When a reporter recently challenged City Hall’s proposal to build a football stadium on the West Side, Deputy Mayor Daniel Doctoroff had a simple, business-like reply.
“Well, we’re going to build it,” Mr. Doctoroff snapped, as though the matter were closed.
Mr. Doctoroff, deputy mayor for economic development, has good reason to be confident-in his own abilities, as well as in City Hall’s grand project. He has the undiluted support of his boss, Mayor Michael Bloomberg. And when you command an awesome arsenal of city development agencies, as Mr. Doctoroff does, you believe that you can achieve that which others might consider impossible. As a result, Mr. Doctoroff has become the most powerful master planner in New York in a generation.
“Dan’s getting more done than I’ve ever seen in my lifetime in city government,” said Kathryn Wylde, president of the Partnership for New York City, the city’s leading business-advocacy group. “It’s the most ambitious planning and redevelopment vision since Robert Moses.”
Of course, anyone who has that amount of power and ambition is bound to draw criticism. Primarily, Mr. Doctoroff’s detractors say that he can be headstrong to the point of brooking no criticism. And because Mr. Doctoroff’s influence permeates nearly every nook of the city’s development engine, critics often feel powerless to speak out publicly, for fear of losing their jobs or lucrative business contracts with the city.
“Dan brings to the government his negotiating style from investment banking, which is a take-no-prisoners style, and it often creates more problems than it solves,” said a real-estate executive speaking on the condition of anonymity. “It antagonizes people and creates unnecessary tensions.”
A state-level development official had similar criticisms about Mr. Doctoroff’s style.
“You don’t negotiate in politics and government the way you do on Wall Street,” said the official. “It’s a different area, it’s a give and take, it’s all about relationships.”
In a telephone interview with The Observer, Mr. Doctoroff conceded that his background in the private sector has led to challenges in his current job.
“That parts that are harder, particularly for someone coming from the private sector, is that everything is more complicated,” he says. “The system gives people, legitimately, a say in everything that happens, and you’ve got to respect that. So the level of communication required, the steps in the process required, it requires an adjustment in the way you have to think about the way you do things.”
Ten years ago, Mr. Doctoroff founded the city’s Olympic Bid Committee based on his belief that the Olympics would provide a catalyst for dozens of economic-development initiatives that had been languishing in New York’s notoriously creaky development machine for years. And though he had to give up day-to-day control of the organization when he joined the Bloomberg administration in December 2001, that vision remains the central driving force behind huge-price-tag projects like the extension of the No. 7 subway line, the expansion of the Jacob K. Javits Center and the creation of the New York Sports and Convention Center-a.k.a. Jets Stadium.
In addition, Mr. Doctoroff is spearheading the effort to transform 59 blocks of the West Side into a bustling and airy new neighborhood of commercial and residential towers; he played a heavy hand in guiding the economic rebirth of Lower Manhattan; and though he doesn’t get a lot of press for it, Mr. Doctoroff also spends a good chunk of his 16-hour workdays on some 62 economic-development initiatives throughout the five boroughs, including the rezoning and rebirth of the Williamsburg and Brooklyn waterfronts. And for his dual roles, he takes no salary.
Third-generation real-estate developer Douglas Durst said Mr. Doctoroff’s consolidation of authority over all the city’s development agencies represents an unprecedented level of coordination.
“It’s the first time in my 35 years of experience that there has been an overall plan involving the deputy mayor and all the different branches of the executive portion of the government,” Mr. Durst said. “And from a development point of view, that is a very good thing.”
The 46-year-old Mr. Doctoroff has been able to consolidate such power in large part because of his synergy with Michael Bloomberg. Although the two barely knew each other before coming to office, Mr. Doctoroff shares two distinct traits with the Mayor. Both had been phenomenally successful in their private jobs-Mr. Bloomberg as the founder of a media empire, and Mr. Doctoroff as an investor of a fund headed by Texas billionaire Robert Bass-and neither had ever served in public office before they assumed their current titles. In Mr. Doctoroff, the Mayor saw a kindred spirit who might be able to bring private-sector discipline to public-sector projects.
Indeed, the person in charge of the Mayor’s personnel search committee, Nat Leventhal, said Mr. Doctoroff’s lack of prior government experience was one of his most attractive features.
“Most administrations are filled with people who have been in government before, but I thought it would be good to have a few people who wouldn’t be constrained by the burden of knowing how slow government moves,” said Mr. Leventhal, who was himself a deputy mayor during the Koch administration. “And he’s a very smart guy, so I knew he would pick up whatever he needed to know as he went.”
