Howard Lutnick’s Second Life

Photo: Mary Ellen Mark

It was the last really good time, a carefree and absurdly lavish celebration. On the occasion of his 40th birthday, on Bastille Day, July 14, Howard Lutnick and his wife, Allison, chartered a 160-foot-boat, La Naturelle Dee. For a week, the Lutnicks and four other couples cruised the Mediterranean, starting in Cannes and making leisurely stops in Nice and Monte Carlo.

“We lived on Howard time,” says Michael Kaminer, Lutnick’s Haverford College roommate and now a dermatologist, as he describes lazily goofing around the boat during the day, playing charades and dancing at night.

“I’m so glad we had that trip, it was so special,” says Jennifer Gardner, who reveled with her husband, Doug, another Haverford classmate and a partner at Lutnick’s firm, Cantor Fitzgerald, in this rare uninterrupted vacation. Howard Lutnick is a famously wired and demanding man, but as the cruise ended, he announced jubilantly, “It is not possible for a human being to have a better week.”

And there was more: Lutnick and friends then headed to a magnificent estate in Cliveden, just outside London, where he threw a Georgian costume ball for 45 couples, many of them buddies from work, flown in from New York at his own expense. There were toasts by Lutnick’s older sister, Edie, and younger brother, Gary, about how Howard had become the rock of the family after their parents died two decades ago. “The only reason to have money,” Lutnick sentimentally told the crowd, “is to share it with your friends and have fun.” Allison Lutnick, a former Legal Aid lawyer and mother of three who had orchestrated this extravaganza, looked dazzling. Photos from the event show the men grinning in white frilly shirts and brocade waistcoats, the women done up in elaborate gowns with plunging décolletage, living for one candlelit night in an eighteenth-century fantasy – a world before electricity and Internet brokerage firms. A world before terrorists flew airplanes into office buildings, killing 657 Cantor Fitzgerald employees, including Gary Lutnick, Doug Gardner, and thirteen others who were at Cliveden to applaud Howard Lutnick’s happy midlife.

On a chilly night in early November, Lutnick travels to the Ramada Inn in Rochelle Park, New Jersey, to give a pep talk to 75 Cantor Fitzgerald technical-support-staff members. These people are alive only by luck; their workday at 1 World Trade Center started at 9 a.m., and most of them were getting coffee in the concourse or stepping out of the subway when the first cataclysm occurred. No one who was in the company’s offices, on floors 101 through 105, made it out. Since September 11, those who survived have been working round the clock in scattered temporary offices to keep Cantor Fitzgerald’s bond-and-equity-trading operations in business. They are furiously fighting off competitors who would feed on the firm’s misfortune.

Lutnick, an athletic tennis player in a casual shirt and slacks, his slicked-back hair rebelling in unruly curls, gives a riveting, hoarse-voiced speech that is part grief counselor – “Everyone in this room knows how much we cared about the people we’ve lost” – and part corporate coach. “For us to be successful, we have to kick our competitors’ butt,” he growls. “If you let your grief and sadness overrun your commitment to the company, then you’re going to bring down the people to your left and to your right.” Vigorously conducting with his hands, he throws in self-deprecating and knowing asides designed to evoke smiles.

Asked afterward when the firm would relocate, he replies, “How much do you hate your offices?” People nod appreciatively. “I hate my office,” Lutnick says, ramping it up. “We’re looking for space in midtown Manhattan. Is that okay with you guys?”

“Low floor,” a voice calls out from the back of the room.

In this hotel room of people who have witnessed terrible things erupts a truly shocking noise: laughter.

Riding back to Manhattan in the 8 p.m. darkness, his driver Jim Maio at the wheel of his black Chevy Suburban, Lutnick slumps in his seat. “Two things allow me to communicate with my employees,” he says. “I was there, and I lost my brother.” His guard is down; he is worn out from his performance. “Doubles, I have real trouble with doubles,” he murmurs. Innocently, stupidly, I ask, “What’s a double?”

It’s a double memorial service, he explains. “I think there are twenty sets of two of them, father and son, two brothers. I had two women who I talked to yesterday who had both lost their brother and their husband.” He lets out a sigh – whooh – fighting to hold back tears. “You got to live. But it’s so sad. If you didn’t have a greater purpose, you couldn’t go on. There would be no point.”

