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Bernard Spitzer, Builder, Father of Eliot Spitzer, Dies at 90

Sunday, 02 November 2014 11:04 PM

Bernard Spitzer, a developer of exclusive New York City buildings whose wealth fueled the political ascendancy of a son, Eliot, until a call-girl scandal forced his resignation as New York’s governor, has died. He was 90.

The Riverside Memorial Chapel in New York confirmed by phone that a memorial service for the deceased is scheduled for 10 a.m. tomorrow. Details of the time and cause of death weren’t immediately available. He had suffered from Parkinson’s disease throughout his son’s political rise and quick fall.

Spitzer was an exception to the image of the real estate titan as brash publicity seeker. He preferred to keep a low profile while building the luxury high rises that became his specialty.

His buildings include the 57-story Corinthian condominium on East 38th Street in Manhattan, the distinctively curved 35- story building at 200 Central Park South, and other high-end dwellings along the perimeter of Central Park.

Spitzer found his first profession, engineering, “deadly dull,” he told writer Brooke A. Masters for “Spoiling for a Fight: The Rise of Eliot Spitzer,” her 2006 biography. “What I do, which is to create buildings, is more challenging,” he said.

Spitzer and his wife, Anne, directed some of their self- made wealth -- various reports estimated it at $500 million -- toward charities and the Democratic Party, particularly the campaigns of their youngest son, Eliot.

Aid for Eliot

Loans from his father helped to finance Eliot Spitzer’s runs for New York attorney general in 1994, when he lost, and in 1998, when he won. Eliot Spitzer also earned hundreds of thousands of dollars annually from managing his father’s investments and lived rent-free in an apartment owned by his father.

After years of public denials, Eliot Spitzer acknowledged late in the 1998 election that he had, in fact, relied on a loan from his father to fund his 1994 bid. New York City’s Board of Elections declined to investigate, in part because election laws had a two-year statute of limitations. Republicans tried to use the issue against Spitzer during his 2006 campaign for governor, which he won in a landslide, and again during his combative first months as governor.

In August 2007, lawyers for Bernard Spitzer made public a profane, anonymous telephone message he had received that threatened he would be forced to testify about his “phony loans.” Private investigators traced the call to Roger Stone, a consultant to the New York Republican Party, who denied making it. The party fired him.

‘Flabbergasted’ by Accusations

Spitzer told Masters that he was “flabbergasted” by accusations that the family had violated campaign finance laws: “It never occurred to me that if I were contributing funds to my son that it could somehow be against the law.”

Money aside, Spitzer was credited for imbuing his politician-son with the relentless drive that became his trademark as attorney general and, for 14 months until his dramatic downfall, as governor. Growing up, Eliot and his two siblings would be expected to participate in a nightly discussion at the dinner table about an important topic.

The son of Jewish immigrants from Austria, Bernard Spitzer was born April 26, 1924, in New York City. He grew up on Manhattan’s Lower East Side in “a series of walk-up railroad flats without hot water,” according to Masters.

Breezing through his studies, he earned his engineering degree at the City College of New York at 18. After serving as a naval intelligence officer in World War II, he started work in New York real estate, first as a field supervisor for the Minskoff Brothers building firm and then on his own, according to a 1991 profile in the New York Times.

Luxury Buildings

The Times said his portfolio of completed co-op and rental buildings in Manhattan at the time included three on Fifth Avenue, two on Central Park South and one each on Park Avenue and East 72nd Street.

Spitzer and his wife married in 1945. She would become an adjunct professor of English literature at Marymount Manhattan College.

By the birth of their third child, Eliot, in 1959, the family lived in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, and Eliot and his older brother attended the exclusive Horace Mann School.

They set high standards for their children, even using games of Monopoly as opportunities to school them in the hard realities of business. Bernard and Anne Spitzer cared deeply for progressive politics and wanted their children to grow up to have an impact on society, Masters wrote.

Successful Children

Eliot Spitzer worked his way to politics through Princeton University and Harvard Law School. His brother, Daniel, went to Princeton and became a brain surgeon. Their sister, Emily, attended Harvard University and is a public-interest lawyer.

Bernard Spitzer was a founding donor and trustee of New York’s Museum of Jewish Heritage. He and his wife gave $15 million to New York’s American Museum of Natural History for creation of its Hall of Human Origins, which opened in 2007 with the Spitzer name on it.

They gave $8 million to Columbia University in 2002 to fund stem-cell research and $2.1 million to City College in 2005 to establish a chair in political science.

The family split time between an apartment on Fifth Avenue and a home in Rye, New York.

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Bernard Spitzer, a developer of exclusive New York City buildings whose wealth fueled the political ascendancy of a son, Eliot, until a call-girl scandal forced his resignation as New York's governor, has died. He was 90.
spitzer, father, obituary
Sunday, 02 November 2014 11:04 PM
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