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Guide to the John Zuccotti Papers
1956-2015
 MS 3018

New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
Phone: (212) 873-3400


New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Larry Weimer

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on August 03, 2018
English using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

Biographical/Historical Note

John Eugene Zuccotti was born 23 June 1937 in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of New York City, the son of Angelo and Gemma Zuccotti. He graduated from La Salle Military Academy and in 1959 received his B.A. in History from Princeton University. After Princeton, he fulfilled his military commitment by going to training for the Army Reserve, becoming a second lieutenant; he remained a reserve until 1967. After completing military training, Zuccotti attended Yale University Law School, earning his law degree in 1963. While a law student during the summer of 1962, Zuccotti interned in Washington, D.C., for Jacob K. Javits, the U.S. senator from New York. 1962 was a senatorial election year in New York, and Zuccotti was exposed to Javits's campaign activities. The politically liberal Javits would win re-election on the Republican Party ticket that November.

After graduating from Yale Law in the spring of 1963, Zuccotti accepted a temporary position with the Joint Center for Urban Studies of MIT and Harvard. At the time, the Joint Center was providing technical advice to the Corporacion Venezolana de Guayana (CVG), a Venezuelan public agency created in 1960 to design and implement a regional development program. Zuccotti moved to Venezuela to participate in the project from July 1963 to late 1964 or early 1965. (See Series II for further information about the CVG and the project.) In the summer of 1963, Zuccotti married Susan Sessions. The couple lived in Venezuela until Zuccotti's time with the project ended, at which time the Zuccottis returned to New York where John took up employment in early 1965 with the law firm Davis, Polk, Wardwell, Sunderland, & Kiendl.

About two years later, in late 1966, Zuccotti left Davis, Polk to move to Washington, D.C., where he worked as Special Assistant to Robert C. Wood (1923-2005), Undersecretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). HUD was still in its infancy as a cabinet level department, having been formed in January 1966 out of a predecessor agency, the House and Home Financing Agency, as a result of Great Society legislation signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965. Wood had joined HHFA/HUD in 1965 from MIT where he had been a political scientist; he had been involved with the Joint Center and its Venezuelan project and he and Zuccotti knew each other from that connection. Zuccotti remained at HUD until January 1969 when he, along with Wood, left because of the change of presidential administrations from Johnson to Richard M. Nixon. Zuccotti stayed in Washington for another year, working as Secretary and Counsel to the National Corporation for Housing Partnerships.

In early 1970, Zuccotti returned to New York to become a founding partner with Peter Tufo and Joseph Johnston of the law firm Tufo, Johnston and Zuccotti. He and his wife moved to the Carroll Gardens section of Brooklyn, where they lived the rest of his life, raising three children. Zuccotti also began to take positions on Boards of Directors, including that of Material Systems Corporation, a company engaged in developing factory made low cost housing. In January 1971, a position that was required to be filled by a Brooklyn resident opened on the City Planning Commission; Mayor John V. Lindsay appointed Zuccotti to the spot. Two years later, in February 1973, Lindsay promoted Zuccotti to Chairman of the Planning Commission, at which point Zuccotti left his private law practice. Later in 1973, Mayor-elect Abraham Beame, a Democrat, re-appointed Zuccotti as Chairman. This chain of events was emblematic of the direction Zuccotti's career would follow in the coming decades: an expertise in urban planning, housing, land use, and zoning law that would put him at the center of private real estate development initiatives; political connections that kept him involved in some capacity in public service, but of a non-partisan quality that enabled him to support and be called on by both Democratic and Republican officials; and a highly competent "honest broker" who could navigate contentious public issues.

New York City faced severe fiscal difficulties during the Beame administration of the mid-1970s, with the city nearly declaring bankruptcy in 1975. One fallout of the negotiations to rescue the city financially was Mayor Beame's firing of his chief aide, First Deputy Mayor James Cavanagh. To replace him, Beame named Zuccotti to the position in December 1975. Zuccotti served in the position until June 1977, leaving a few months before Beame's defeat for re-election that November, and he is credited for being one of the stabilizing forces that contributed to New York's eventual economic recovery.

