Chairman and principal of three affiliated companies: Levine Builders, Douglaston Development and Clinton Management. Levine has overseen the new construction or rehabilitation of thousands of rental and condo properties, including many affordable housing units, and built or renovated millions of square feet of commercial space. He is developing the Edge in the rezoned 175-block area along the Williamsburg/Greenpoint waterfront. At 7.5 acres, it is considered one of the most ambitious mixed-use waterfront developments to rise in the city, and if approved, Brooklyn’s largest residential LEED-certified green community.
What is your full name?
Jeffrey Elliot Levine.
What is your date of birth?
May 15, 1953.
Where did you grow up?
In Brooklyn, initially East Flatbush/Brownsville, and then East New York. And then we moved out to Queens, to the Bayside area. I actually started my office in the two-bedroom apartment I shared with my younger brother [in Queens], and the phone number, which is still the Levine Builders phone number, was the phone number that rang in our apartment. I refuse to change it.
Where do you live now?
I have a home in Old Westbury, and I have an apartment in a project that I built at 555 West 23rd Street.
Which one is your primary residence?
I’ve just become, in theory, an empty-nester. The last of our children is off at college at the University of Arizona, and it’s only occurred in the last five months, so we’re working to figure out what our primary residence is.
Do you have any other homes?
We have a house in West Hampton.
Where did you go to college?
TheCity College [of New York] School of Architecture. That’s a four year degree, but I went at night, so it probably took me closer to five or six years. I was working for a contractor during the day.
What did your father do for a living?
He drove a cab and [later had] an auto repair shop.
Did your mother work?
No. She raised four children.
Did your siblings go to college?
What are they doing today?
My sisters work for me part time, and my brother is in a successful air-conditioning service business.
What was the first job you ever had?
I delivered kosher meat in Brooklyn by bicycle. I guess I was about 11 years old.
Are you closer to your mother or father?
You always hear the stories about parents who tell every child or every grandchild that they’re their favorite. Well, I do the reverse: I tell them both that they are my favorite.
How long have you been married?
Twenty-five years this past December.
So you’re not on your second marriage to a woman half your age. If you want to really do me a great big favor, you can say that I married the love of my life and a trophy bride in [one] fell swoop. I would really get a lot of points for that.
How have you stayed married all these years?
Well, we were first too poor to divorce. Now we’re too opulent to divorce [laughs]. We love each other and have a respect for our respective qualities.
What do you do for exercise?
I try to get to the gym, I try to jog, and I have a regular [singles] tennis game I play at best biweekly. We’re both equally bad, and we kill each other [laughs].
Whom do you turn to in times of indecision at work?
I very rarely have times of indecision.
How do you handle anxiety?
Obviously, you can worry about everything, or you can worry about nothing. I choose to worry about things that I can alter.
Are you religious?
I am very observant. I belong to a Conservative temple. I’m probably one of the only Jewish boys to receive the National Museum of Catholic Art and History recognition.
Why’d you receive that?
I was very active working in the East Harlem community years ago, where they were based.
What is your definition of courage?
Courage, I guess, would be the ability to say and do what you believe is right at any time.
Do you think you have courage?
I like to believe I have it. Maybe other people should make that judgment.
What qualities do you look for in an employee?
You’ve got to be honest, hard-working and capable. There are times when obviously people make mistakes. I have no problem with [that] as long
as their intentions were good. But I have no tolerance whatsoever for a lack of integrity.
Do you think your kids will come into the business?
It’s very apparent that my son loves this business much the way I do. I hope one day that he makes a decision to come work with me. My daughters are somewhat younger, and I would love for them to come to work with me.
What makes you angry?
The key to being successful is having a high threshold for aggravation. It allows you to make it through the difficulties that occur without getting overwhelmed. What upsets me is when people don’t do what they
say they are going to do — when people are not honest.
What one word would people use to describe you?
I would like to think that I’m a mensch [Yiddish for a decent person] and a hamish person [Yiddish for easy to be with].
Interview by Lauren Elkies