Former Lieutenant Governor and MTA chair Richard Ravitch dies at 89

Former MTA chief Richard Ravitch speaks at PCAC’s Sept. 8 meeting.
Kara Gurl/PCAC

Former Lieutenant Governor of New York and past chairman of the MTA Richard Ravitch passed away over the weekend at the age of 89. 

According to the New York Times, Ravitch passed on June 23 in the hospital. His death was confirmed by his wife, Kathleen M. Doyle.

“Dick Ravitch was a titan of New York’s civic world who left an indelible mark on our State, and he will be greatly missed. From steering the MTA through a critical time to serving as Lieutenant Governor, he was a steady, savvy, and brilliant leader and a public servant in the truest sense of the term,” said Governor Kathy Hochul in a statement. “As Governor, I greatly appreciated Dick’s wisdom and thoughtful advice, and I know all New Yorkers have benefited from his contributions. I join his wife Kathy, his loved ones, friends, and all New Yorkers who knew him in mourning his passing and remembering his tremendous achievements.”

A Manhattanite, Ravitch’s tenure in the public space started when he was appointed to the United States Commission on Urban Problems in 1966 by then-President Lyndon Johnson, and was later elected president of the Citizens Housing and Planning Council (CHPC) in 1968. In 1975, New York Governor Hugh Carey appointed Ravitch as the chairman of the New York State Urban Development Corporation, where Ravitch took on organizing the finances of the corporation.

Again under Governor Carey, Ravitch was appointed as the chairman of the MTA in 1979. During his tenure, Ravitch lobbied for long-term financing in order to completely rebuild the transit system, coming up with an $8.5 million plan to achieve it. He insisted upon not taking a salary for his work.

Ravitch was chairman from 1979 to 1983, with the 11-day 1980 New York City transit strike landing in the middle of his run. He retired in 1983, but stayed active in public life as chairman of the Bowery Savings Bank of New York in 1985.

Ravitch has also served as the Player Relations Committee for Major League Baseball in 1991 and co-chair of the 22-member Millennial Housing Commission in 2000. Fast forwarding to 2009, Ravitch was appointed as the state’s Lieutenant Governor under David Paterson, who became governor after Eliot Spitzer resigned following a 2008 scandal. He served as the Lieutenant Governor until 2010.

“Dick Ravitch, for everybody in the transportation business, was giant. He was the chairman of the MTA at maybe the lowest moment in the history of at least the subway system, and certainly the mass transit system in New York. In the late ’70s and early ’80s, he led the beginnings of the turnaround of our great mass transit system. I knew him from those days, coincidentally, when I was still a kid in high school. He was one of the reasons that I got excited about transit, it was the area that was most representative of New York’s incredible revival, starting in the late 1970s. And in many ways, he is one of the fathers of the mass transit system that we have today, which we celebrate in so many different ways and try to continue to improve in his spirit,” said MTA Chair and CEO Janno Lieber. “So, I just needed to say to all of us who are passionate about this issue, and who some of us who knew Dick, he was just a huge impact to everything that this group works on. And part of his legacy is that he stepped up to the plate yet again in this last episode for helping the MTA, under the Governor’s leadership, to get its budget deficit addressed. Dick wrote a couple of op-eds, which had impact in Albany – one in the Times-Union, one in the New York papers – and he was right there with us talking to me and to Kevin Willens about how we needed to make sure the MTA’s budget was balanced because he was passionate about maintaining service for the public. So, we all say together, God rest his soul, and thank you for what you did for New York and for the MTA.”

“Dick Ravitch was there for New York every time we needed him. He had a rare combination of integrity, intellect and humor that made him one of the most effective public servants in our city’s history. He was a genuine friend and mentor to generations of likeminded New Yorkers. Our debt to Dick Ravitch is too great to ever pay off, and so our charge is to live by the example he set, and to strive every day to leave the city that we love better than we found it,” said The Association for a Better New York Chairman Steven Rubenstein.