The Man Who Saved New York

Hugh Carey and the Great Fiscal Crisis of 1975

By Seymour P. Lachman & Robert Polner

Subjects: New York State Government, New York/regional, Political Science, Biography
Series: Excelsior Editions
Imprint: Excelsior Editions
Hardcover : 9781438434537, 229 pages, July 2010

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Table of contents


1. The Life Stinks Club

2. “Oh, Now What Have You Done?”

3. Party Crasher

4. On Borrowed Time

5. Visible Means of Support

6. “We Confront, therefore, a Formidable Dilemma”

7. The Battle of Washington

8. Thus Passes the Glory of the World

Selected Bibliography

A dramatic and colorful portrait of one of New York’s most remarkable governors, Hugh L. Carey, with emphasis on his leadership during the fiscal crisis of 1975.


Winner of the 2011 Empire State History Book Award presented by New York State Archives Partnership Trust

The Man Who Saved New York offers a portrait of one of New York's most remarkable governors, Hugh L. Carey, with emphasis on his leadership during the fiscal crisis of 1975. In this dramatic and colorful account, Seymour P. Lachman and Robert Polner's examine Carey's youth, military service, and public career against the backdrop of a changing, challenged, and recession-battered city, state, and nation.

It was Carey's leadership, Lachman and Polner argue, that helped rescue the city and state from the brink of financial and social ruin. While TV comedians mocked and tabloids shrieked about the Big Apple's rising muggings, its deteriorating public services, and the threats and walkouts by embattled police, firefighters, and teachers, all amid a brutal recession, Carey and his team managed to hold on and ultimately prevailed, narrowly preventing a huge disruption to the state, national, and global economy. At one point, the city came within a few hours of having to declare itself incapable of paying its debts and obligations, but in the end stability and consensus prevailed, and America's largest city stayed out of bankruptcy court. The center held.

Based on extensive interviews with Carey and his family, as well as numerous friends, observers, and former advisors, including Steven Berger, David Burke, John Dyson, Peter Goldmark, Judah Gribetz, Richard Ravitch, and Felix Rohatyn, The Man Who Saved New York aims to place Carey and his achievements at the center of the financial maelstrom that met his arrival in Albany. While others were willing to let the city go into default, Carey was strongly opposed, since it would not only affect the state as a whole but would have reverberations both nationally and internationally.

In recounting the 1975 rescue of New York City and the aftershocks that nearly sank the state government, Lachman and Polner illuminate the often-volatile interplay among elite New York bankers, hard-nosed municipal union leaders, the press, and influential conservatives and liberals from City Hall to the Albany statehouse to the White House. Although often underappreciated by the public, it was Carey's force of will, wit, intellect, judgment, and experiences that allowed the state to survive this unparalleled ordeal and ultimately to emerge on a stronger footing. Further, Lachman and Polner argue, Carey's accomplishment is worth recalling as a prime example of how governments—local, state, and federal—can work to avoid the renewed the threat of bankruptcy that now confronts many overstretched states and localities.

Seymour P. Lachman served as President of the New York City Board of Education and University Dean of the City University of New York before being elected to the New York State Senate, where he served five terms. He was consulting editor of The United States in the Middle East and was coauthor (with Barry A. Kosmin) of One Nation Under God: Religion in Contemporary American Society and (with Robert Polner) Three Men in a Room: The Inside Story of Power and Betrayal in an American Statehouse. He is currently Director of the Hugh L. Carey Institute for Government Reform at Wagner College, Staten Island, where he is also a Distinguished Professor in Residence. Robert Polner, a former award-winning reporter for Newsday, works as a public affairs officer for New York University and its Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. He was the editor of America's Mayor, America's President? The Strange Career of Rudy Giuliani, and coauthor (with Seymour P. Lachman) of Three Men in a Room: The Inside Story of Power and Betrayal in an American Statehouse. He also cowrote (with Paul Schwartzman) New York Notorious: A Borough-by-Borough Tour of the City's Most Infamous Crime Scenes. His work has been published in Salon, The Guardian, Columbia Journalism Review, and The Progressive, and he has taught journalism at New York University and Columbia University.