Who is Howard Lutnick and what is his greater purpose? These questions are part of our public need, both empathetic and voyeuristic, to plumb the depths of his company’s tragedy. For Lutnick embodies much about New Yorkers on September 11. He started that day a Wall Street buccaneer, a hugely successful, legendarily aggressive striver who was personally worth as much as a half-billion dollars. By the 13th, he’d become the accidental survivor who was crying on Connie Chung about how it felt to lose so many people and to run for his life. By the 15th, he was the Dickensian villain who’d cut off the widow’s mite, the paychecks of the dead, to assure the bankers of his sangfroid. By October 10, he had announced a munificent and detailed financial plan for the families. By then, not many people knew what to believe about Howard Lutnick.

The usually shrewd CEO seems unable to fathom the public-relations disaster of the discontinued paychecks. He still insists that he had no choice but to stanch a payroll of more than $500,000 a day, even if it was cruel to families still hoping beyond hope that their loved ones were alive. “I needed my bankers to know that I was in control,” Lutnick says. “That I wasn’t sentimental and that I was no less motivated or driven to make my business survive.”

He turns out to have been at least as generous as and sometimes more generous than the other hard-hit World Trade Center firms. But that September 15 misstep has cost him; it will always be part of his story.

“The concerns of those families at the end of the day that he’d do the right thing are well-founded,” says one finance mogul who has had business dealings with Lutnick. “He’s a very tough guy, sharp elbows, takes no prisoners.” A bitter former Cantor Fitzgerald broker (“You can’t use my name, because I’m afraid he’ll go after me – that’s how much I trust Howard”) recalls that Lutnick, while developing the company’s Internet trading system, reassured bond brokers that their jobs were secure, but in the end fired almost 300 of them. The luckiest people in New York? The twenty Cantor Fitzgerald staff members let go on Monday, September 10, most of whom have loyally returned to the firm. The saddest tale of all? The man who came back the morning of September 11 to pick up his things and perished.

Lutnick, a legendary proponent of no quarter, offers his version: “I alerted brokers that they’d have to expand and adapt their skills,” Lutnick says by way of an explanation. “We could either get run over by the future or be part of it.”

And he has his defenders. One of the most vocal is Richard Breeden, the former Securities and Exchange Commission chairman who serves on the board of eSpeed, Cantor’s electronic bond-trading operation, who describes Lutnick as a man of “prodigious talent who is tremendously farsighted about the financial markets” and has been a Wall Street innovator. What to make of Lutnick’s hard-hitting style? “The business of bond traders is people fighting for one hundredth of a penny,” Breeden says. “It’s hard to be Mr. Magnanimous when you’re the little guy going up against big competitors.”

Lutnick is confident that if he can just explain, if he can just demonstrate what it’s like to be him right now, people will understand and forgive and see him as a corporate hero once again. This Long Island native, named “best flirt” in high school, is a champion talker, but he’s under too much pressure now to follow a script. All the elements of his personality are out there: He’s likable, he’s irritating, he’s furious that his motives are being challenged, he pushes people hard but then teases them, he’s smart and self-aware yet also in denial. “It’s not sad here. It’s not sad here. It’s not sad here,” he insists of his current workplace, a remark that makes his co-workers affectionately roll their eyes. But in the next moment, he’s overcome by sadness. He’s a man who keeps going forward because forward is the only direction open to him.

Cantor Fitzgerald’s chaotic, box-filled temporary headquarters now occupies the drab twenty-ninth floor of the UBS Warburg Building on Park Avenue, next to the Waldorf-Astoria, a far cry from the elegantly appointed Trade Center offices, designed to show off the superb Rodin sculptures collected by deceased founder Bernie Cantor. Practically twice a day for weeks, the building has been evacuated because of bomb scares phoned in by some apparent wacko targeting Warburg. It’s not helping Cantor’s traumatized employees, though it has produced some darkly funny moments. During one recent evacuation, Dave Kravette, a Lutnick friend since the seventh grade who descended 105 flights during the 1993 Trade Center bombing, was slowly making his way down the stairwell when two panicked young women from another firm ran by him. “I turned to the guy next to me,” Kravette recalls, “and I said, ‘Rookies.’ “

On Park Avenue now, Lutnick shares his glassed-in corner office with Stuart Fraser, the easygoing vice-chairman of the firm. The two started together as trainees at Cantor in 1983 and became very close; Lutnick even played matchmaker years ago, fixing up Fraser, a Missouri-bred wilderness-camp enthusiast, with Elise Sand, the woman who became his wife and the mother of his three children. Fraser, who has stayed at his desk during the recent bomb scares to, as he says, “lead by example,” nonetheless cannot bring himself to muster his old macho Wall Street front these days. Mourning his brother-in-law, Fraser tells employees who seem shaky that he’s logging hours with a therapist and urges them to do so, too. “I feel novocained,” he admits. “There are days when I’m just numb. It took me three weeks to realize this was not a dream, a bad Dallas episode.”

