The Closing: Steven Spinola

Since 1986, Steven Spinola has been the president of the Real Estate Board of New York, a 12,000-member trade association that represents the industry before numerous legislative and regulatory bodies. Earlier this year, REBNY lobbied in Washington for the first-time homebuyer tax credit, and was instrumental in defeating a proposed state tax on capital improvements for property. The organization, which helped push for luxury decontrol of rent-stabilized apartments in the past, this year has lobbied against proposals to extend the reach of rent regulations.

What is your full name?
Steven George Spinola.

What is your date of birth?
January 13, 1949.

Where were you born?
In Greenpoint, [Brooklyn].

Where do you live now?
I live in Garden City, Long Island.

How long have you been married [to Eileen Spinola, REBNY’s senior vice president of brokerage services and education]?
I gotta be careful here. We were married in December of ’71. It’s going to be 38 years [this year].

Do you have children?
Two daughters, ages 27 and 32.

You and your wife work together. Are you her boss?
Yes, technically.

Who is the boss at home?
My dog.

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What are your hours like at REBNY?
I’m not going to pretend I work all hours of the night. I don’t. I prefer to go home to eat. Most of the time I can get the job done during the day, and thanks to BlackBerrys and phones and computers you’re reachable. [However], there are events that I have to go to. If I have to go to Albany then you know it’s gonna be a long day. … When rent regulations were up 12 or 14 years ago, I went up there for one day and ended up staying for a week. … When Albany is in session it may be anything. Two years ago, when we were negotiating for an extension of the 421a [tax abatement program], I was up in Albany till 1 in the morning negotiating the language. … There are days when you go into the wee hours. And then there are days like yesterday, when we had a golf outing.

What did you do before coming to REBNY?
I ran the city’s Economic Development Agency [from 1983 to 1986], what was then called the Public Development Corporation. In doing that, I did deals. So the South Street Seaport, I negotiated, and Metrotech in Brooklyn was a deal that I helped put together, [and] the redevelopment of 42nd Street. My experience for the job was negotiating deals and understanding what government is capable of and how they think.

How did you get into that?
Well, during school [at City College], I was a shoe salesman at the 34th Street Bootery, which I don’t think is there anymore. … But after college my first job was working for the NYC Off-Track Betting Corporation. I did community relations for them.

Are you a gambler?
If I walk into a casino, I might spend $50 playing around with a few machines, but no, it’s not something for me. [Much of] what I did at OTB had nothing to do with gambling.

Is there a professional gaffe or mistake you’ve made in your career that you regret?
I’ve made mistakes and stupid decisions, because everybody does that, but nothing that has haunted me. At PDC, we were offered a $100,000 bribe, and we reported it, and the person [was] going to jail. A reporter said, ‘Well, I guess this proves that PDC can’t be bribed,’ and I jokingly said, ‘It’s just that $100,000 isn’t enough.’ The public relations guy yelled at me.

Who is your closest friend in New York City real estate?
That’s a dangerous question because of all my 12,000 members … [The late] Bernie Mendik served as my chairman for almost 10 years. He was more than a chairman to me. He was a friend, and he was someone who showed me every element of the industry.

When we write stories about REBNY, we sometimes get comments from members complaining that REBNY doesn’t do enough for them. What’s your response?
I would welcome them to send me a note or call and tell me what they’d like me to do. You might also just get their comments that we just care about the bigger firms. The answer is it’s just not true. We handle arbitration and ethics complaints and I will tell you that as often as not, the smaller firm will win.

Who is your favorite celebrity and why?
I happen to like Bruce Willis movies a great deal, and it’s not just the violent ones. I’m not saying he’s the greatest actor in the world, but he’s very good. … I don’t collect autographs, although I do have a Yogi Berra autograph and a few other people in baseball.

Who’s your baseball team?
I don’t want to upset Fred Wilpon [the owner of the Mets]. My wife’s a bigger Mets fan and I just grew up as a Yankees fan. It’s tough to break that. Fred gave me a wonderful Mets jacket with my name on the back for my 20th anniversary [at REBNY]. I don’t know if that means I have to now go in the bullpen and warm up for him.

Twenty-plus years. Are you going to retire anytime soon?
Well, I don’t think so. I still wake up in the morning, most mornings, and want to come in to work. When I sit in a room with our Board of Governors and I look around the room, I’m very proud of the people who lead our industry. And that’s about as sentimental as I’m going to get.