Category Archives: Video

SSRC at Roosevelt House: “Anxieties of Democracy”

On May 6, 2014 Roosevelt House hosted the final installment of the series, “Anxieties of Democracy,” in partnership with the Social Science Research Council. Titled, “Are the people the problem?” the event brought together two distinguished panelists: Jane Mansbridge of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and author of Beyond Adversary Democracy, and Paul StarrProfessor of Sociology and Public Affairs at Princeton University and Stuart Professor of Communications and Public Affairs at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School. In a stimulating discussion, moderated by Jonathan,  the two scholars examined the role of human behavior in the political process–how it can both facilitate and hinder political and economic development. These are Jonathan’s introductory remarks. Video of the event can be viewed below.


SSRC, Anxieties of Democracy

“Are the people the problem?”

May 6, 2014

Good evening, I am Jonathan Fanton, Interim Director of the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute.

It is a particular pleasure to welcome to you to the third in a series of Roosevelt House-Social Science Research Council events on the pressing subject of ‘Anxieties of Democracy.’  Roosevelt House is devoted to public discussion of just such fundamental issues, so this partnership with the SSRC is based on deep affinities for the deployment of rigorous research and knowledge in the social sciences in the public interest.  Likewise, the Social Science Research Council, now entering its tenth decade, is devoted to advancing scholarship on the most critical issues of the day, and to promoting conservations within the academy and well beyond.  Together, both organizations are committed to an informed public sphere and to a robust civic culture.

The SSRC’s program on democracy asks how representative democracies can be strengthened to govern more effectively.  It is motivated by the sense that the core institutions of our democracy that connect citizens to the political system–institutions that include elections, mass media, political parties, interest groups, and social movements–are not working terribly well, and that the American people, both in particular groups and the citizenry as a whole, have lost a significant degree of faith in whether our democracy can address large problems such as  climate change, poverty, and personal and national security effectively, legitimately, and accountably.

Within the coming week, the SSRC’s work on ‘Anxieties of Democracy’ will launch its website on This digital resource will open the posting of think pieces on democratic dilemmas written by thirty leading scholars and journalists who participated in formulating the scope and direction of the program during the past year.

The prior two sessions in the current series conducted in this House–a home where Eleanor and Franklin thought hard about the role of government and its abilities to solve big problems–examined the causes and significance of ideological polarization in our political life, and why Congress has recently had so much difficulty in governing effectively.  The focus on polarization and the discussion of Congress largely concentrated on the beliefs, actions, and shortcomings of political leaders.  Tonight, we shift gears.  We are asking, to what extent are the people the problem?  Intentionally provocative, the question invites us to think about what citizens know, how they think, what they prefer, the ways they are informed, the character of public voices, the manner in which citizens act, and how each of these dimensions of civic participation shape the character and prospects of our democracy.

FDR would be pleased we are having this discussion in his home tonight. Hear his reflections on the state of our democracy in a 1938 Fireside Chat:

“We in America know that our own democratic institutions can be preserved and made to work. But in order to preserve them we need to act together, to meet the problems of the Nation boldly, and to prove that the practical operation of democratic government is equal to the task of protecting the security of the people.”

Then as now we face big, vexing issues.  It is my hunch that our two distinguished speakers believe that it is less the people who are the problem than the ways the media, the parties, and money in political life shape what citizens know and believe and affect how they behave.  But as theirs are rich and sometimes surprising voices, I, like you, keenly look forward to hearing from these two distinguished scholars and public intellectuals.

Jane Mansbridge, recently president of the American Political Science Association, is Adams Professor of Political Leadership and Democratic Values at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.  Her current work includes studies of representation, democratic deliberation, everyday activism, and the public understanding of collective action problems. She is the author of Beyond Adversary Democracy, an empirical and normative study of face-to-face democracy, and the award-winning Why We Lost the ERA, a study of social movements based on organizing for an Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Paul Starr, the holder of a Pulitzer Prize, is Professor of Sociology and Public Affairs at Princeton University and Stuart Professor of Communications and Public Affairs at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School. His current interests concern the sociology of knowledge, patterns of technology, and information, especially as they bear on democracy. With Robert Kuttner and Robert Reich, he co-founded the influential magazine The American Prospect.  He recently published Remedy and Reaction: The Peculiar American Struggle over Health Care Reform.

One further introductory remark:  I am substituting this evening for Ira Katznelson, president of the SSRC.  Ira has been awarded the Sidney Hillman Book Prize for his recently published Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time.  At just this moment, the award is being conferred at The New York Times.  Ira, who sends apologies for his absence, asked me to step in to moderate the conversation that will follow the presentations by Professors Mansbridge and Starr.  They will each speak for about 15 minutes.  The three of us then will proceed to a conversation, followed by a period of questions.  Our program concludes about 7:20.  We begin with Professor Mansbridge.