He tells a story about going to dinner with his wife, Howard, and Allison recently. For weeks after September 11, Fraser says, Elise, who lost her brother in the attack, couldn’t bear to turn on the TV news; all she could handle was the Food Network, for hours on end. She was still grieving when she had dinner with the Lutnicks, and Howard gave her a speech: “Elise, you have to stop acting like you died,” he said. “You didn’t die. You have to live.”

When I ask Lutnick whether in all of this he has ever seen a shrink or taken Prozac, he looks at me like I’ve lost my mind. “I know how to do this,” he says.

Cantor Fitzgerald was left with 1,450 employees, including vital players in the firm’s large London office, as well as the cadre of New York staff who survived. Lutnick closed offices in Paris and Frankfurt, and transferred these staff members to London. “We played with the cards the terrorists left us,” he says. To the awe of Wall Street and government regulators, Cantor was able to get the company’s U.S. eSpeed operations – a crucial link in the Treasury markets – up and running two days after the attack. But thanks to what he describes as a series of “miracles” – a golf outing with clients; a corporate fishing trip, canceled at 8 a.m., that prevented the disappointed anglers from getting to their desks by 9 – a handful of employees who ran the stock-trading desk and other profitable divisions were out of the office on that horrible date.

There are small victories every day, and on November 20, the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, there are three of them. Lutnick delightedly tells his colleagues that Lauren Manning and Harry Waizer, two employees who were severely burned by a fireball of jet fuel that hit the lobby of the Trade Center, are making good progress. “Lauren walked 40 feet!” Lutnick says. “And Harry, who has no skin on his hand, is being released to rehab. It’s unbelievable!” That morning, Lutnick also announces that eSpeed – the publicly traded division of the privately held Cantor – is actually expected to be profitable in the fourth quarter. That day, eSpeed stock soars more than 20 percent, almost reaching its pre-September 11 level, and all afternoon Cantor’s hardworking band of brokers stops by Lutnick’s office to exchange high-fives and call out, “Way to go!” It’s not just Howard Lutnick, they are relieved to discover, who thinks Cantor Fitzgerald will survive.

And yet such moments are interspersed with terrible reminders. To sit with Lutnick for six straight hours as he holds meetings and makes calls is to witness a startling array of mood changes. “I hate these stories that say this place is ghostly and it’s haunted,” he says, almost entreating. “Everyone’s too busy. There’s no sadness or grief in the office.” Like Rudy Giuliani, Lutnick seems to think that if he keeps saying that everything is normal, it will be. But it’s not. He schmoozes on the phone with a pleased major investor, then takes a call from an Orthodox Jewish family distraught over their son’s missing remains. “I know, I know, I’m just like you,” he says, his voice cracking. He is still waiting for DNA tests to tell him that his brother, Gary, is really gone.

His fiercely loyal secretary, Maryann Burns, comes in to ask a question. He looks perplexed for a minute, then says with a gentle smile, “Let’s ask Beth.” He is referring to a dead colleague, Beth Logler. Burns smiles sweetly back. “It’s just a thing we do,” Lutnick says. “It’s a way to remember someone.”

Burns hands him a takeout carton of fresh pineapple; this Wall Street carnivore doesn’t eat meat, hoping to avoid the colon cancer that led to his father’s death. Ten minutes later, Lutnick becomes absolutely furious as he recounts how a CNBC anchor who had asked to interview him earlier that day about eSpeed’s earnings had instead pressed him on the paycheck thing, on whether he could have handled it better. “You can’t make promises you can’t keep,” he roars. “He asked me, could I have done things sooner? No!

