers by 2014. This is the largest affordable municipal housing program in U.S. history and is projected to provide affordable homes for 500,000 New Yorkers.
Commissioner Wambua received his Master’s in Public Policy from Harvard and has taught at NYU’s Graduate School of Public Service and at the New School’s Graduate School of Public Policy. Prior to assuming the leadership of HPD, he was the Executive Vice President of Real Estate and External Affairs for the NYC Housing Development Corporation, the financial arm of the HPD and one of the largest affordable housing lenders in the nation. There, he oversaw the financing of over 36,000 affordable housing units. Mr. Wambua also served as the Senior Policy Advisor to the Deputy Mayor for Economic Development and helped establish new planning initiatives in upper Manhattan and the Bronx.

I think that the Roosevelts would be pleased that Commissioner Wambua is here today to share his knowledge and expertise with us. It was President Roosevelt, after all, who signed the Wagner-Steagall Act into law in 1937, which provided over $500 million in loans to build low-cost housing throughout urban areas in the United States and helped subsidize the rent payments for thousands of American families and defense workers during World War II.

I leave you with FDR’s words just months before he signed that bill into law (January 14, 1937):
“We have come to realize that a Nation cannot function as a healthy democracy with part of its citizens living under good conditions and part forced to live under circumstances inimical to the general welfare…Today families taken from sub-standard housing are living happy, healthful lives…Ten years ago…fifty-one big, carefully planned community projects, replacing festering slum areas, would have seemed incredible. Yet we are doing this…If, indeed, the deeper purpose of democratic Government is to assist as many of its citizens as possible, especially those who need it most, then we have a great opportunity lying ahead in the specific field of housing.”

So without further ado, let me turn the floor over to the Commissioner who will lead us in what I’m sure will be a rich conversation.