"Lachman and Polner provide a vivid portrait of the multiple obstacles faced by Governor Carey in Washington, Albany and New York City as he and his aides sought federal assistance, state remedial legislation and voluntary changes in New York City's fiscal management, all aimed at ending the steep and deepening contraction of available credit for the city." — Hofstra Labor & Employment Law Journal

"…a tribute to Governor Carey's mastery over the city's fiscal collapse." — Francis X. Clines, New York Times

"…a terrific new book … Through a combination of Irish charm and steely Brooklyn smarts, Carey devised plans that saved New York." — George J. Marlin, Long Island Business News

"[Lachman and Polner's] earnest biography strives to finally give Mr. Carey and the talented people he attracted to state government the credit they deserve." — New York Times

"The story of how we averted disaster is grippingly told in … The Man Who Saved New York. The authors recount how Carey's determined and creative leadership brought New York back from the brink of civic and financial catastrophe." — Andrew Cuomo

"…Lachman and Polner have painted a vivid picture of a colorful figure in New York history, whose actions in the face of fiscal crisis may never be more relevant." — Buffalo News

"…The Man Who Saved New York … is a profile in courage, a detailed portrait of a man in his moment … the book makes a compelling case that without the governor's savvy, unswerving leadership, New York City would have gone under, and might well have taken the state and the nation down with it." — New York Observer

"…a riveting and timely account of Hugh Carey's pivotal role in averting the financial collapse of New York City." — Albany Times Union

"[New York's] future governor will appreciate this dramatic saga of what it's like to be a brand new occupant of the executive mansion who opens the cabinets to find they've been stripped bare." — Village Voice

"The book chronicles a crucial time in New York's history, a time when partisan politics abated to the extent that the governor and Legislature could come together and resolve the greatest challenge facing New Yorkers." — Daily Gazette

"It's an incredible story—dramatic, filled with larger than life personalities and moments when politicians in City Hall, Albany and Washington faced the choice between expediency and responsibility and chose right. Lachman and Polner … provide an engrossing and accessible story of how the crisis unfolded, full of sudden storms, false dawns and Carey's sure voice." — City Limits Magazine

"…[Lachman and Polner] drive home Mr. Carey's role as the right man in the right place." — The Chief-Leader

"This is the definitive account of New York's fiscal crisis, of its hero Governor Hugh Carey, and of one of the most significant and absorbing episodes in the history of local and state government in this country. Plus it is timely—because New York and a handful of other states stand once more on the brink of bankruptcy." — Peter Goldmark, formerly New York State Budget Director, President of the Rockefeller Foundation, and Chairman and CEO of the International Herald Tribune

"We would do well to learn from this account of New York's fiscal crisis in the 1970s as the federal government and more than a few states enter a period of financial danger. This is vital reading and instructive history." — Richard Ravitch, Lieutenant Governor of New York

"This stirring account of a seminal moment in American history—the New York City financial crisis—reminds us dramatically that Democrats and Republicans, business executives and union leaders can solve problems together when the common good is their priority. This is important reading for today, when our political and financial systems are in jeopardy." — Felix Rohatyn, investment banker and former U.S. Ambassador to France

"Hugh Carey is the finest governor I have ever known—gutsy, ethical, politically skillful, and clear thinking. His story and the fiscal crisis of 1975 is brilliantly told and beautifully written by Lachman and Polner. I loved the book." — Donna E. Shalala, President of the University of Miami and former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services

"Intellectually, academically, and politically, The Man Who Saved New York couldn't be more timely and vital for New York as the state slides toward its own rendezvous with insolvency." — Fred Siegel, author of The Prince of the City: Giuliani, New York, and the Genius of American Life

"The Man Who Saved New York is a fascinating inside look at the city's fiscal crisis and Hugh Carey, a man who gets too little credit for his role in solving it. You may think you know the story, but you won't until you have read this book." — Kevin Baker, author of Strivers Row and Paradise Alley: A Novel