When I tell him that an ex-Cantor employee complained that Lutnick practices “voodoo economics” in the firm, paying unjustifiably large bonuses to his pals, Lutnick begins a long explanation of bonus calculations. Then he stops for a moment, reconsiders, becomes defiant: “If people say I paid someone more because I liked them, okay. I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

“We just wanted to work with people we liked,” he says, softening. He reminisces about how he recruited his buddy Doug Gardner, who left his father’s real-estate firm to join Cantor Fitzgerald. “I took Doug away from his father,” Lutnick says proudly, until the horrible new meaning of the sentence hits him and he goes ashen. “I took Doug away from his father.”

Jennifer Gardner, who talks to Lutnick and his wife almost daily, says that the instant death of so many friends has deepened her personal loss. “If Doug had died in a car crash, all of Cantor Fitzgerald would be in my living room. But everyone is dead or damaged,” she says. “I miss Doug’s partners. I could get through this so much better if they were here.”

The scope of the losses at times seems surreal. “We had a billing question from a customer,” says Kravette. “And we were able to retrieve our e-mail correspondence on the deal. There were seven names on the thing” who could have resolved the query, “and I’m the only one alive. I said, ‘We’ll have to trust the customer.’ “

All afternoon long, Lutnick meets with real-estate brokers to discuss new office space, and holds a long sit-down with an accountant reviewing, one by one, the $45 million in bonuses going out to families of dead employees. He turns to me at crunch points and says, “What would you do?” It isn’t that he wants my opinion; he just wants to underline for me in the bluntest possible way how excruciating the choices are. What do you do when the cheapest computer-ready office space is on the high floor of a building? You keep looking. How do you handle an angry widow who is threatening to attack you on TV if she doesn’t get an undeservedly large bonus for her husband? “It’s blackmail,” he mutters, but then a few minutes later he’s trying to see things her way. She’s scared and sad; maybe he’ll look at the numbers again.

His sister, Edie, stops by twice during the day. She’s a slender, pretty woman, dressed all in black (shirt, tailored pants, and sweater), with a mass of wild, curly blond-brown hair pulled back in a clip. A labor lawyer, she has taken a leave from her practice to run the Cantor Fitzgerald Relief Fund, which has raised and already passed out more than $8.5 million to families ($1,500 per dependent child, plus $10,000 per family), and is trying to solicit more donations. Like Howard, Edie is immersing herself in other people’s pain to escape her own, spending her days talking with bereaved families and putting together a packet of advice on how to file for benefits from various agencies. Noting that there are now 26 pregnant Cantor Fitzgerald widows and ten babies born since the tragedy who will never know their fathers, she says, “It’s my reason for getting out of bed in the morning.”

Edie and Howard have an intense sibling bond forged as orphaned young adults; he visibly relaxes in her presence. She’s in the office today for a meeting with an advertising agency to choose a logo for the relief fund’s stationery and Internet site. But the Lutnicks are nonplussed when presented with one version of the graphic: the R for “relief” is bent oddly, with something tied around it. “I can’t do the broken-leg thing,” Lutnick says. One ad exec helpfully pipes up, “It’s a bandage.” Another adds, “It’s a bow.” Edie says, “It looks like a helicopter to me,” and you don’t need Dr. Freud to figure out that free association. After the buildings collapsed, some experts argued that helicopters could have saved many Cantor employees, if only the roof of the Trade Center hadn’t been locked and rescue choppers were allowed to land.

At 8:30 p.m., Lutnick calls his wife and says he’ll probably be home within an hour, but he’ll be bringing with him a bunch of people for more meetings to discuss company business. When they leave, he will settle in to write condolence notes to the extended families of dead workers, the mothers, brothers, sisters, and children. He guesses that he’ll write 1,300 before he’s through. “It takes me two hours to do 60,” he says. Then he will call family members until midnight – “Some calls take five minutes, others want to talk for half an hour” – and then he’ll look at his e-mails, up to 500 incoming a day. Allison, who left her law practice several years ago to care for sons Kyle, 51?2, and Brandon, nearly 4, and daughter Casey, 1, says, “I come down at 1:30 a.m. to talk to Howard. It’s the only time I get to see him. I want to hear about his day.” She is grateful to have a husband at all, and there is not one iota of self-pity in her voice when she says, “This is our life now.”

