A Consensus Builder
Neil D. Levin had plenty of friends in important places: two of them, Gov. George E. Pataki of New York and Acting Gov. Donald T. DiFrancesco of New Jersey, made him executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. He watched over New York City's three major airports, its port facilities, most of the area's bridges and tunnel crossings, as well as the agency's crown jewel: the World Trade Center.
In his career, Neil was appointed to other high-level posts, first as state banking commissioner and then as state insurance commissioner. He was chairman of the Federal Home Loan Bank Board of New York and a vice president at Goldman Sachs.
But arguably the most important appointment Neil ever received was one arranged by Senator Alfonse M. D'Amato, with an assist from Claudia Cohen, then Mr. D'Amato's girlfriend: a blind date with Christine Ann Ferer, a style correspondent for NBC. The two were married in May 1996. "Neil was part of my family," Mr. D'Amato said. He added that Neil was a consensus builder — a trait that helped him significantly on one of his latest projects, as head of the Commission on the Recovery of Holocaust Victims' Assets, which arranged for restitution of property taken from families during World War II.
Profile published in THE NEW YORK TIMES on September 20, 2001.
September 22, 2001
Neil Levin, Executive Director of Bistate Port Authority, Dies at 46
By EDWARD WYATT
Neil D. Levin, the executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the landlord for the World Trade Center complex as well as the operator of the New York City area's three major airports, port facilities, bridges and tunnels, died on Sept. 11 in the collapse of the twin towers.
He was 46 and lived in Manhattan.
Mr. Levin was appointed to the Port Authority leadership in March by Gov. George E. Pataki of New York and Acting Gov. Donald DiFrancesco of New Jersey, who jointly oversee the Port Authority. Previously, Mr. Pataki had named Mr. Levin to the top jobs in the state banking and insurance departments.
Mr. Levin's office was on the 68th floor of 1 World Trade Center, which was the first tower to be hit by a hijacked airplane and the second to collapse. Mr. Levin's exact location at the time of his death is not known.
Mr. Levin, who grew up in Atlantic Beach, N.Y., received a bachelor's degree in economics from Lafayette College and a master's in business administration from the C. W. Post Center of Long Island University's Graduate School of Business.
After getting a law degree at Hofstra University, Mr. Levin went to work as counsel to the securities subcommittee of the Senate Banking Committee, headed by Senator Alfonse M. D'Amato. While there, Mr. Levin helped to draft the Insider Trading Sanctions Act of 1984, which came in reaction to the trading scandals that shook Wall Street in the early 1980's.
Mr. D'Amato and Claudia Cohen, the entertainment reporter who was then his girlfriend, arranged a blind date for Mr. Levin and Christine Ann Ferer, a contributing style correspondent for NBC. They were married in May 1996. In addition to his wife, Mr. Levin is survived by his mother, Gloria, of Atlantic Beach, N.Y.; a brother, Stanley, of Westchester County; and his wife's two daughters from a previous marriage.
In seven years as chairman of the Federal Home Loan Bank Board of New York, Mr. Levin helped oversee the bank's transition from a regulator of financial institutions to a profit-seeking business. The New York office of the bank board offers financing to housing and community development lenders in New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
In 1985, Mr. Levin joined Goldman Sachs & Company; he was promoted to vice president two years later. He assisted federal agencies with investment banking and was an adviser to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the federal home loan programs.
In 1994, Mr. Pataki, whose election campaign was supported by Mr. D'Amato, appointed Mr. Levin the state's superintendent of banks. In that position, he had oversight of 4,500 banks, thrifts and other financial institutions within New York State. He also helped oversee the initial stages of the state's inquiry into the actions of Swiss banks during World War II. In 1997, Mr. Pataki appointed Mr. Levin superintendent of the State Insurance Department and head of the Commission on the Recovery of Holocaust Victims' Assets.
Editorial Obituary published in THE NEW YORK TIMES on September 22, 2001
Neil D. Levin, 47, P.A. executive director
Neil D. Levin was executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey only five months when terrorists crashed planes into the World Trade Center.
But the 47-year-old Brooklyn native already had impressed colleagues by the way he immersed himself into the top administrative post at the far-flung agency, which runs six tunnels and bridges, the three New York-area airports, marine terminals, and also built the World Trade Center.
"He was incredibly smart with an almost intuitive grasp of the issues that the agency faces and he understood how they relate both to the economy of the region as well as the politics," said Ronald Shiftan, acting executive director.
Shiftan, formerly deputy executive director, said he was leery when Mr. Levin came aboard as the 12th executive director in April. It was only months after the agency had gone through a wrenching feud between then-Gov. Christie Whitman and New York Gov. George Pataki.
But with new toll and fare increases in effect, and a $9.5 billion capital program adopted, Mr. Levin not only proved a quick study but also professed confidence the agency was embarking on a new era of greatness. "He kept saying the planets are all aligned for the Port Authority," Shiftan recalled.
Formerly New York's insurance superintendent, Mr. Levin was named to the $185,000-a-year post by Pataki and acting Gov. Donald DiFrancesco, who jointly control the bistate agency.
When he arrived at his corner office on the 67th floor of the World Trade Center's North Tower, he had apparently read just about everything that had been written about the 80-year-old agency. "He was energized and we couldn't keep up with the man," said Karen Eastman, Mr. Levin's executive adviser.
Top personnel were called in for long chats and left with copies of William Oncken's "The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey." Many of the agency's 7,000 employees would be surprised when Mr. Levin would walk up to introduce himself.
"He said everyone needed to feel connected to do a job for the agency," said Eastman, now acting secretary to the board of commissioners.
Mr. Levin was at the Windows on the World restaurant atop the North Tower and on the phone with Eastman when the jetliner hit. "Our reaction was 'What was that.' It hit on the opposite side so we just felt the impact and the building kept shaking and swaying for a long time."
It was the last anyone heard from him. "We were calling him and beeping him but he was so super-focused he always kept his cell and pager in his briefcase," recalled Christy Ferer, a contributing style reporter for NBC, who married Mr. Levin in 1996.
They had been introduced on a blind date arranged by Alfonse D'Amato, who was then a senator from New York, and his friend Claudia Cohen.
"I was a mother with two kids at home and couldn't imagine who Claudia was fixing me up with," Ferer said. "But when he walked in the door I said maybe this wasn't such a bad idea.
"He had charm, a cool reserve with a cutting wit -- plus he was movie-star handsome," she said.
In the two years they dated, Mr. Levin became "super-Dad" to his stepdaughters, Ali and Caitlin Millard, helping with homework and attending school functions. "He was the love of my life, the most kind and generous person, Ferer said.
Mr. Levin took the insurance post in 1997 after serving two years as state superintendent of banks and as chairman of the Federal Home Loan Bank of New York.
Before joining the Pataki administration, he was a vice president at Goldman Sachs & Co., where he worked for 10 years. Previously, he spent four years in Washington, D.C., as a legislative assistant to D'Amato and for the Senate's Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs.
A 1976 graduate of Lafayette College, Mr. Levin received his master's in business administration from Long Island University in 1978 and a law degree from Hofstra University in 1981.
Mr. Levin is also survived by his mother, Gloria Levin, and his brother, Stanley.
A memorial service is scheduled for 6 tonight at Temple Emanu-El on Fifth Avenue at 66th Street in Manhattan. Instead of flowers, the family has asked that contributions be sent to the Neil D. Levin Education Foundation at 101 Park Ave., Suite 2500, New York, 10178. The fund will provide scholarship money for children of Port Authority employees lost in the Sept. 11 attack.
Profile by Al Frank published in THE STAR-LEDGER.