Oreskes on Richard Ravitch

Richard Ravitch, who died June 25 at age 89, is a former power broker who never held elected office. But Political leaders and power brokers turned out in force for his memorial service Wednesday June 28 at Manhattan’s Central Synagogue where he was eulogized by veteran journalist Michael Oreskes. Among those who turned out were NY Gov. Kathy Hochul and NJ Governor Phil Murphy--who are currently at war with one another over congestion pricing. It was the kind of bringing together of foes that Ravitch was famous for in his years of deal making in the public sector. Here is how he was remembered by Oreskes who was asked by the family to deliver a eulogy for the man who went from being a subject and source to a friend.

| 29 Jun 2023 | 11:45

Governor Hochul, Governor Murphy, officials elected and appointed. Dick would have so appreciated this gathering. All of us here, together. It would have made it so much more convenient for him to tell us ALL how to do our jobs.

Kathy, I know I speak for everyone in this sanctuary today, and for many more beyond, in wrapping you in our deepest condolences. But also in our heartfelt thank yous. You made Dick’s life so much better.

And let’s be honest, you made our lives better too.

After all, once you came on the scene, we had YOU to talk to at dinner when Dick fell asleep at the table

Joe and Michael, our hearts are with you, and you hardly need to hear about your father from any of us up here.

So let me instead turn to the next generation.

That multitude of Ravitch-Doyle grandchildren.

God he loved you...all 13 of you.

Loves you still, I know.

You are hearing all the time now about what a great man your grandpa was.

Let me try to tell you WHY.

Dick really was from a different era.

Oh no, not just from the old civil rights era, although he was very much that. Integrated, affordable housing was an early stop on his multiple careers.

Dick Ravitch was through all of his many incarnations a man of the enlightenment era. He believed profoundly in ideas. Ideas that may be a bit out of step, if not outright out of fashion, these days. But he was right then. And he’s right now, and fifty years from now, he will still be right.

Some of my colleagues in the news business didn’t always understand Dick. They thought he just wanted to get his name in the paper. But he didn’t care about getting his name in the paper.He cared about getting his IDEAS in the paper.

If we take anything from his life of service it is that ideas matter—and THESE ideas mattered most to Dick:

Dick believed in reason. And in the power of reasoned discourse to guide us to reasonable solutions to the hard problems.He believed in government as essential to those solutions. He believed in progress, fiscally responsible progress. He believed in process and in compromise.

And, he believed in facts, And that we should all have more or less the same facts. And that those facts would lead us to solid opinions and judgments, and not the other way round.

He was a most unusual combination of personal loyalty and intellectual independence. He once complimented my colleague Sam Roberts for having—quote—“a healthy disrespect for everyone.” At least, Sam took that as a compliment.

I suspect it was. It certainly was consistent with Dick’s embrace of skepticism. But never cynicism.

Indeed, it was his faith in the power of facts and information that lead him to an abiding belief in the importance of journalism and a lifetime of relationships with journalists. I was lucky to be one of them.

He didn’t see public officials and journalists as enemies, as so many on both sides do these days. He saw us as professionals with a shared mission to inform the public.

In the world of Dick Ravitch, with so much to get done, informing the public was the way to move government toward solutions. And the way to move the public was through news coverage.

His vision of democracy ran through the pages of the New York Times and the Daily News.

At an age when most other people slowed down, Dick embarked on one final quest to revive a local journalism he felt had faltered.

Dick spent many hours talking about this civic crisis of journalism, and plotting solutions.

Few Ravitch undertakings more precisely captured Dick’s concern, and purpose, than the program he created at CUNY’s journalism school: A boot camp to drill mid career journalists from all over the country in how to read state budgets!

Well, it IS a graduate program.

By the way, I hope my friends at Columbia will forgive me, but it was true, as Dick kept telling people, that I was the one who persuaded him this program really belonged not at his alma mater, Columbia, but at mine, CUNY, a public institution where state budgets are life blood.

Dick expected journalists to do their homework. Although as another colleague, Jennifer Preston, pointed out, he was tireless, yes, sometimes even relentless, in his readiness to talk to us, to educate us, about how that world really worked.

There were always revelations.

I remember vividly during the 1980 transit strike how surprised I was when I came to understand (from Dick, I guess I can now acknowledge) that Dick Ravitch was working closely and collaboratively with his supposed opponent, John Lawe, the head of the Transport Workers Union, to end the strike, while at the same time being more or less at war with one of his supposed partners in management, the Mayor of New York.

In the era of Felix Rohatyn and Victor Gotbaum, those alliances could happen, and made sense. Felix, Victor, Al, Dick. They each came from their corner, but they were citizens first.

The future of the city was a shared purpose. Dick never let go of that purpose, even when others lost the thread. While his work products were debt and financing, there was nothing technocratic about Dick Ravitch’s purpose.

Subways and buses, for example, were the life blood of our immigrant city, which, as he always pointed out, was the greatest engine of upward mobility in the history of the world.


My source, who taught me to be a partner in service to our shared public. My partner, who then embraced me as a friend. My friend, who became a brother.

You have left an extraordinary mark on our city. On its skyline. On the very structure of its governments. But most of all on each of us. Who learned from you, the RIGHT way to get things done.

Yes, you have left us too soon with so much still to do. But with the lessons you have left us, We in this room, And all of those who come after, Including those 13 grand kids of yours...

We Will keep getting it done.