Remembering Howard Leibowitz

Howard Leibowitz, key aide to two mayors, dies at 63, Boston Globe Metro Page B1, December 29, 2015.

Advisor to two mayors dies, with remembrances, Universal Hub, December 27, 2015.

Death notice, Boston Globe, December 29, 2015.

In lieu of flowers, remembrances may be made to Project Bread, 145 Border Street, East Boston, MA 02128; or Commonwealth Tenant Task Force, 35 Fidelis Way, Brighton, MA 02135; or Mayors Against Illegal Guns.

Please leave personal statements at the Universal Hub page or at “Leave a Reply” below.

The Ward 19 Democratic Committee has received the following fond remembrance from Sheila Decter of JALSA, the Jewish Alliance for Law & Social Action. Howard was a board member of JALSA.

It is with great sadness that I share the news that our colleague and JALSA Board member Howard Leibowitz died suddenly.   Through the Administrations of both Mayor Thomas Menino and Mayor Raymond Flynn, Howard served as the “go to” person for all matters dealing with affordable housing, food and nutrition, and all issues and concerns of the Jewish community.  He was a great political resource, and a beautiful human being, a “mensch”.  Our condolences to his wonderful wife Conny Doty, his brother Steve, and all the members of the family.

As many of you know, JALSA was preparing to honor Howard along with another great affordable housing leader — David Gasson of Boston Capital Corporation — on Sunday, January 24th, at our Annual Meeting.  We promise to provide an update on that event as soon as it is appropriate to speak to his family.

Peter Drier, who also worked in Boston during many of these years, has put his immediate thoughts to paper, and I include those words which were on Facebook this morning.

Sheila

“My good friend Howard Leibowitz died Sunday morning after suffering a heart attack in his home in Boston’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood. He was 63.

“We had just exchanged emails the day before. I had just returned from a two-week trip to Israel and emailed Howard and several other Boston friends about arranging a speaking gig for an Israeli activist I’d met there. Not surprisingly, Howard was the first to respond and offered great ideas.

“I moved from Boston to LA 22 years ago, but I stayed in contact with Howard. He was both a great friend and an incredible resource. A few months ago, a friend of mine in LA — a community organizer — needed help figuring out how to get the US Conference of Mayors to adopt a resolution on bank reform. I referred her to Howard and he not only explained to her how to get it done but helped her make it happen. He was remarkable that way — selfless and self-effacing. He didn’t need to be the center of attention or get the credit.

“A lifetime Boston resident, he grew up in public housing and knew every nook and cranny of every Boston neighborhood. He volunteered for his first political campaign while a teenager and never stopped, even while a student at Brandeis. He knew more about Boston politics than anyone, including any elected official. He had an encyclopedic mind about political trivia (i.e. who came in 4th place in the state Senate race in Mattapan in the 1978), but it served him well when he was able to draw on these facts, and his wide network of friends, to help candidates win elections and help get laws passed and policies adopted.

“I met Howard when he was working for state Senator Joe Timilty, who was trying to unseat longtime Mayor Kevin White. White prevailed in that race but four years later, Howard used his political street savvy to help City Councilman Ray Flynn win his uphill race for mayor.

“Howard was the first person I hired when I began working as Mayor Flynn’s housing advisor in 1984. He had worked for a local nonprofit housing group and he taught me a lot – about housing policy and about Boston politics. In truth, he knew more about both topics than I did, and within a few years he was Flynn’s director of intergovernmental relations, helping Boston attract tens of millions in federal funds and helping Flynn become president of the US Conference of Mayors, a platform the mayor used to focus public attention on the problems of poverty and homelessness.

Howard later served in the same post for Mayor Tom Menino as well as press secretary and director of special projects.

“It didn’t matter what his title was, Howard was an all-purpose behind-the-scenes advisor who both Flynn and Menino trusted and looked to for both policy ideas and political advice. Howard was one of few top Flynn advisors who Menino — who had known Howard for years — asked to remain in City Hall when Menino became mayor after Flynn resigned to become Bill Clinton’s ambassador to the Vatican.

“Howard could get more done with one phone call than most people can accomplish with 20 calls. He knew how City Hall worked and he knew what buttons to push to get things done. Plus, he knew everybody in City Hall, state government, and Congress, but also neighborhood activists, academic experts, business leaders, and union folks. And, most remarkably in the competitive bare-knuckles world of politics, everybody who knew Howard liked him. Howard managed to survive and thrive because everyone not only respected his views but respected his integrity. During the 8 years I worked with Howard for Mayor Flynn, there was often a division (perhaps best called a creative tension) between the progressives and moderates in the administration. Although Howard was one of the progressives, he was also a bridge-builder between the two camps, because everyone liked and respected him.

” Howard was the most selfless person in politics I’ve known. He dedicated his life to public service. Howard never forgot where he came from. He worked on housing issues, economic development issues, and food/hunger issues, always looking find ways to use the leverage of local, state and federal policy to help the most needy and disadvantaged. Most recently,, Howard was the chief architect of the Boston Food Policy Council and the Boston Public Market. His goal was to address the issue of hunger and malnutrition.

“In between, and after, his stints in City Hall, Howard worked as a lobbyist and a consultant for a variety of nonprofit groups and causes. He kept his principles intact, working for groups and causes he believed in, helping them negotiate the complex and confusing world of politics. Even while working on big issues in Boston and Washington, D.C., he stayed rooted in local retail politics, serving on the Democratic ward committees in Allston-Brighton and Jamaica Plain.

Howard was proud of his accomplishments in politics but he never flaunted his influence. He always down-to-earth, humble, and let others take credit.

“Besides politics, Howard had a few other passions. The most important one was his wife, Conny Doty, who met Howard while working for Flynn’s first mayoral campaign in 1983. Their romance blossomed in City Hall and they were the perfect couple in many ways.  All of us in their circle believe that “Howard and Conny” was one word.

“Another passion was the Boston Red Sox. Like his encyclopedic knowledge of Boston politics, Howard was a master of Red Sox trivia. He was a regular at Fenway Park (occasionally playing hooky from City Hall to attend a game) and a devoted fan. He liked the Celtics, too, but the Sox were his real sports passion. Despite being overweight, Howard was nimble on the basketball court and the softball diamond. He was also a real rock-and-roll aficionado and had an incredible CD collection. He was a huge fan of Bruce Springsteen. A few years ago, I went with him and Conny and other friends to a Springsteen concert at the Patriots’ stadium in Foxborough. Because of a heavy rainstorm, the concert started late, but Springsteen kept playing until after 1 am. Some folks, soaking wet, left early. Howard (and I) stayed to the end.

“Howard’s favorite phrase seemed to be “et cetera.” He ended many of his sentences with those words. I think he used that phrase because he knew so much about so many things, that it helped to save time to simply say “et cetera” rather than continue with a long list of things, because Howard stored lots of long lists in his head.

“Next month, Boston’s Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action was going to honor Howard for his lifetime of public service and his commitment to progressive values. I hope JALSA will turn that event into a tribute to and celebration of Howard. He was so often behind the scenes that the general public didn’t know about Howard’s extraordinary achievements. I’m sure there will be obits in the Globeand Herald, but the JALSA event would allow many of the people who Howard worked with, and helped, to tell stories about Howard’s remarkable life.

“As we Jews like to say, ‘may his memory be a blessing.’ ”

Peter Dreier, Dr. E.P. Clapp Distinguished Professor of Politics
Chair, Urban & Environmental Policy Department
Occidental College
Los Angeles

 

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