Howard Lutnick grew up in Jericho, on Long Island, the middle child of two college professors; his father, Solomon, taught history at Queens College, and his mother, Jane, was a painter and sculptor. Yes, he has happy childhood memories, but his adolescence was scarred by the illnesses of both parents and their divorce. In 1978, his senior year of high school, Jane Lutnick died of lymphoma. Less than a year later, in his first week at Haverford College, Howard got an awful call: His father, in the hospital for chemotherapy to treat his colon and lung cancers, had accidentally been given 100 times the correct dose of drugs, and he was dead. The next crisis came when his teenage brother, Gary, who had moved with their father’s second wife to Petaluma, California, sent a panicked SOS saying that a friend of the stepmother’s had hit him. Edie, then at the University of Rhode Island, and Howard flew out to get their brother and installed him in a boarding school near Haverford. At 18, Howard had to hire a lawyer – he found one at random in an office near Penn Station – to untangle his father’s fractured finances. “Howard has been through so much bad stuff at an early age,” says his college roommate Michael Kaminer, “that he’s got a coping mechanism for what he’s going through now.”

Yet you can still hear the resentment in Lutnick’s voice when he talks about feeling abandoned by his uncles and aunts and grandparents after the death of his parents. “The way I describe it, you’re either in or you’re out,” he says. “What I learned in 1979, all my relatives – they stepped out. We learned to live without all of them. All of them. It was just the three of us. Gary and Edie and me.”

So maybe he was looking for a father figure when he walked into the World Trade Center offices of Cantor Fitzgerald in 1983, or maybe he was just hustling hard for financial security. But it didn’t take long for Lutnick to become the protégé of Bernard Gerald Cantor. “Bernie saw in Howard something of himself,” says Stuart Fraser. “They’d feed off each other.” Cantor, who began his firm by offering tax and investment advice to such Hollywood stars as Zsa Zsa Gabor, Clint Eastwood, and Kirk Douglas, had the foresight to expand in the seventies into the lucrative bond market, making his firm an indispensable player in this secretive world. Ever on the lookout for a bargain, Cantor moved his company into the World Trade Center in 1981 when he got a great 25-year deal on the top-floor space because other companies did not want to be so high in the sky.

At 29, Lutnick, who had impressed Cantor by making millions managing the money of the founder and his friends, was designated chief operating officer and heir apparent. By 30, he was the firm’s president, and for the next five years the two men ran the firm together. (There was no Fitzgerald in the firm at this point. “The rumor is that Bernie Cantor invented the name so a Jewish guy could break into the Irish-dominated bond market,” says Fraser. “But John Fitzgerald was a real person, a big guy in insurance, a minor partner who died in 1964.”)

The legend of Howard Lutnick is littered with sordid and sad details of his battle for control of the firm with Iris Cantor, Bernie’s wife, after the company’s founder became seriously ill with diabetes and went on dialysis. As Lutnick tells it, “After Bernie got sick, Iris thought she could call the shots. But that’s not what the partnership agreement said.”

Iris Cantor charged in court and in the press that Lutnick behaved ruthlessly in moving to have Bernie declared incapacitated. Lutnick insists that it was Iris who asked for the incapacitation documents. He says that she signed the personal papers giving her power of attorney but refused to sign the corporate-succession documents. The warring parties ultimately settled, but the relationships had turned so ugly that Iris hired security guards who literally blocked Lutnick at the door when he showed up in Los Angeles to attend Cantor’s July 1996 funeral.

The ill feelings linger to this day. Lutnick, who keeps pictures of himself and Bernie prominently displayed at home and in the office, says wearily, “I loved Bernie.” For Stuart Fraser, Iris Cantor’s nephew, this was a family feud in which he sided with his friend, Lutnick, and there have been long-term repercussions. His mother and Iris are sisters but no longer speak. The distressed Fraser says that after September 11, “Iris didn’t even call to find out if I was alive.”

Her lawyer, Barry Slotnick, says that in fact, Iris did call and leave a message, asking how everyone was doing and whether there was anything she could do to help. Lutnick says the friend who took her call specifically asked if there was a message for him, or if Iris wanted a call back. “She didn’t leave her phone number,” says Lutnick, “so I didn’t think it was a call for me.”

Howard and Allison Lutnick used to have a really nice life, the kind of Upper East Side moneyed existence enjoyed by many masters of the universe who have triumphed in the nation’s financial capital. There were the nights on Manhattan’s black-tie charity circuit, the summers in London while Howard worked out of the firm’s office there, the countless tennis and golf outings, the $7.6 million townhouse, the Rodin sculptures he collected, just as his mentor had.