“So Much To Do,” a discussion with Richard Ravitch

On May 1, 2014, Jonathan sat down with former Lieutenant Governor of New York, Richard Ravitch, to discuss his lifelong engagement in New York politics and commitment to public service. After introductory remarks by Hunter College President, Jennifer Raab, Mr. Ravitch spoke for 15 minutes before he was joined by Jonathan. Their discussion was then followed by a Q&A session with members of the audience. 

In Conversation with Michael I. Sovern

On April 23, 2014, Jonathan sat down with President Emeritus of Columbia University, Michael I. Sovern, to discuss his life and the 60 years he spent at Columbia. Below are Jonathan’s opening remarks. Video of the event can be viewed hereThe conversation lasts 50 minutes, followed by a Q&A session with members of the audience. 

Michael I. Sovern

April 23, 2014

Good evening.  I am Jonathan Fanton, Interim Director of the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute and it is my pleasure to welcome you to a very special evening.  Many of you have been here before to enjoy book discussions like Jeffery Sachs’ To Move the World or to hear global leaders like UNDP head Helen Clark.  Or attend major conferences like “John Lindsay, New York, and the American Dream,” a fresh look at lessons from his time as Mayor.

But tonight is different.  For a long time I wanted to have a series of conversations with the most interesting people I know personally.  Ed Koch was my first guest, followed by former MoMa President Agnes Gund, James Lipton of Inside the Actor’s Studio, Vartan Gregorian of the Carnegie Foundation, Judy Collins, and most recently, Joseph Califano and Elizabeth McCormack.

Tonight my guest is Michael Sovern, who was President of Columbia when I was president of the New School.  I sought him out when I came to the New School because Columbia was the old school from which the founders of the New School, mainly Columbia professors, split in 1919 in protest of Columbia president Nicholas Murray Butler, who would brook no opposition to America’s entry into World War I.  I wanted to understand the institution that gave the New School its reason for being.  Mike and I hit it off right away.  I liked his clear and strategic thinking, admired his political ­­­astuteness and found his vision for Columbia and private higher education compelling.

We made common cause in Albany advocating for New York State support for private universities.  And I turned to him for advice on challenges at the New School, how to handle labor disputes, explore alternatives to tenure, and how to reduce budgets while moving the university forward. His most valuable advice came in the Spring of 1997 when there was a season of student discontent at the New School: sit ins, hostage taking, and a hunger strike.

He had seen it all at Columbia and our frequent conversations were a source of comfort, perspective, and practical wisdom.  I will never forget his comments on the hunger strike, “The students will cheat and you will know it, but don’t expose them because the challenge might encourage high strung students to put themselves at risk.”  Well that difficult Spring came to an end with no terrible consequence and campus life returned to normal in the Fall with no scars because I had kept my cool with Mike’s help.

Mike Sovern is Columbia through and through earning his BA and Law degrees and teaching there ever since with only one interruption when he started his teaching career at the University of Minnesota Law School for 2 years.  When he returned to the Law Faculty, he taught Evidence and Administrative Law, and published his research in several books among them Legal Restraints on Racial Discrimination in Employment,  Cases and Materials on Law and Poverty, and  Of Boundless Domains.

Turning our attention to his leadership abilities, we look to the quarter century Mike spent in a leadership position at Columbia.  In the turbulent late 60’s he chaired the Executive Committee of the Columbia faculty, which led the University’s efforts to ease tensions between protesting students and President Grayson Kirk’s embattled administration.  Appointed Dean of the Law School in 1970, he became Provost in 1978 and then president of Columbia two years later, a post he held until 1992.

As president he quadrupled Columbia’s endowment, recruited many outstanding faculty, opened Columbia College to women, and put Columbia on a firm financial footing.

His success at bringing peace to a contentious campus drew on his experiences in arbitrating disputes, for example, mediating between the Transit Authority and the Transport Workers Union, and later mediating between the city and the police and firefighters.  He also chaired The New York City Charter Revision Commission and The State-City Commission on Integrity in Government.

He has had an active civic life, helping start and serving on the board of organizations, like Mobilization for Youth Legal Services, the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund, the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Asian Cultural Council, Channel 13, the American Academy in Rome.  All have benefitted from his wisdom, as have the Shubert Foundation and Sotheby’s of which he was chair.

Bridging the public, not for profit and private sectors is a specialty of Mike’s given his service on the ATT, Pfizer, Chase, and Comcast Boards.

