"How was I going to tell my father this was happening?" Bill Rudin says, recalling September 11, when he watched the city his dad, Lew, had spent years building up be attacked. "I tried to downplay it as much as I could, but the next day, he was on the phone with Mario Cuomo, talking about rebuilding again."
A week later, though, Lew Rudin, 74, died of bladder cancer. His memorial service was like a funeral for a Jewish Kennedy: The gravel-voiced magnate was the ultimate insider during the seventies fiscal crisis. His diplomacy helped bring labor and management to the same table, and his boosterism persuaded fellow land barons to prepay $600 million in property taxes to keep New York afloat. For two decades afterward, he emceed countless power breakfasts as the founder of the Association for a Better New York.
Now it falls to Rudin, who was left to run the family empire with his uncle Jack, to take charge of ABNY, and to help rebuild New York again. On February 5, the group will hold a breakfast with featured speaker Mike Bloomberg. This time, Lew's son will do the introductions.
Of course, this is not his father's fiscal crisis. As city services dwindled, the old ABNY focused on quality-of-life issues long before that term was ever coined: getting merchants to clean their sidewalks, handing out awards to sanitation workers. Now ABNY has a perhaps more daunting list of chores: lobbying for money from Washington, pushing to expand the Javits Center, supporting a bid for the 2012 Olympics.
To make ABNY a player today, Rudin says he's staged a youth movement: Old-guard members like David Dinkins and Jack Beagle have been joined by Jon Tisch, Peter Powers, Jane Rosenthal of Tribeca Films, and Paul Williams, the new head of 100 Black Men. The new people are looking to Rudin much as the older folks looked to Lew. "He's not insulated by corporate perks," says Central Labor Council chief Brian McLaughlin, another new ABNY member. "He's a street guy who we can trust."
Like his father, the younger Rudin, 46, is something of a diplomat, having served on Bloomberg's transition team while plotting economic-stimulus strategies with George Pataki, Chuck Schumer, and Hillary Clinton (who calls him "a great friend"). "I look at the mayor as a Lewis Rudin disciple," Rudin says, pointing to Bloomberg's charitable giving and "New York is open for business" stance.
When Rudin talks, it's with a hint of Lew's low-pitched drawl; the memory of his father and the need to rebuild are clearly linked for him. And as a power broker in training, he revisits his father's legacy at almost every turn. Montana senator Max Baucus recently told Rudin about how Lew settled a feud -- over high beef prices -- between Ed Koch and Montana's then-governor, Tom Judge. "My father called up Tom Judge -- he didn't know him, but he invited him to New York to speak at ABNY and to eat a steak at '21,' " Rudin says with wonder. "It all got settled. Koch even came to the breakfast."