By the early 1950s, because of my position in the Tishman Realty and Construction Company, I was regularly sought to raise funds by such organizations as the United Jewish Appeal and the Federation ofJew-ish Philanthropies, which were then separate entities, as well as the Governor’s Committee for Student Scholarships, Carnegie Hall, and other such charities. They wanted me because I could put the touch on the contractors who worked for us. Every city has its own tradition of how money is raised, and in New York the usual practice was to throw a gala dinner and strong-arm your friends, relatives, clients, and especially those to whom you regularly awarded business to buy a table at the dinner. Our contractors were used to having builders ask them to underwrite a table at a dinner for a good cause. Everybody understood the rules of that game.
The first such project that I was asked to do, by Uncle David Tish-man, raised an unexpected question for me. David was going to have a room at the New York University Law School named after him, and he had pledged a certain amount of money for it. He wanted me to raise money from our subcontractors to lessen the amount that he would have to pony up. I did it, but I wasn’t entirely comfortable doing so. If you’re going to have something named after you, shouldn’t you contribute all the money for it?
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After my “success” with my uncle David’s project, just about everybody else in the family tapped me, and so did some of our clients, to raise money for their own commitments. Our subcontractors felt that pressure, but it was difficult for any of them to say “no” to an invitation that bore my name.
Since I had to chair lots of charitable luncheons and dinners, the work of setting up the event, generating the invitations, tracking the replies, etc., became almost a full-time job for some of my colleagues and office staff. I attempted not to chair too many dinners, so as not to exhaust the willingness of our trade contractors and subs to ante up. I contributed what money I could, but in those years, when my elders controlled the family firm, I did not have much in the way of discretionary income. Later, however, when I took over the firm, I would generally contribute first to good causes before twisting the arms of our contractors and suppliers.
Two very liberal, activist lawyers, Lillian Poses and Connie Lindau, were the people behind one of the most interesting of the annual dinners. Their charitable venture was the Mayor’s Committee on Scholastic Achievement, and it provided many students with college scholarships.
At one of the dinners for which I served as chairman, among the honored guests were two close friends, Larry Silverstein and Bill Zeckendorf Jr.
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