So Michael Sovern has seen a lot and has just published a memoir, An Improbable Life. Let’s get to it.  He and I will have a conversation for about 50 minutes, and then open to your questions, and be done by 7:20. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Michael Sovern.

In Conversation with Elizabeth McCormack

On March 12, 2014, Jonathan sat down with Elizabeth McCormack to discuss her long career as both an academic administrator and as philanthropic adviser to the Rockefeller family. The conversation lasts 55 minutes, followed by a Q&A session with members of the audience. Video of the event can be viewed here.

Elizabeth McCormack

March 12, 2014

Good evening.  I am Jonathan Fanton, Interim Director of the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute and it is my pleasure to welcome you to a very special evening.  Many of you have been here before to enjoy book discussions like Jeffery Sachs’ To Move the World or to hear world leaders like UNDP head Helen Clark.  And next week we encourage you to attend our conference on “John Lindsay, New York, and the American Dream,” a fresh look at lessons from his time as Mayor.

But tonight is different.  I have long wanted to have a series of conversations with the most interesting people I know personally.  Ed Koch was my first guest, followed by former MoMa President Agnes Gund, James Lipton of Inside the Actor’s Studio, Vartan Gregorian of the Carnegie Foundation, Judy Collins, and most recently, Joseph Califano.

My guest tonight is my good friend and mentor Elizabeth McCormack.  We first met when she was working for John D. Rockefeller and I for Yale President Kingman Brewster.   As our two bosses talked about establishing a center at Yale for the study of the not-for-profit sector, Elizabeth and I chatted in her office in Room 5600 at 30 Rock.  We clicked immediately; the chemistry was magic.  And years later when I returned to New York as President of the New School, she tutored me on the art of being a college President.

Fast forward 17 years when she was on the search committee for a new President of the MacArthur Foundation.  She was my advocate.  No surprise I was offered the job.  For nearly four decades she has been my most trusted advisor.  I never consider an important move without seeking her advice.  And we continue to make common cause on the Board of the Asian Cultural Council.  Together with my wife Cynthia, and Elizabeth’s late husband Jerry Aron, we have had a wonderful and deep friendship.

She earned her B.A. at Manhattanville College and a Ph.D in philosophy at Fordham.  In her senior year at Manhattanville, Elizabeth joined the Order of the Sacred Heart and soon began teaching at its schools, Kenwood in Albany and later in Greenwich.  In 1962, she became Dean at Manhattanville.  Appointed President in 1966, she led its transformation from an elite Catholic women’s institution into a non-denominational co-ed college.  After Manhattanville, she became Director of the Rockefeller Philanthropy offices and remains a philanthropic advisor to members of the family.

She has had about as active of a civic life as anyone I know.  She chaired the Asian Cultural Council for 20 years; was vice chair of the MacArthur Board; a key member of the Board of the Atlantic Philanthropies; a member of the  boards of Manhattanville, Spellman, Marlboro and Hamilton Colleges, as well as the Juilliard School.  She has also been on the boards of the Population Council, The Trust for Mutual Understanding, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, and recently she started the Partnership for Palliative Care which is her current major interest.

Bill Moyers described her life beautifully when he said, Elizabeth McCormack “reminds us of the things that last, that transcend the tumult of the hour and the news of the day.  Her life is about connections and continuities between past and present, between now and future, between the natural world and the world we make together.”

Those qualities I saw close up at the MacArthur Foundation where she has the surest instinct for philanthropy, a laser insight into people, an ability to visualize a grant strategy in fields like population, conservation and education.

I said this at the conclusion of her term at MacArthur:

“She loves to build institutions, strengthen their governance, clarify their purpose, improve their quality and extend their influence in pursuit of a more just and humane world at peace.  We have benefitted from her deep experience in how things really work.  Her impatience with fuzzy thinking have lifted our standards, saved us from not a few mis-steps and made this a better foundation.”

Elizabeth and I will have a conversation for 40 minutes or so, then open up to your questions and end about 7:15.  Please welcome Elizabeth McCormack.

Robert C. Orr, U.N. Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Strategic Planning

On January 28, 2014, Roosevelt House welcomed Robert C. Orr, U.N. Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Public Planning. Jonathan gave introductory remarks and then sat down with Secretary Orr to discuss current efforts to reach global agreement on critical issues including international development, climate change, global health and security and humanitarian crises in the Middle East and Africa. Video of the event can be viewed here.

