Steve Spinola, president of the Real Estate Board of New York, entered public life as director of community relations for the New York City Off-Track Betting Corp., a job that prepares one for any and all situations. “I recall one meeting we had at a senior citizens center regarding the opening of an OTB branch,” he laughed. “The meeting ended with some of the attendees chasing us out of the meeting with the NYPD having to intervene.”
After that stint of public service, Spinola joined the late singer/songwriter Harry Chapin and served as executive director of World Hunger, the organization that provided public information regarding world hunger issues. “The jump from NYCOTB to World Hunger isn’t as startling as one might believe. My roots were in the reform movement of the Democratic Party in Queens and I actually supported Eugene McCarthy for president. And my work with REBNY does involve me with programs that help the city and the less fortunate. So I believe I have continued with my early work, which involved aiding those in need.”
Hear Steve Spinola speak at Real Estate Connect in New York City, Jan. 9-11.
Spinola, now president of The Real Estate Board, heads the real estate industry’s leading trade association in New York City. The Real Estate Board has more than 6,000 members who are professionally involved in New York City real property. REBNY represents industry positions before various government bodies, conducts research programs, gives qualifying courses to satisfy professional licensing requirements, as well as master seminars in certain real estate specialties, and provides pro bono technical and other assistance to social agencies creating housing resources for New York City’s homeless population. In 1996, Gov. George Pataki appointed Spinola to serve on the New York State Real Estate Board, a panel with advisory responsibilities in regulating the profession.
Crain’s New York Business has included Spinola in its list of the 100 Most Influential New Yorkers, describing him as the “authoritative public voice, lobbyist and conscience” of the industry he represents.
“Those were very nice comments but I’d change the order somewhat,” Spinola said. “I’m first a lobbyist for the real estate industry. At times, I have become the voice and the image of what the industry represents. As for being the conscience, I believe I reflect what my members want. For an example, as crime began to increase in the 1970s, Burt Resnick and myself visited Mayor David Dinkins and told him we would support higher real estate taxes if those monies went to hiring more police.”
Prior to becoming REBNY’s president on June 2, 1986, Spinola served as president of the New York City Public Development Corp., the municipal government’s principal instrument for spurring large-scale commercial and industrial development and rehabilitation programs in New York. Mayor Koch also assigned the lead responsibility for developing the city’s waterfront to the corporation. Among the projects in which the PDC was involved while Spinola was at its helm were the South Street Seaport and the 42nd Street Redevelopment Program.
Though not a coffee drinker, Spinola gulps his share of diet Coke to begin his day. And he works off the tension with golf and tennis. “He’s also a fan of the New York sports teams,” explains longtime friend Frank Marino. “I wouldn’t say Steve has a temper but you know when he isn’t happy with something. Long before the REBNY position, I worked for him as a press spokesperson at the NYCPDC. We prepared a proposal. He watched it and said, ‘I hate it.’ We worked all night to correct the problems. Steve can also be brutally honest with reporters. He would answer a question and then elaborate. It would drive me crazy.”
“The low and high point of my tenure at REBNY was Sept. 11, 2001,” Spinola said. “A high point because our members did not take advantage of the situation and even manned phone banks to help both commercial and residential tenants find space; forgoing any commissions. I believe September 11th clearly demonstrated the love of the city that the membership of REBNY has for New York. And both Rudy Guiliani and Mike Bloomberg have done a wonderful job in combating crime and changing the image that people had of New York City. We are now one of the safest, if not the safest, large city in the world.”
Previously, Spinola held a number of senior positions with the New York City Office of Economic Development where he eventually became deputy director/chief of staff for development.
Spinola holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the City College of New York with a concentration in political science and government. He attended the Harvard Business School/Kennedy School of Government Summer Program for Senior Managers in Government. He is married to the former Eileen Shea. They have two daughters, Elizabeth and Ellen.
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