After leaving the Beame administration, Zuccotti returned to his private law practice and to the firm then named Tufo & Zuccotti where he represented various real estate development and other land use interests. In 1986, the firm merged with Brown, Wood, Ivey, Mitchell & Petty, with the combined law firm named Brown & Wood. In the late 1980s, one of Zuccotti's clients, the international real estate developer Paul Reichmann, approached him to take over management of Reichmann's commercial property development company, Olympia & York. At the time, Reichmann was intensely involved with developing the Canary Wharf project in London and sought an experienced hand to run O&Y's other properties, which included the World Financial Center, located next to the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan. Zuccotti accepted the offer and became President and Chief Executive Officer of Olympia & York in January 1990.

It soon became apparent that Reichmann had financially over-extended both himself and O&Y with the Canary Wharf project. He resigned from the company in early 1992 and Zuccotti was left to manage O&Y's financial crisis. After years of negotiation with O&Y's creditors and declaring bankruptcy as a strategic maneuver, Zuccotti successfully led the organization to recovery. In 1996, O&Y emerged from bankruptcy under a new name, World Financial Properties LP, with Zuccotti remaining as Chairman of the reorganized company. In February 1999, the company changed its name to Brookfield Financial Properties LP, which remains its name. Zuccotti held a leadership position in the Brookfield organization for the rest of his life. He died in 2015 of a heart attack at age 78.

The reorganization of Olympia & York in 1996 resulted initially in a much diminished company as a multitude of its properties were divested in order to satisfy creditors. Nevertheless, the new company that became Brookfield still held some important properties including those in Manhattan's Financial District, including two next to the World Trade Center complex. Consequently, Brookfield and Zuccotti were significant contributors to the recovery and rebuilding planning after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. One of Brookfield's properties damaged on 9/11 was Liberty Plaza Park, a privately-owned public space spanning one square block adjacent to the World Trade Center. After the park was renovated and re-opened in 2006 by Brookfield, it was renamed Zuccotti Park in honor of Brookfield's Chairman. The small plaza became famous in September 2011 when protestors against social and economic inequality chose Zuccotti Park as their site to place an encampment and launch the Occupy Wall Street movement. Given the private/public legal status of the plaza, and other considerations, there was a level of uncertainty on the part of the authorities as to how to deal with the occupation. After two months, in November the police raided the encampment and ended the Zuccotti Park occupation.

While the above sketches out the main thread of Zuccotti's career, through the 1980s and afterward, he was also involved in numerous other initiatives and positions. In 1982, he was appointed Impartial Arbitrator by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and locals of the Transport Worker Union and Amalgamated Transit Union, a role he served for nine years. Zuccotti was Chairman of Mayor Edward I. Koch's Advisory Committee on Police Management and Personnel Policy (see series III) in 1985-87, a member of Koch's Advisory Task Force on the Homeless (1986-87), Chairman of Governor Hugh Carey's World Trade Center Task Force (1980-81) and a member of Carey's Economic Development Advisory Council with Felix Rohatyn and others (1979), and a member of Mayor David Dinkins's Managerial Review Commission (1991) and Commission on the Homeless (1991-92). He served over time on many corporate, non-profit and educational boards, including Co-Chair of the Citizens Commission on AIDS for New York City and Northern New Jersey (1987-91), Chairman of the Downtown Lower Manhattan Association, Chairman of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, and trustee of Columbia University, to note a few. Zuccotti was a frequent speaker and panelist (such as his leadership of a workshop at the Regional Mobility Conference in 1988), and he was an adjunct professor at Yale Law in 1986-1988 and at Columbia Law for several terms in the 1990s.

(The above note was based on various on-line newspaper articles and from documents in the collection.)