Robert C. Orr

January 28, 2014

Good evening.  I am Jonathan Fanton, Interim Director of Roosevelt House, and it is my pleasure to welcome you to an event which exemplifies the mission of Roosevelt House: bringing policy makers together with students, faculty and the general public to explore the most pressing issues of the day.  Our guest, U.N. Assistant Secretary-General for Strategic Planning, Robert Orr, will preview issues central to the work of the U.N. in the year ahead.  He is one of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s closest advisors, the person charged with shaping the priorities for the U.N. and its leadership.

I came to know Bob Orr when I was President of the MacArthur Foundation and we worked together on issues like reducing dangers from biological and chemical weapons, protecting the environment, advancing human rights and framing the new norm of the Responsibility to Protect.

I came to admire his vision of what the U.N. can be at its best, his commitment to make the U.N. an effective force for advancing humankind’s noblest instincts and aspirations and his ability to get things done.  Widely respected and trusted by people and countries who do not trust each other, he is a human bridge of understanding, able to build coalitions that advance the Secretary-General’s goals.

He combines theory and practice as well as anyone I know.  With a Ph.D. and M.P.A. from Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School, he has led the Belfer Center of Science and International Affairs at Harvard, served as Director of the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, published extensively on post-conflict situations, including Winning the Peace: an American Strategy for Post-Conflict Reconstruction and Keeping the Peace: Multidimensional U.N. Operations in Cambodia and El Salvador.

On the practice side, he has been the Director of the USUN Washington office and Director of Global and Multilateral Affairs at the National Security Council.  He has been the Secretary-General’s key advisor on counter terrorism strategy, climate change, food security, global health, reducing the dangers of WMD and more.

He has worked closely with Kofi Annan and Ban Ki-moon to design and strengthen major U.N. institutions including the Peace Building Commission, the Human Rights Council, the U.N. Counter Terrorism Center and the Global Forum on Migration and Development.

He created and managed the Every Woman Every Child Initiative which brought together over 260 government, corporate, philanthropic and civil society partners and raised over $10 billion.  He did the same for Sustainable Energy for All, mobilizing $60 billion for work in sixty countries.

In a recent speech, the Secretary had this to say about the value of these partnerships:

“Harnessing the strength of the private sector, civil society, and philanthropic organizations will help the UN deliver on governments’ priorities and mandates on development, humanitarian action and countries emerging from conflict. It will also ensure the UN system itself remains relevant at a time in which business, philanthropy and civil society are increasingly active and resourceful in providing global public goods.”

It is especially meaningful to have a senior leader of the U.N. in Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt’s home.  Their leadership in creating the U.N. grew from conversations that occurred between these walls.  Hear FDR’s words to the Bretton Woods conference two months before he died.

“It is my purpose in this message to indicate the importance of… international organizations in our plans for a peaceful and prosperous world.  If we are to measure up to the task of peace with the same stature as we have measured up to the task of war, we must see that the institutions of peace rest firmly on the solid foundations of international political and economic cooperation… for a peace that will endure, we need the partnership of the United Nations.”

FDR would be pleased that we are talking about the role of the UN in fostering effective partnerships in their home this evening.

After his presentation, Secretary Orr will welcome your questions.

Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome Robert Orr.

Robert K. Steel, “Perspectives in the City’s Economy: Today and Tomorrow”

On December 3, 2013 the Roosevelt House welcomed New York City’s Deputy Mayor for Economic Development, Robert K. Steel. Jonathan provided introductory remarks and then sat down with the Deputy Mayor for a discussion about his years of public service and the challenges facing the new Mayor.  Video of the event can be viewed here.

Robert K. Steel

December 3, 2013

I am Jonathan Fanton, Interim Director of the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute, and it is my pleasure to welcome you to tonight’s program with Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Robert Steel.  He will reflect on his three years working with Mayor Bloomberg, accomplishments, disappointments, and challenges that lie ahead for the next Mayor.

I am especially pleased Bob Steel is here tonight because I have been privileged to work with him and Business Services Commissioner Rob Walsh in selecting the winners of the Neighborhood Achievement Awards and the BID Challenge grants.   Bob Steel, like Franklin Roosevelt, understood that local innovation is essential to economic development.

Hear President Roosevelt’s words in a 1933 Fireside Chat. Our program “will succeed if our people understand it—in the big industries, in the little shops, in the great cities and…small villages. There is nothing complicated about it and there is nothing particularly new in the principle. It goes back to the basic idea of society and of the nation itself that people acting in a group can accomplish things which no individual acting alone could even hope to bring about.”

I think Franklin Roosevelt would be very pleased we are gathered in his home to talk about a city he loved.

This has been a good period for economic development in New York. Job growth is steady, tourism continues to rise, and crime rates are at historic lows. An influx of nearly 500 new start-ups between 2009-2012 made New York the second largest center in the US for tech companies. And New York leads the nation with the largest bioscience engineering workforce in the country in 120 bio-tech companies. And the media sector is booming with media companies contributing more than $400 million in annual tax revenues to the city.