Peter Solomon, one of the city’s first Deputy Mayors for Economic Development, and the man who gave Mr. Doctoroff his first job at Lehman Brothers in the early 1980s, said Mr. Doctoroff’s success would have been impossible without his synergy with Mr. Bloomberg.
“Nothing else matters,” he said. “Your powers are totally defined by your relationship with the mayor, and Dan has a wonderful relationship with this mayor.”
The highlight-and the biggest flashpoint-of Mr. Doctoroff’s tenure to date is, of course, the stadium, which will sit on a stretch of rail yards between 30th and 33rd streets, and 11th and 12th avenues, and would host the Jets, convention center events, and the 2012 Summer Games. It will require a minimum public investment of $600 million, with the Jets chipping in $800 million. Madison Square Garden chairman James Dolan, who fears the competition of a nearby sports complex, has been spending millions on advertisements and lobbyists to derail the project. That battle became personal recently when Mr. Bloomberg finally baited Mr. Dolan to engage him one-on-one, and now personal attack ads are coursing through the airwaves with every trapping of a traditional smear campaign.
Much depends on Mr. Doctoroff’s ability to overcome the legislative and legal hurdles that Mr. Dolan and a broad array of anti-stadium activists hope to throw in the city’s way. The International Olympic Committee votes on its choice of five candidate host cities in July 2005; Mr. Doctoroff says that if he can’t convince the I.O.C. that the stadium will begin its rise before that vote, New York has no chance of winning the games. More importantly, however, Mr. Doctoroff also says that the stadium is the linchpin of his plan to develop the entire West Side.
And despite Mr. Doctoroff’s efforts and successes in the outer boroughs, a collapse of the West Side plan would be a huge public defeat and embarrassment, one that suitors to the mayoralty like City Comptroller William Thompson, Bronx Borough President Freddy Ferrer, and City Council Speaker Gifford Miller, might have little problem exploiting during next November’s election.
It takes a special kind of ambition-some might say hubris-to imagine that a political neophyte could cut through the Gordian knot of the city’s gnarled economic and development landscape, and get all of it done. Mr. Doctoroff said he drew his inspiration from Sept. 11.
“I’m a student of New York history, I read a lot of books about it; and I’m a believer that in times of crisis, New York has taken the great leaps forward,” he said. “In the wake of Sept. 11, people seemed very committed to rebuilding the city and making it better than it had ever been. So it was the notion of that spirit, and my reading of New York City history that convinced me that this would be a unique moment to make a difference.”
Mr. Doctoroff wakes up before sunrise most mornings to ride his bicycle from his family’s Upper West Side brownstone to City Hall. He has three teenage children with his wife, Alisa, a prominent Jewish civic leader who is president of The Abraham Joshua Heschel School’s board of trustees. Though he was born in New Jersey, Mr. Doctoroff’s father moved the family to Michigan when he was a toddler. His father was an FBI agent but retired soon after the move; his mother was a psychologist. Mr. Doctoroff got his undergraduate degree from Harvard, during which time he worked for a political pollster-his only government-oriented job until becoming Deputy Mayor, and later enrolled at the University of Chicago Law School. During a summer job at a large Philadelphia law firm, Mr. Doctoroff was assigned to work on a takeover attempt by Texaco of Getty Oil.
Mr. Doctoroff then talked his way into an analyst job at Lehman Brothers, where he quickly impressed Mr. Solomon with his knack for the business.
“He was one of our real stars,” Mr. Solomon said, “one of our two best analysts.” He followed that posting with a 10-year career investing financier Robert Bass’ money at Oak Hill Capital.
On July 13, 1994, a friend invited Mr. Doctoroff to go to Giants Stadium to see a World Cup semi-final game between Italy and Bulgaria. He was not a soccer fan but decided to go for the novelty.
“I trudged out there with no expectations, and as soon as I walked into Giants Stadium, it became immediately clear to me that this was the most extraordinary spectacle I had ever seen,” he said, “The stands were filled with screaming, stomping Italians and Bulgarians, and it was so intense you could not sit down for the entire game.”
Mr. Doctoroff had been to the Super Bowl, the World Series, the Final Four, and had even seen the Rangers win the Stanley Cup the month prior, but nothing topped the intensity he had found in Giants Stadium-and it was all due to the national passion that was injected into the event. As the game went on, it got Mr. Doctoroff to thinking about the Olympics.
