Skip to content, or skip to search.

Skip to content, or skip to search.

The Power of Partnership


Thinking further ahead, the Fund studied New York's biotech gap, discovering that while New York still arguably has the nation's best hospitals and research institutions, the city has about 2,000 commercial biotech jobs and the Bay Area has 71,000. The city is so behind on the commercial-biotech front that its research institutions are starting to lose their share of NIH grant money. In five years with minimal investment, the Fund suggests, New York could win back a large share of the business. The capital and know-how are here already. The hurdle has always been space. Now that may not be such a big problem. In the post-genome, post-anthrax era, biotech could be the twenty-first century's most promising industry.

"I think we can find one or two biotech sites in lower Manhattan," says Fred Wilpon, the Mets owner, who made a fortune in biotech, albeit in Seattle. "We have the opportunity to take advantage of a tragedy here, but this group is going to have to take a leadership role, because the financial industry is going to lose thousands of jobs."

"It would be hard to say no to lower Manhattan for any reason," says Dr. Gerald Fischbach, dean of faculty of Columbia Medical School, whose Audubon research facility has been fully rented for more than a year.

Jerry Speyer is on the shuttle back to la Guardia, and he's smiling for one of the first times all day. The Tom Daschle meeting went best of all -- the Senate majority leader said he would try to get the money now, even if Congress couldn't come to an agreement on an economic-stimulus package by Thanksgiving. On the way out the door, Schumer slapped Speyer on the back and said, "If all of our meetings were like this, you wouldn't have to come down here."

Not that all the lobbying has been headache-free: At a chaotic press conference just before lunch, a few members of New York's congressional delegation, including Carolyn Maloney, slammed the president for "reneging" on his $20 billion promise to New York. All the color drained from Speyer's face when he heard it; all that behind-the-scenes work, undermined. "It's just wrong," Speyer told me. "The president has been so great on this, emotionally and financially. Any notion that he's going back on his word is unacceptable."

Now all Speyer wants is to land in time to get to the Bronx for the World Series. His eyes are red, the result of a late night watching all ten innings of Game 4. Much about the political game of Washington, the supplication, clearly pains him. "The flag-waving is just one part of the exercise," he tells me, removing his shoes and stretching his legs as much as he can in the shuttle's coach seat. "The second part is spending time with people that you have relationships with and persuading them of the merits of your argument. And then I think it's very important to work with the staffs. In some ways, it's very much like negotiating a contract."

Speyer has always fancied himself a free-market, laissez-faire kind of guy. The last time he lobbied in Washington was when tax changes threatened to hurt the real-estate industry. Now it's as if that whole previous life was a dream. He was in Howard Rubenstein's office when 2 World Trade Center was hit. The two old friends stared at each other in disbelief, watching Olympus crumble on television. "The federal government has a responsibility to respond to warlike situations," he says. "If New York is to persevere, we have to be the financial center. Because if we aren't, the financial center won't move to New Jersey. It'll move overseas."

But neither Speyer nor Kravis is likely to mourn the apathy on the part of the business community that was blown up on September 11. "I've often thought about cities around the U.S where the private-sector leadership pulled together to make things happen," Kravis told me a few months before the attack. "You can find it in Baltimore and Kansas City and lots of cities around the country, but New York did not come to mind."

If it does now, some wonder how long it will last. "There are two types of leadership, grassroots and brassroots," says Regional Plan Association executive director Robert Yaro. "New York used to have brassroots, but now the top leadership of corporations has really taken a backseat. You can get people to show up at a meeting or two, but you can't get the head of Citigroup to do what a Walter Wriston did back in the seventies. Rather than lighting candles for the second coming of Felix Rohatyn, we just have to move on here."

On the shuttle, I ask Speyer why a billionaire would bother with a trip like this. His answer suggests that this is something he feels he has to do -- the new price of doing business. It also reveals him to be a closet sentimentalist: a tough modern businessman who still yearns for another New York, an older New York, where all business was local and all relationships -- civic, philanthropic, social, political -- were believed to be tied together for the common good.

The smile is easier now -- less strained, more wistful. "When you watch leaders like David Rockefeller and others like him, you can't help but say to yourself that this generation has an obligation to try to do the same things," he says. "It's not money; it's time. The money part is easy."


Current Issue
Subscribe to New York

Give a Gift