No wonder that a recent study found that New York holds a competitive edge on the world’s cities that is not likely to disappear any time soon. And Bob Steel’s portfolio has been at the heart of this success.  It includes the New York City Economic Development Corporation, The Department of Small Business Services, the City Planning Department, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development.

A few weeks ago Brookings Scholar Bruce Katz spoke here about his new book The Metropolitan Revolution which argues that cities and their larger metropolitan regions are the “engines of economic prosperity and social transformation in the United States.” He devotes a chapter to the New York story in which Bob Steel is a central player.

Bob Steel has done an extraordinary job.  He has led Mayor Bloomberg’s major redevelopment projects in Lower Manhattan, the South Bronx, Hudson Yards, Willets Point among others.  The accomplishment that I most admire is the new Technology Campus that Cornell and Technion are building on Roosevelt Island.  But that’s not all.  Also coming are The NYU Center for Urban Science and Progress in downtown Brooklyn, Columbia’s new Institute for Data Sciences and Engineering, and Carnegie Mellon University’s new Integrative Media Program at the Brooklyn Naval Yard.   Bob Steel has played a key role in the realization of major projects such as the 7 Train extension, the redevelopment of Seward Park, the Big Wheel in Staten Island, a large retail complex and ice rink for the Kingsbridge Armory in Willets Point, and the redevelopment and expansion of Brooklyn Bridge Park.

Bob Steel was well prepared for his leadership role in our city.  He was at Goldman Sachs for nearly 30 years, rising to head its U.S. Equities Division.  He was Under Secretary for Domestic Finance in the U.S. Department of the Treasury and later President and CEO of Wachovia.  He has balanced his business career and public service with an active civic life, chairing the Board of his alma mater Duke University, as well as the Aspen Institute, the Hospital for Special Surgery and the After-School Corporation.

New York is fortunate to have a person of such deep and broad experience serve as the intellectual engine shaping our future. And New York higher education is blessed to have a person with his passion for the life of the mind in a key leadership position.

After the Deputy Mayor speaks, he and I will have a conversation for a few minutes, and then invite your questions.  We will end by a little after 7.

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Deputy Mayor Robert Steel.


David Dinkins, “A Mayor’s Life: Governing New York’s Gorgeous Mosaic”

On October 21, 2013, Jonathan provided introductory remarks for former New York City Mayor David Dinkins who spoke about his life and his new autobiography.  The two then sat down for a discussion about the book and about the future of New York City politics. Video of the event can be viewed here.

David Dinkins

October 21, 2013

Good evening.  I am Jonathan Fanton, Interim Director of The Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute.  It is my pleasure to welcome you to an evening with Mayor David Dinkins, who will talk about his just- published memoir, A Mayor’s Life:  Governing New York’s Gorgeous Mosaic.  We are grateful to Peter Osnos, a member of our Board and publisher of A Mayor’s Life for making this evening possible.

Roosevelt House is sponsoring a series of programs on New York City as we prepare to elect a new Mayor.  This Wednesday, Brookings Scholar Bruce Katz will talk about his new book The Metropolitan Revolution which features New York City as an example of how cities will lead economic growth. And in December, we will hear from Bob Steel, New York City’s deputy mayor for economic development, about the state of the city’s economy and its fiscal future.

Tonight is a special pleasure for me because I have known David Dinkins for thirty years through The New School, where in the 1980s he taught courses such as “Black Leadership in New York City” and “The City Politic: An Inside View.”  He now teaches at Columbia School of Public Affairs, Chairs the Earth Institute New York City Sustainable Development Initiative and hosts the annual Dinkins Leadership and Public Policy Forum.

After service in The Marine Corps he earned his B.S. in Math from Howard University and his law degree from Brooklyn Law School.  He practiced law for twenty years as he entered political life in 1966 as a member of the New York State Assembly, he then served as President of New York City’s Board of Elections and was City Clerk for a decade before his election as President of the Borough of Manhattan in 1985 and Mayor in 1989.  Somehow he finds time to serve on non-profit boards like The Association to Benefit Children, The Children’s Health Fund, and the Coalition for the Homeless, to name just a few.

A Mayor’s Life is a memoir that chronicles the journey of an extraordinary life from modest beginnings to national leadership that has opened opportunity by example and good works for people of all backgrounds.  It is one of the best memoirs I have read:  honest, humane, humble, but forceful and inspiring.  David Dinkins brilliantly analyzes the complex reality a leader faces, describes the larger context of historical forces, challenges and opportunities that shape our destiny, and draws us into the story with a deeply personal narrative that includes New York personalities we all grew up with.