“I always loved the Olympics, but I was never a fanatic,” he said, “And I wondered why what was clearly the most international city in the world had never hosted the most international event.”
So for the next year and a half, without telling anyone except his wife, Mr. Doctoroff researched the possibility of bringing the games to New York.
In January of 1996, Mr. Doctoroff was ready to share his vision. He had a colleague set up a breakfast meeting at the Drake Hotel on 56th Street with Bob Kiley, who was then president of the Partnership for New York City. Mr. Kiley liked what he heard, and asked Mr. Doctoroff to make a presentation to his executive committee that April. Ms. Wylde, who was then head of the Partnership’s investment fund, sat in on one of those early meetings.
“I have to say it did seem quixotic,” Ms. Wylde said about Mr. Doctoroff’s pursuit. “But he was completely committed to the Olympics and this project and had a clear vision of what he thought could and should happen.”
At this point the city’s future bid committee consisted of Mr. Doctoroff, one partner at Oak Hill, and a research assistant. That spring, Mr. Doctoroff also made a presentation to Mayor Giuliani. As if to underscore how much of a political neophyte Mr. Doctoroff was at this point, he got lost on his way to his presentation for Mr. Giuliani.
“Despite having worked downtown for years, I had never been to City Hall before,” he said.
Nevertheless, Mr. Giuliani got excited by the plan, and on the strength of that, Mr. Doctoroff formed the actual bid committee, initially bankrolling the entire operation out of his pocket before spending several years luring in members of the city’s cultural and business elite to make donations and sit on his board of directors.
In 1999, Mr. Doctoroff landed Michael Bloomberg. The two became cordial: they sat next to one another at a dinner here or there, and Mr. Doctoroff would stop by Mr. Bloomberg’s office when business took him to the company, but otherwise they remained acquaintances.
As the various deadlines for the selection process approached, Mr. Doctoroff’s group’s work intensified. And on Nov. 3, 2002, the United States Olympic Committee selected New York over San Francisco to compete against the other world capitals vying for the games.
About a year earlier, Mr. Bloomberg had won the city’s mayoral election, and he appointed Mr. Leventhal head of his transition and search committee. The former deputy mayor immediately thought of Mr. Doctoroff to execute the Mayor-elect’s economic development strategy.
“I knew what the job required,” said Mr. Leventhal. “It was self-starting initiative and creativity and a quality of not being confined by regular bureaucratic way of thinking. I never had anyone else [besides Mr. Doctoroff] in my mind.”
Initially, Mr. Doctoroff was not interested. Not only was he already juggling the demands of his Oak Hill and Olympics responsibilities, but his father had just been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease.
“I think the problem was he had to think long and hard before he agreed to give up his day-to-day control over the Olympics effort,” Mr. Leventhal recalled. “That took convincing, only in the sense of giving time to think that overall he could do much more good for the city as a whole in this job, including the Olympics, than staying where he was.”
The second conversation convinced Mr. Doctoroff to meet with Mr. Bloomberg at his transition office on West 56th Street.
“I thought it was a great opportunity to talk to him about the Olympics,” said Mr. Doctoroff, “but over the course of an hour and a half, I decided [the deputy mayor job] was something I wanted to do.”
It took Mr. Doctoroff about a month to divest himself of all financial and real estate investments that might have posed a conflict with his duties as a deputy mayor. He also successfully sought a clearance from the city’s Conflicts of Interest board to remain connected to the Olympics effort.
During that time, he and the Mayor also worked out which city agencies would be reporting to Mr. Doctoroff in his position.
“We both felt strongly that all of the economic development agencies ought to be consolidated under one person,” he said.
That meant Mr. Doctoroff would have domain – over the city’s Economic Development Corporation, the agency tasked with attracting and retaining jobs in the city; the City Planning Department, responsible for zoning; the Housing and Preservation Department, responsible for home building; among others.
And although the development battles of Manhattan’s far West Side garner most of the headlines, Mr. Doctoroff says he is most proud of his efforts across all five boroughs.
“We’re executing on the mayor’s comprehensive strategic plan across all five boroughs, across a wide range of industries, and a wide range of quality of life issues,” he said. “It’s not all about the West Side or the Olympics. It’s about making New York a far more competitive place and ultimately in the long or short run generating more tax revenues for the city.”
Follow Blair Golson via RSS.