A New Yorker through and through, Eugenia Flatow’s progressive politics and undiluted passion for her city occasionally provoked enmity but always garnered admiration. A staunch lieutenant within the reform faction of the city’s Democratic Party, Flatow cut her political teeth among Upper West Side Democrats’ during heady battles with the city’s Democratic machine in the early to mid-1960s, serving as chairwoman of Community Planning Board 9 and as a party district leader for six years.
Although she campaigned just once for elected office – she lost her nominations race, in 1965, for an at-large city council seat – Flatow nevertheless continued to influence city and state policy for the next roughly 25 years, advocating most fiercely for open space, housing and the waterfront.
Flatow, also known as Gene, died on March 5 in the Riverside Drive home near Columbia University, where she had lived for nearly her entire adult life. She was 93.
Born in the Bronx and raised in Bronxville, she earned a bachelor’s degree from the College of New Rochelle. In an indication of the diligence and purpose that she would later display in the bellicose arena that was city politics in the 1960s, she also earned a master’s degree in industrial engineering from Columbia University, a rarity for a woman at the time.
Although she was a feminist and believed in equality between the sexes, she did not outwardly campaign for women’s rights, preferring instead to forge ahead, and to perhaps serve as an example, her son, Evan Flatow, said.
“She was a woman in a man’s world,” Flatow said. “She was really before her time in many ways.”
Prior to fully embarking on her political and policy career, Flatow ran a printing shop in midtown. She also spent a few years in Washington, D.C., in the late 1940s as executive secretary for a group of scientists opposed to the atomic bomb, her son said.
Following her tenures on the Upper West Side, she was formed part of Mayor John Lindsay’s cabinet in the late 1960s, from where she administered New York’s portion of the Model Cities Program, a cornerstone anti-poverty initiative of President Johnson’s Great Society agenda. She also ran Robert Kennedy’s campaign for president in the city.
But it was in the making of policy that Flatow was most at ease, influential and persuasive.
As executive deputy secretary of state under then-New York Secretary of State Basil Paterson in the 1980s, she was responsible for coastal management, weatherization and community development. Later that decade, she helped found both the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, an association of about 800 organizations working to revitalize the city’s harbors and waterfronts and the New York New Jersey Harbor & Estuary Program.
“Her prime goal was to do good things,” said her son, who said he would occasionally accompany his mother to public housing projects where she could establish with her own eyes and ears where city policy – and money – was falling short.
“It was a pretty scrappy time,” her son said. “But it was an idealistic time.”
Besides her son, who is president of Mount Sinai Roosevelt and a surgeon; she is survived by her husband, Paul Flatow; a daughter, Susan Weeks Jackson; another son, Jonathan Flatow; 10 grandchildren; and 11 great-grandchildren.
Her son said that among her greatest accomplishments was christening a state-of-the-art New York Water Taxi in 2008. It was named for her.
“She was a champion of New Yorkers,” her son said.
In later life, she engaged her other passions, among them her love of books and of ballet, her son said.
“She was a vital woman,” he said.