Enough time has passed so we can put David Dinkins’ enormous contribution to our city in perspective. We became a more just and humane place with his leadership, with better social services for the poor, attention to the challenges faced by the disabled and people with AIDS, more affordable housing opportunities, more programs for children and safer streets. I saw these improvements first-hand in the Union Square neighborhood when I was President of the New School and co-chair of the Union Square Local Development Corporation. A Mayor’s Life is a must read for the next Mayor, indeed for anyone aspiring to leadership of our city.

It is appropriate that we gather in the home of Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt and Franklin’s mother Sara.  Both Sara and Eleanor were champions of racial justice and opportunity.

When you walk around after the program, go into the second floor parlor and look at the photo on the mantel of Sara with Mary McLeod(McCLOUD) Bethune(BethOON). A frequent visitor to this house, Mary Bethune and Eleanor Roosevelt became close friends when Franklin appointed her to serve as director of the National Youth Administration. Eleanor counted Mary among her closest friends and said she was “proud that our country could produce a Mrs. Bethune,” that her work for social justice and civil rights was “a tribute to our nation.”

FDR would have approved of the phrase “gorgeous mosaic” to describe the people of New York City.  Listen to the similarities, first, David Dinkins:

“New York is not a melting pot, but a gorgeous mosaic.  We have almost as many separate ethnic identities in the city as the United Nations has member nations.   Our religious and cultural institutions are multitudinous.  I did not feel the need to scrub the unique qualities from each.  I celebrated the beautiful work of economic, political, and social art, created by the millions of daily interactions that came to define the look, feel, taste, and sense of the city.”

And now hear FDR describe the nation in 1940:

“Men and women of courage,” he said, “of enterprise, of vision… form a new human reservoir, and into it has poured the blood, the culture, the traditions of all the races of peoples of the earth. [Here] they came—the “masses yearning to be free”—…cherishing common aspirations, not for economic betterment alone, but for the personal freedoms and liberties which had been denied to them[.]”

Eleanor and Franklin and Sara would be proud to host David Dinkins in their home.   And they would be proud of the life he has led.

After Mayor Dinkins speaks, he and I will converse for a few minutes and then open to your questions.

Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome Mayor David Dinkins.

In Conversation with Judith Rodin

On October 9, 2013, Jonathan sat down with Rockefeller Foundation President and former President of Penn University, Judith Rodin, to talk about her life and career. Judith began by speaking at length on the Rockefeller Foundation’s current “100 Resilient Cities” initiative. The video can be viewed here.

Judith Rodin

October 9, 2013

Good evening.  I am Jonathan Fanton, Interim Director of the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute.  It is my special pleasure to welcome you to a conversation with Rockefeller Foundation President Judith Rodin.

I say ‘special pleasure’ because Judy Rodin and I have known each other for forty years.  When I was running an experimental summer term at Yale I recruited the best faculty to teach and Judy was my choice from psychology.  With a psychology degree from Penn and a Ph.D. from Columbia, she was one of Yale’s most popular teachers and productive scholars.   After serving as Dean of the Graduate School and Provost she then became President of the University of Pennsylvania where she did an extraordinary job, lifting Penn from 16th to 4th in the U.S. News and World Report rankings, doubling the research funding, tripling the endowment, making Penn a leader in adopting new technology in teaching and research, transforming the physical campus and whole sections of West Philadelphia.

And then on to the Rockefeller Foundation which brought us back together as colleagues when I was President of the MacArthur Foundation.  Judy had chaired one of MacArthur’s major international research networks looking at health-promoting and health-damaging behavior and also contributed to MacArthur’s work on healthy aging.

She is one of the very best foundation presidents I know leading Rockefeller’s in innovative solutions to critical problems with a special focus on secure food, water, housing, global health, sustainable growth and climate change resilience.  I am particularly interested in Rockefeller’s attention to the challenge of fast-growing cities and its concern for Africa.

Judy Rodin has phenomenal energy.  She has authored more than 200 academic articles, written or co-written twelve books, speaks around the world at leadership fora, serves on several corporate boards as well as boards like Carnegie Hall.  And she was a member of President Clinton’s Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology.

For all her fame and accomplishment, Judith Rodin has her feet on the ground, is approachable, cares deeply about people, and is a steadfast and loyal friend.

So we have a lot to talk about tonight.  President Rodin will start with opening remarks, then she and I will have a conversation, and then open the floor to your questions.

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Judith Rodin.

