So Much to Do: A Full Life of Business, Politics, and Confronting Fiscal Crises

So Much to Do: A Full Life of Business, Politics, and Confronting Fiscal Crises

by Richard Ravitch

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Every city and every state needs a Richard Ravitch. In sixty years on the job, whether working in business or government, he was the man willing to tackle some of the most complex challenges facing New York. Trained as a lawyer, he worked briefly for the House of Representatives, then began his career in his family’s construction business. He built


Every city and every state needs a Richard Ravitch. In sixty years on the job, whether working in business or government, he was the man willing to tackle some of the most complex challenges facing New York. Trained as a lawyer, he worked briefly for the House of Representatives, then began his career in his family’s construction business. He built high-profile projects like the Whitney Museum and Citicorp Center but his primary energy was devoted to building over 40,000 units of affordable housing including the first racially integrated apartment complex in Washington, D.C. He dealt with architects, engineers, lawyers, bureaucrats, politicians, union leaders, construction workers, bankers, and tenants—virtually all of the people who make cities and states work.

It was no surprise that those endeavors ultimately led to a life of public service. In 1975, Ravitch was asked by then New York Governor Hugh Carey to arrange a rescue of the New York State Urban Development Corporation, a public entity that had issued bonds to finance over 30,000 affordable housing units but was on the verge of bankruptcy. That same year, Ravitch was at Carey’s side when New York City’s biggest banks said they would no longer underwrite its debt and he became instrumental to averting the city’s bankruptcy.

Throughout his career, Ravitch divided his time between public service and private enterprise. He was chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority from 1979 to 1983 and is generally credited with rebuilding the system. He turned around the Bowery Savings Bank, chaired a commission that rewrote the Charter of the City of New York, served on two Presidential Commissions, and became chief labor negotiator for Major League Baseball.

Then, in 2008, after Governor Eliot Spitzer resigned in a prostitution scandal and New York State was in a post-financial-crisis meltdown, Spitzer’s successor, David Paterson, appointed Ravitch Lieutenant Governor and asked him to make recommendations regarding the state’s budgeting plan. What Ravitch found was the result of not just the economic downturn but years of fiscal denial. And the closer he looked, the clearer it became that the same thing was happening in most states. Budgetary pressures from Medicaid, pension promises to public employees, and deceptive budgeting and borrowing practices are crippling our states’ ability to do what only they can do—invest in the physical and human infrastructure the country needs to thrive. Making this case is Ravitch’s current public endeavor and it deserves immediate attention from both public officials and private citizens.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

Wall Street Journal
"Mr. Ravitch's recommended solutions to the fiscal problems of America's cities—government transparency and public education—are elusive. But the rest of the country would doubtless benefit from having more scrupulous civic leaders like Mr. Ravitch."

New York Times
So Much to Do gracefully synthesizes a serendipitous memoir illustrating the education of a public man; an enlightening, prescriptive citizen’s manual into making government work; and a passionate ‘ode to democracy’ (as Mr. Ravitch’s friend Paul A. Volcker calls it in his blurb on the back cover) into a remarkably accessible book.”

New York Post
“He could have called it “Love Story,” and the title would have been faithful to its theme. The book by Dick Ravitch, “So Much to Do,” is the story of his love affair with public service… a delightful and insightful journey through a life of business, politics and emergencies…Fortunately, the book arrives as a new generation of leaders exhibits a shaky understanding of what fiscal prudence means, and the dangers of ignoring it. The book ought to be required reading by the new team at City Hall before it is too late.”

Weekly Standard
“Richard Ravitch is an extraordinary man. He’s an intelligent, indefatigable, honest, honorable, accessible, and personable fellow who, for 45 years, has played a key role in rescuing New York’s jerrybuilt fiscal structure from its own failings. Yes, that’s my personal opinion of the man who has just written this autobiography, aptly titled So Much to Do; but it’s an opinion broadly shared by New Yorkers caught up in the political life of the city and state over nearly half of a century.”

New York Times, DealBook, column by Andrew Ross Sorkin
“This last book has flown under the radar but deserves to be highlighted as simply a delightful memoir…It is a small book, but it is filled with great stories and lessons about state government, New York City and the influence of money in politics and life.”

Detriot Free Press
“For hints and striking parallels to the current drama in Detroit…So Much to Do: A Full Life of Business, Politics, and Confronting Fiscal Crises— is chock-full of insider tales of the wrangling among politicians, powerful Wall Street financiers and labor unions in New York.”

City Journal
"We need more public servants like Richard Ravitch… as Ravitch’s career shows, even seemingly dire problems can be solved through grit, intelligence, and good faith.”

The Bond Buyer
“In So Much to Do, his narrative includes the thrill of experiencing first-hand the "I've Got a Dream" speech by Martin Luther King speech in August 1963 and the chill of New York's banking leaders telling him point-blank in May 1975 that they would no longer underwrite the city's bonds and notes…The book also shines a light on major New York players, political and otherwise, Ravitch worked with over 35 years, including Mayor Ed Koch, governors Hugh Carey and Mario Cuomo, and even Yankees owner George Steinbrenner…Ravitch to this day relishes life as an independent thinker.”

Paul Volcker
So Much to Do—an apt description of Dick Ravitch’s life. It’s been a New York life, filled with personal, business, and most of all energetic response to civic challenges. But the book is much more than that. It’s a call for action to a nation consumed by discord, doubting its capacity to act, failing to provide trusted leadership at home or abroad.

The Ravitch saga tells a different story—the ability of our political leaders to reconcile their differences in the face of crises, to act together with imagination, to accept financial discipline, and to build for a flourishing future. So Much to Do is truly an ode to democracy in action, with a spirited affirmation of the personal satisfaction that can be found in public service.”

Kirkus Reviews
An exemplary public servant recounts his eventful life at the intersection of business and politics. In October 1975, with New York City facing bankruptcy, the president announced there would be no federal bailout. The Daily News headline famously translated his declaration as, "FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD." Meanwhile, at the behest of Gov. Hugh Carey, Ravitch, among others, worked furiously to rescue the city. He had done this sort of financial troubleshooting before as head of the state's Urban Development Corporation and would do so again as chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and as lieutenant governor. Offering little about his personal life, Ravitch shuttles among stories about these and other high-profile public sector jobs and his work helming his family's successful real estate development business, heading the Bowery Savings Bank and serving as the chief labor negotiator for Major League Baseball. A parade of famous names marches through the narrative, especially New York politicos—Rockefeller, Lindsay, Carey, Koch, Dinkins, Moynihan—but those looking for dish will be disappointed. With the exceptions of the Cuomos, father and son, Ravitch has little but good to say about his mentors and co-workers. Indeed, readers are surprised when he describes Joe DiMaggio as "a fairly boring fellow." For the most part, this story features banks and budgets, credit and contracts, finance and finagling, unions and elected officials, negotiations and agreements. From these dull materials—albeit matters critical to the successful operation of our municipalities and states—Ravitch draws some lessons about our need to understand the true costs of public benefits, about balancing revenues and expenditures, and about the consequences of our failure to invest in education and infrastructure. He underlines the importance of our often messy political process and the necessity of establishing sound relationships to influence public policy, and he makes a plea for greater civic engagement. For policy wonks and readers with a particular interest in New York.

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6.20(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.30(d)

Meet the Author

Richard Ravitch has been chairman of the New York State Urban Development Corporation, chairman of HRH Construction Corporation, chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, chairman of the Bowery Savings Bank, lieutenant governor of the State of New York, and co-chair, with Paul Volcker, of the task force on the state budget crisis. He lives in New York City.

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