Henry Stern

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Henry Stern
NLN Henry Stern.jpg
Henry Stern (left) speaking at City Hall
New York City, 2008

Henry J. Stern (born May 1, 1935); 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.

Early life[edit]

Stern grew up in the Inwood neighborhood of Upper Manhattan. He attended Bronx High School of Science, graduating at 15.[1] He attended City College and was the youngest member of the class of 1957 at Harvard Law School, at the age of twenty-two.[2]

Political career[edit]

He began in public service in 1957 as law clerk to a New York State Supreme Court Justice, Matthew M. Levy. 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)[3] 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, Commissioner Bess Myerson of the newly created NYC agency that was formed by consolidating the Department of Licensing, and Markets, Weights and Measures, The New York City Department of Consumer Affairs, appointed him Associate Commissioner and the next year he became her first deputy. Commissioner Myerson resigned on March 9, 1973[4] 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 Council[edit]

In November 1973 he 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 Commissioner[edit]

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

The election of Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani in 1993 brought Mr. Stern back to 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"[5]) used for communication, especially over walkie-talkies. Stern's personal nickname is "StarQuest".[6]

Discrimination Lawsuits[edit]

During Mr. 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. [7]

Civic life[edit]

Citizens Union[edit]

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


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

Personal life[edit]

On September 12, 1976 he was married to Dr. 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 have two sons, Jared, born in December 1977 and Kenan, born in June 1980.


  1. ^ 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."
  2. ^ NYT. Clown Prince of the Emerald Empire. By DOUGLAS MARTIN, Published: March 19, 2000
  3. ^ https://www.nytimes.com/2005/02/11/obituaries/11dudley.html?scp=1&sq=Edward%20R.%20Dudley&st=cse
  4. ^ https://select.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F7061FFC3F5C1A7A93CBA91788D85F478785F9&scp=357&sq=Henry J. Stern&st=cse
  5. ^ https://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=990DE4DE1439F936A25750C0A96E958260&sec=&spon=&partner=permalink&exprod=permalink
  6. ^ http://www.cityhallnews.com/news/127/ARTICLE/1278/2007-10-15.html
  7. ^ http://www.thechief-leader.com/news/2008/0307/editorial/023.html

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