John Zuccotti, titan of Downtown, dies at 78

Brookfield exec helped shape Lower Manhattan

John Zuccotti and Lower Manhattan
John Zuccotti and Lower Manhattan

John Zuccotti, a Brookfield executive and former deputy mayor who was instrumental in shaping post-9/11 Lower Manhattan, died Thursday. He was 78.

Zuccotti spent 25 years at Brookfield and its predecessor firm Olympia & York, playing an instrumental role in redeveloping Lower Manhattan after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Most recently, he served as the chair of global operations for Brookfield Asset Management.

“John was a great inspiration, friend and mentor to all who he touched at Brookfield, just as he was with countless New Yorkers throughout his long and storied career,” Ric Clark, Brookfield’s head of real estate, wrote in a letter to the company’s employees. He added that Zuccotti was “perhaps New York’s best public servant.”

Born in Manhattan in 1937, Zuccotti studied at Princeton University and Yale Law School. In 1973, Mayor John Lindsay appointed him chairman of the City Plannning Commission. Two years later, he became first deputy mayor under Abraham Beame – a post he held until 1977. After he left City Hall, he practiced law until 1990, when he joined Brookfield’s predecessor firm Olympia & York.

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At Brookfield, Zuccotti was instrumental in growing the company to its current size and clout, and in redeveloping Lower Manhattan over the past decade.

“Everyone who cares about Lower Manhattan owes him a great deal for what he did to help the neighborhood recover in the aftermath of 9/11,” Larry Silverstein, chairman of Silverstein properties, said in a statement.

Apart from his work for Brookfield, Zuccotti also served as a counsel for law firm Weil, Gotshal & Manges. He also did stints as an adjunct professor at Yale and Columbia, and as an assistant to federal secretary of housing and urban development Robert C. Wood. More recently, he served as chair of the board of the Performing Arts Center at the World Trade Center and a board member of the National September 11 Memorial Museum.

Zuccotti is survived by his wife, historian Susan Sessions Zuccotti, and their three children. Zuccotti Park, the Downtown plaza owned by Brookfield that was home to The Occupy Wall Street protests, is named after him. In 2011, he told the New York Times how the protests had made his name notorious around the globe.

“My cousin called and said everyone in Genoa was saying, ‘Is that your relative?’” he recalled. “I’ve become famous.”