Jeffrey Sachs, “To Move The World”

On June 13, 2013, Jonathan provided introductory remarks for a presentation by world renowned economist and scholar, Jeffrey Sachs, on his newly published book entitled, To Move The World, which chronicles JFK’s quest for peace during his last two years in office. The video can be viewed here.

Jeffrey Sachs

June 13, 2013

Good evening. I am Jonathan Fanton, Interim Director of Roosevelt House and it is my pleasure to welcome you to a presentation by Professor Jeffrey Sachs of his just published book To Move the World: JFK’s Quest for Peace. It is an absorbing narrative of Kennedy’s own profile in courage, rich with lessons for our own time, skillfully analyzed by Professor Sachs.

We gather in the historic homes of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and Franklin’s mother, Sara. Eleanor and Franklin lived here from 1908 until they moved to the White House in 1933.

I think they would welcome the conversation we are going to have about John F. Kennedy’s last great campaign in his final years of life:  to reset relations with the Soviet Union on a more peaceful course, pushing back against the Cold War virus. Central to this narrative is President Kennedy’s June 10, 1963 speech at American University a half century ago this week.

While conceding that Communism was repugnant, Kennedy said, “But we can still hail the Russian people for their many achievements in science and space, in economic and individual growth, in culture, in acts of courage … So let us not be blind to our differences, but let us also direct attention to our common interests and the means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we can not end now our differences, at least we can make this world safe for diversity.”

 I believe FDR would have applauded JFK’s initiative and the achievement of the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.

Behind me is a picture of Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin at Yalta, an appropriate backdrop for tonight’s program. As we know, Churchill was a role model for John Kennedy. And in his personal relationship with Khrushchev, he might have learned from FDR. Some have argued had Roosevelt lived, relations with the Soviet Union might have been better.

Indeed Stalin is reported to have said after Yalta, “Let’s hope nothing happens to Roosevelt. We shall never do business again with anyone like him.” Well, not until John F. Kennedy.

As Kennedy emerged from the Cuban Missile Crisis determined to chart a safer, less confrontational course, he might have recalled Franklin Roosevelt’s October 5, 1944 radio address from the White House:

“[We have a] firm and friendly relationship…with the people of the Soviet Union… The American people are glad and proud to be allied with the gallant people of Russia, not only in winning this war but in laying the foundations for the world peace which I hope will follow this war – and in keeping that peace. We have seen our civilization in deadly peril. Successfully we have met the challenge… What is now being won in battle must not be lost by lack of vision, or lack of knowledge, or by lack of faith… We owe it to our posterity, we owe it to our heritage of freedom, we owe it to our God, to devote the rest of our lives and all of our capabilities to the building of a solid, durable structure of world peace …”

John F. Kennedy made good on FDR’s promise to posterity.

Who better to tell the story of how human kind can push back the forces of pessimism, cynicism and despair by sustained purposeful actions than Jeffrey Sachs? His life is a celebration of how we can achieve a more just, peaceful and humane world.

Trained at Harvard in economics he became a tenured full professor there at age 28. Over the years he has written on the relationship of trade and economic growth, public health and economic development, strategies for economic reform and transition to market economies, climate change, the battle to end global poverty and more. He has written three NY Times bestsellers in the past seven years. The End of Poverty, Common Wealth: Economics for a Crowded Planet and The Price of Civilization.

Jeff Sachs translates research and theory into practice with the best of them. Here is a sample: In the 1980s he helped Bolivia fight hyperinflation and reform its economy. In 1989, he helped Poland chart its transition from central planning to a market economy, followed by similar advisory roles for Slovenia and Estonia. Then he took on an even  greater challenge advising first Mikhail Gorbachev and then Boris Yeltsin on Russia’s transition toward a market economy.

As important as that work was, I venture to say his real passion is fighting poverty, especially in Africa. In 2002 he came to Columbia to direct the Earth Institute and work with U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan to shape the Millennium Development Goals. He chaired the WHO Commission on Macroeconomics and Health, worked with Kofi Annan to design the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, and now directs the U.N. Sustainable Development Solutions Network to connect the best knowledge of what works to real life challenges on the ground.

I first met Jeff Sachs when MacArthur supported his Millennium Village Project working in 10 countries directly helping over 500,000 people. This project aims to show that modest investments can empower rural villages to seize hold of their destiny and lift themselves out of poverty. The theory is to work on an interrelated set of issues at the same time: agricultural productivity, improved drinking water, health clinics, bed nets to ward off malaria, job training, new schools and more.

I had the privilege of visiting one of the project villages, Pampaida in Nigeria, and was impressed by the progress. Ten new schools raised school attendance by 20%,  90% of the children now receive meals in school, chronic malnutrition of kids under 2 is down 45%, malaria prevalence cut in half, 70% of the population has access to improved water, crop yields per hectare up four-fold.


