Linda Davidoff, leading political and parks activist


Linda Stone Davidoff, executive director of the Citizens Union and a leader in parks advocacy and progressive political causes for four decades, died Dec. 31 in Tucson, Ariz., at the age of 62.

Diagnosed with leukemia in August, she died of pneumonia while on vacation, according to the Citizens Union.

A resident of Jane St. in the West Village for seven years, she was a Radcliffe College classmate of Ruth Messinger, former Manhattan borough president and mayoral candidate, graduating magna cum laude in 1962.

In 1980, she ran the unsuccessful campaign for the U.S. Senate of Elizabeth Holzman, another Radcliffe classmate, and in 1997 she ran Messinger’s unsuccessful mayoral campaign against Rudolph Giuliani.

As executive director of The Parks Council from 1988 to 1995, Davidoff developed the Civic Alternative site plan for Donald Trump’s Riverside South riverfront residential project between 59th and 72nd Sts. The plan, adopted by Trump, provides for reduced building density and for the 21-acre Riverside South Park currently under construction.

At a Jan. 4 memorial service at the Prospect Park Picnic House attended by 250 friends and colleagues, New York City Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe announced that a stretch of Riverside South Park between 65th and 68th Sts. would be known as Linda’s Lawn in her honor.

“She was untiring as an activist for social justice, political reform and public parks; her death is a very big loss to the city,” said Messinger.

“She didn’t mind taking on difficult issues and all aspects of progressive politics,” said City Councilmember Gale Brewer, a former aide to Messinger. “She was really smart, committed and always upbeat,” Brewer recalled. Davidoff’s last e-mails were concerned with organizing the Howard Dean campaign for president, Brewer said.

Barbara Fife, external affairs director of the Baruch College School of Public Affairs and former deputy mayor under David Dinkins, met Linda Davidoff in the ’60s when both were protesting the war in Vietnam. “We worked together on Morris Udall’s campaign for president in 1976,” Fife said, “She worked for some losing political campaigns, but she was still very much a believer that if you work hard at something you believe in you can make a difference.”

Arthur Schwartz, Greenwich Village Democratic district leader, knew Davidoff through his work on parks and progressive politics. “I knew her in so many different capacities,” Schwartz said. “She was on the board of the Hudson River Park Alliance, the group that preceded Friends of Hudson River Park. She was a co-founder of Friends of Hudson River Park. She was on the board of Village Independent Democrats and, when I left V.I.D., was a founder of Lower Manhattan Alliance for Progressive Political Action. She was doing local politics, city politics, park politics, waterfront politics — a lot overlapped. She was really ethical and determined, yet very easy to get along with. She was an all-around good person.”

Raised in Pittsburgh, she earned a master’s degree in urban planning at the University of Pennsylvania and with her first husband, Paul Davidoff, an urban planner who died in 1984, she co-authored several reports on advocacy planning, urging planners to consider the social and political implications in their work.

She was executive director and then a board member of The Human SERVE Campaign, a voting registration group, from 1984 to 1988 and launched the national effort that resulted in the 1993 Voter Registration Act that requires states to provide voter registration forms to citizens when they apply for drivers’ licenses and other services. She was vice president for public affairs of Planned Parenthood of America from 1981 to 1984. She was also active in Americans for Democratic Action and the New Democratic Coalition, a Reform Democratic coalition.

In 1997 she took six months off to hike 1,200 miles of the Appalachian Trail between northwest Georgia and central Pennsylvania and then south from the Vermont-New Hampshire border to the Berkshires in Massachusetts.

She was executive director of the New York League of Conservation Voters and the New York Conservation Fund from 1998-1999. As executive director of the Citizens Union, a nonpartisan good-government group, and the Citizens Union Foundation, she inaugurated the organization’s Web site and expanded the group’s budget and staff.

In 1997, she married Harold Stone, a retired theater director.

In addition to her husband, two sons, Kirk Davidoff of Takoma Park, Md., and Thomas Davidoff, of Oakland, Calif., and two daughters, Susan Davidoff of Newton, Mass., and Carla Davidoff, of New Paltz, N.Y., survive. Two sisters, Jean Stange of Denver, and Adria Lique, of Hopewell, N.J., and a brother, Richard Greenberg of Springfield, Mass, survive. Two stepsons, Christopher Stone of Brooklyn and Nicholas Stone of Falls Church, Va., and a stepdaughter, Rebecca Stone, of Brookline, Mass., also survive. She is also survived by 12 grandchildren and step-grandchildren.