Before September 11 altered his firm’s balance sheet, Lutnick was said to be worth between $300 million and a billion. He owns one third of Cantor Fitzgerald and 1.5 million shares of eSpeed (which during the Internet mania traded as high as $89 per share and at press time was at less than $8). Lutnick has written large checks to his alma mater, Haverford ($15 million), dabbled in the arts (several million to the Guggenheim Museum), gotten into the name game (underwriting the Allison & Howard Lutnick Theater at the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum), and backed a variety of disease-related causes.

But mention to him the source of this largesse, or those estimates of his fortune, and he goes into a defensive crouch. He insists that it’s all tied up in the firm’s partnership, that he hasn’t taken that much money out, that he still has multimillion-dollar bank loans from buying out Iris Cantor. He bets that I have a larger brokerage statement than he does and that the net-worth calculations are all “funny money,” based on the value of Cantor Fitzgerald if he were to sell the company – which he’s never shown any intention of doing.

At another time in his life, he might be unabashed about his financial success, but now it makes him profoundly uncomfortable. He’s well aware that most of the young and healthy Cantor Fitzgerald employees who died had not contemplated their mortality before September 11. Only one in six opted to purchase company-subsidized supplemental life insurance of up to $1 million.

Lutnick is currently renting a serene and spacious Upper East Side triplex, with a basement playroom and first- and second-floor suites, elegantly decorated with Asian artifacts, Oriental carpets, two Rodins, and a library of art books. But these beautiful rooms feel haunted. The apartment became a command center right after the attack, as dazed survivors arrived to compile a list of the dead and the living. After Lutnick gave out his unlisted home phone to Cantor families, who were gathering at the Pierre Hotel ballroom, his phone rang 24 hours a day as he and Allison and two dozen friends – “Our friends just showed up,” she says – took shifts in answering. Here’s the dining room where he now writes his condolence notes; here’s the master bedroom, with a giant wall TV and a handsome black-and-gold screen behind the king-size bed where he passes out in exhaustion for five hours each night.

We walk through another bedroom that has been turned into an enormous closet, a Barneys-like display of black leather women’s coats, shelves of purses, sweaters, and shoes, and Lutnick’s Zegna shirts. He’s embarrassed, but wants to show me to the next room, in which he has created a shrine to his brother. There are huge color photos of Howard and happy-go-lucky Gary, arms around each other’s shoulders, horsing around. There’s a plaque on the wall of a 1998 Westchester golf tournament, with a photo of Howard and Gary and Stuart Fraser and Doug Gardner. “Two out of four,” he says. “Two out of four of us are dead.”

The mundane details that make up life – what time the alarm went off, when the train got in, whether to stop for coffee on the way to the office – usually don’t merit much thought. But for every employee in Cantor Fitzgerald’s New York headquarters, these mindless choices made the difference between life and death on September 11. It’s hard, even now, for the living to accept that their fates hinged on accidental matters.

Howard Lutnick began that morning playing with his two sons, turning his shaving ritual into a giggling, messy spectator sport with shaving cream all over the bathroom. Instead of going straight to work, he and Allison were taking Kyle to his first day of kindergarten.

Meanwhile, out in Queens, his secretary, Maryann Burns, the world’s most punctual woman, drove to the Bayside train station and couldn’t find a space to park. She ran for her train and missed it by a minute.

Stuart Fraser had cut back on his work week earlier in the year, coming in to the World Trade Center only on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. Those mornings, he always joined his brother-in-law Eric Sand at 7:30 a.m. at his desk on the 105th floor for a bagel and coffee. But an Australian investor, flying in to discuss a personal project involving canoe camps, had asked to switch their September 10 meeting to September 11, and to do it out of the office. So Fraser was at home in Armonk that morning, waiting to go to his appointment.

Dave Kravette was at his desk on the 105th floor at 7:30 a.m., preparing for the arrival of clients scheduled to come up at 8 a.m. When they called to say they were running late, he reminded them they needed photo I.D. to get into the building – the rule since the 1993 terrorist attack – so he was not amused when security rang shortly before 8:40 a.m. to say that one of the guys hadn’t brought a license and needed an escort. “I’m pissed,” Kravette recalls. “I look over at my assistant, and she’s eight months pregnant, and I think, How lazy am I?, and I get up to leave and the phone rings and it’s my wife, Janice. She starts chatting, and I tell her, ‘I’ve got to go, we’ll have this conversation later.’