I recall vividly visiting a new health clinic in Pampaida – well staffed and equipped. 90% of the population has access to a health clinic, up from 10% when Jeff Sachs started. I was particularly interested in the reduction of maternal mortality, a key issue for the MacArthur Foundation, and was impressed with the progress made.

We should invite Jeff  back another night to talk about this important work because he surely knows How to Move The World. But tonight is JFK’s night. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Professor Jeffrey Sachs.

Michael Fullilove, “Rendezvous with Destiny”

On July 8, 2013, Jonathan gave introductory remarks for a discussion between Lowy Institute Executive Director, Michael Fullilove, and Hunter College professor of Political Science, Andrew Polsky, on Fullilove’s newly published book Rendezvous with Destiny. The video can be viewed here.

Michael Fullilove

July 8, 2013

Good evening. I am Jonathan Fanton, Interim Director of Roosevelt House, and it is my pleasure to welcome you to the home of Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt and Franklin’s mother, Sara, who built these twin townhouses in 1908 and gave number 49 to Eleanor and Franklin as a wedding gift. It was here Franklin and Eleanor raised their family, Franklin recovered from polio and re-entered politics, launched his presidential campaign and put together his administration. Francis Perkins tells the story of her recruitment to the Cabinet in a conversation in FDR’s second floor study where he made a commitment to create a Social Security program. Sara Roosevelt was never far from Eleanor and Franklin since she had connected the houses on several floors.

The houses came to Hunter when Sara died in 1942, used as a student center until closing in disrepair in 1992. Thanks to the vision and determination of Hunter President Jennifer Raab, who is here this evening, the houses were renovated in 2008 when she created the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute.

Tonight we have a very special program, a conversation between Hunter Professor of Political Science, Andrew Polsky, and Michael Fullilove, author of Rendezvous with Destiny. It is a study of how FDR used five special emissaries to pave the way for America’s entry into World War II and move toward global leadership.

Dr. Fullilove is Director of the Lowy Institute, Australia’s top think tank, with a special interest in understanding foreign policy challenges facing Australia within the Asia Pacific region and the global implications of developments in the region.

We hope tonight is the beginning of a relationship between Lowy and Roosevelt House. Only three years old, the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute has built two strong undergraduate programs, one in public policy, the other in human rights. It brings faculty together from across Hunter and supports their research, including conferences like ‘Ike Reconsidered,’ a forum organized by Professor Andrew Polsky that examined the importance of President Eisenhower’s legacy for the 21st century. And it offers a robust set of public programs. Most recently UNDP Director Helen Clark discussing the Millennium Development Goals, Robert Morgenthau on Justice for Immigrants, and former International Criminal Court Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo this past March, reflecting on his term as the Court’s first prosecutor.

While the topics for our programs range widely, it is always especially meaningful to focus on the Roosevelts in the home where they lived from 1908 until they went to the White House. World views were shaped, values honed, temperments sharpened in this place.

Michael Fullilove quotes an observation from Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Roosevelt’s biographer, that Roosevelt “lived in a household of unresolved jurisdictions, and it had never occurred to him to try to settle lines in between mother and wife.” And later, perhaps, between formal lines of authority in the State Department and his personal representatives.

Tonight we will gain fresh insight about FDR’s skillful use of special envoys to gain information, send signals, shape policies and public opinion. [He strongly believed in personal diplomacy, direct conversations between leaders. He was confident in his capacity to persuade through charm and guile. But he couldn’t be everywhere. As he recounts to Stalin in July 1941: “I ask you to treat Mr. Hopkins with the identical confidence you would feel if you were talking directly to me. He will communicate directly to me the views that you express to him and will tell me what you consider are the most pressing individual problems on which we could be of aid.”]

To introduce our program I am pleased to call on Rita Eleanor Hauser, a graduate of Hunter College and a valued member of the Roosevelt House Board. She has been a member of the International Advisory Council of the Lowy Institute. Rita implored me not to give a long introduction. So I say simply she is a talented lawyer, with her husband, Gus, a generous philanthropist, and a civic leader serving on Boards like the International Peace Academy, the International Crisis Group, Lincoln Center and more. And she knows something about tonight’s topic, the role of special envoys and peace initiatives. She was part of a group from the Center for Peace in the Middle East, invited by the Swedish foreign minister, that orchestrated discussions which led Yasser Arafat in 1988 to recognize the State of Israel and to renounce terrorism. These negotiations helped pave the way for the historic 1993 Oslo Accords.