Henry Stern

Henry Jordan Stern (May 1, 1935 – March 28, 2019) was a member of the New York City Council from 1974 to 1983 and appointed as the Commissioner of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation from 1983 to 1990 and again from 1994 to 2000.

Henry Stern
NLN Henry Stern.jpg
Stern in New York City, 2008
Parks Commissioner of New York City
In office
January 1, 1994 – February 3, 2002
Appointed byRudy Giuliani
Preceded byElisabeth F. Gotbaum
Succeeded byAdrian Benepe
In office
April 2, 1983 – February 4, 1990
Appointed byEd Koch
Preceded byGordon J. Davis
Succeeded byElisabeth F. Gotbaum
Personal details
Born(1935-05-01)May 1, 1935
Manhattan, New York City, U.S.
DiedMarch 28, 2019(2019-03-28) (aged 83)
Manhattan, New York City, U.S.
Margaret Lora Ewing
(m. 1976)
EducationBronx High School of Science
Alma materCity College of New York
Harvard Law School
OccupationFounder of New York Civic

Early lifeEdit

Stern grew up in the Inwood neighborhood of Upper Manhattan, the son of Jean (Friedlander), a bookkeeper, and Walter Stern, a tent manufacturer.[1] He attended Bronx High School of Science, graduating at 15.[2] He attended City College and was the youngest member of the class of 1957 at Harvard Law School, at the age of twenty-two.[3]

Political careerEdit

Stern began in public service in 1957 as law clerk to Matthew M. Levy, a New York State Supreme Court Justice. He was appointed Secretary of the Borough of Manhattan in 1962, and was an assistant to Borough Presidents Edward R. Dudley, a former ambassador, and prominent African American civil rights activist,[4] and Constance Baker Motley, the first African-American woman to become a federal court judge. In 1966, Parks Commissioner Thomas Hoving appointed him executive director of the agency. He later became Assistant City Administrator in the office of Deputy Mayor Timothy W. Costello. In 1969, the NYC Departments of Licensing, and of Markets, Weights and Measures were consolidated into the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs; its Commissioner, Bess Myerson, appointed Stern Associate Commissioner and the next year he became her first deputy. Commissioner Myerson resigned on March 9, 1973[5] and suggested Stern succeed her, however, he continued to serve under the new Commissioner Betty Furness until the end of her tenure in 1973.

City CouncilEdit

In November 1973 Stern was elected to the City Council as a Councilman-at-large for Manhattan on the Liberal Party of New York line, defeating the Republican candidate by about 1000 votes to win second place (two were elected per borough). His at-large colleague on the Council was Robert F. Wagner, Jr. and the two worked together on many matters, including the sale of neckties emblazoned with the Seal of the City of New York to raise funds for libraries and other public purposes.

Stern was re-elected in 1977, winning by 16,000 votes. In 1981, he received the Republican as well as the Liberal nomination, but the position was abolished by the Federal courts and no election was held.

Parks CommissionerEdit

In February 1983, Mayor Edward I. Koch appointed Stern Commissioner of Parks and Recreation; he served for Koch's second and third term.

The election of Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani in 1993 brought him back into city government; he was appointed Parks Commissioner, starting January 1, 1994. He was one of the few Giuliani commissioners to serve the entire eight years of his mayoralty, plus a month with Mayor Bloomberg.

An eccentric (but popular) aspect of his later tenure as Parks Commissioner was his insistence that Parks employees and friends of parks have nicknames (called "park names" or "noms du parc"[6]) used for communication, especially over walkie-talkies. Stern's personal nickname is "StarQuest".[7]

Discrimination lawsuitsEdit

During Stern's tenure as Parks Commissioner, numerous allegations of racism and similar bias were made against him. Lawsuits followed, leading to settlements costing NYC taxpayers millions of dollars. As reported in The Chief-Leader of March 7, 2008 "...the city agreed to pay $21 million to the plaintiffs and their attorneys to settle a lawsuit accusing the Parks Department of racial bias." In the settlement, the Parks Department admitted to no wrongdoing.[8]

Civic lifeEdit

Citizens UnionEdit

While Stern was out of Parks during the David Dinkins NYC Mayoral administration, he served as President of Citizens Union, a good government group founded in 1897. His former colleague on the City Council, Robert F. Wagner Jr. was Chairman of the Board.

New York CivicEdit

On February 4, 2002, Stern returned to the civic world as founder and president of New York Civic, a Manhattan-based good government group. Over nine years, he penned over 750 articles on public policy for the organization. He sent them to a list of people who ask for them, which at one point included 14,000 subscribers. They are also available on New York Civic's website and were regularly republished by The Huffington Post, Queens Tribune, and several other publications.

Personal lifeEdit

On September 12, 1976 Stern married Margaret Lora Ewing, a pediatrician whom he met at a meeting of the Park Lincoln Free Democrats club on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. They had two sons: Jared Ewing,[9] born in December 1977, and Kenan Walter Davis, born in June 1980.[10]

Stern died on March 28, 2019 at the age of 83 from complications of advanced Parkinson’s disease.[1]


  1. ^ a b "Henry J. Stern, Whose Urban Domain Was Green, Is Dead at 83", The New York Times, March 28, 2019. By Robert D. McFadden. Accessed March 28, 2019.
  2. ^ Bumiller, Elisabeth. "Guarding the Turf, Stepping on Toes; Henry Stern, Passionate and Blunt, Champions the City Parks", The New York Times, July 23, 1995. Accessed October 28, 2007. "There are a few other key things that define Mr. Stern. He grew up in Inwood, a mixture of Jewish, Irish and Greek immigrants several generations ago but now a largely Dominican neighborhood.... He was a child prodigy, graduating from the Bronx High School of Science at 15."
  3. ^ NYT. Clown Prince of the Emerald Empire. By DOUGLAS MARTIN, Published: March 19, 2000
  4. ^ Saxon, Wolfgang (11 February 2005). "Edward R. Dudley, 93, Civil Rights Advocate and Judge, Dies". The New York Times. Retrieved 29 September 2017.
  5. ^ Lichtenstein, Grace (9 March 1973). "Bess Myerson Quits as City Consumer‐Affairs Aide". The New York Times. Retrieved 29 September 2017.
  6. ^ Martin, Douglas (15 March 1998). "On Sunday; Nomenclature, Thy Name Is Henry". The New York Times. Retrieved 29 September 2017.
  7. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2016-03-03. Retrieved 2008-11-05.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  8. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2008-11-22. Retrieved 2009-09-01.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  9. ^ "Stephanie Rooks, Jared Stern". The New York Times. 8 October 2006. Retrieved 29 September 2017.
  10. ^ "Sarah Luskin, Kenan Stern". The New York Times. 12 August 2007. Retrieved 29 September 2017.

External linksEdit

Political offices
Preceded by
Gordon Davis
Commissioner of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation
Succeeded by
Betsy Gotbaum
Preceded by
Betsy Gotbaum
Commissioner of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation
Succeeded by
Adrian Benepe