“I take the elevator down, take 30 steps towards the guys waiting at the desk, and say, ‘Which one of you knuckleheads forgot his I.D.?’ and then I hear this high, screaming sound – the elevators are crashing. I see this huge fireball. It’s the jet fuel on fire, coming right at me. People are being absorbed and incinerated by it. I think I’m dying, I can’t move. And then it suddenly sucked back in itself. All I felt was a heat wave. Then we started running.”

Howard and Allison were perched on child-size chairs in their son’s classroom when both their cell phones rang and then died. Howard was summoned by a school staff member to the lobby, where he learned from his driver, Maio, that a plane had hit the Trade Center. “I ran upstairs to Allison – ‘I got to go, I got to go.’ ” She ran with him to the car, saying, “Should I go with you?” “No,” he insisted. “You stay.”

As he and Maio sped down Fifth Avenue, Lutnick could see the smoke; he knew the company’s offices were above where the first plane had hit. “It was horrible. I thought, I just have to get there.” He ran toward 1 World Trade Center as people came pouring out, and he stood out front yelling, “What floor, what floor?” The numbers climbed as high as 91 when he heard the terrible sound.

“Like a combination of a jet engine in my ear, and metallic, like the Titanic hitting, an eerie sound,” Lutnick says. “I ran, and there was this tornado following me, this giant plume of black smoke chasing me. I dived under an SUV. My glasses got ripped off. It was dead silent and pitch black. Every time I took a breath, I thought I’d choke, rubble coating my mouth and throat. I thought, I’m going to die. I can’t believe I’m alive, and I’m going to die.”

When finally the cascade of rubble subsided, Lutnick began slowly walking his way north, finding a pay phone to call Allison, who filled him in on the calls she’d received, including telling him that Cantor lawyer Stephen Merkel had survived. Lutnick made his way to Merkel’s Greenwich Village home, where other Cantor employees showed up, and they frantically called around to try to find out who was still alive. By the afternoon’s end, Lutnick was fairly certain that Gary, who had called Edie in the final moments to say good-bye, hadn’t made it, nor had Doug Gardner. Instead of heading directly home to be with his own family, Lutnick went to see Jennifer Gardner and her two young children at their Upper West Side home. “He was covered with concrete and dust,” she says. “We were speechless. He kept saying, ‘You are fine, you will be fine, I love you.’ Doug and Howard loved each other like brothers. I’m sure Howard is the loneliest man in the world because of what happened. He had lost nearly 700 people. He said, ‘I have to help these families.’ It was always his plan.”

The criticism of Howard Lutnick has died down. But the conversations that the widows have now, in their support groups or with friends, will not be turned into tabloid headlines or TV sound bites, and so his image as a man who promised then reneged may never change. “Initially, we were all nervous, all panicked,” says Liz McLaughlin, a young Cantor widow from Pelham whose husband, Robert, was an eight-year veteran. “But he is doing much more than we could have imagined.”

In comparing notes with widows whose husbands worked for other firms, she concluded that Lutnick’s financial package is relatively good: ten years of health insurance rather than five; a share of 25 percent of the partners’ profits over a five-year period – a total package worth at least $100,000 per family. Before Lutnick explained his plan to the widows, “he had a bad reputation,” recalls Marilyn Rocha, whose husband, Antonio, a bond trader, had worked at Cantor only three months. “They said he’s just out for himself. ” Now raising a 3-year-old and an 8-month-old on her own, Rocha says, “Ten years of health insurance would be enough for me. Ever since this happened, I’ve been in the pediatrician’s office so often, I might as well rent a room there.”

Anne Wodenshek, a New Jersey mother of five children whose husband, Christopher, ran Cantor’s power-and-energy-brokerage department, admits, “I was irritated when they cut the paychecks off, because I didn’t think Christopher was dead. But Howard doesn’t owe us anything.” Wodenshek had a long chat with Lutnick the other day; he phoned to see how she was doing, as he is trying to do with all surviving family members. She was pleased that he called. “He’s trying to do the right thing,” she says.

Lutnick has yet another new ritual in his life involving family, a weekly date that he refers to as “Men’s Night Out.” Every Thursday at 5:30, he and his sons, Kyle and Brandon, pick up his best friend’s son, 5-year-old Michael Gardner (“Michael waits at the door,” says his mother), and for a few hours they go for ice cream or buy toys and do the father-son thing. “You’re either in or you’re out,” Lutnick says. “For Michael, I’m in.”

Howard Lutnick’s Second Life