My Story

Early Life and Career

I was born in Orange, New Jersey, and was raised in Brooklyn, New York. I went to P.S. 236, Junior High School 78 and James Madison High School, all Brooklyn public schools. My father, Marvin, died in November 2018, and my mother in August 2016. They are gone, but their voices remain in my head and in my heart. They lived in Brooklyn, Lawrence, and Long Beach, New York. My older sister, Judith, is a CPA who lives in Long Beach. My younger brother, Robby, is a historian, a professor, and the former department chair at New York University’s Education School. My younger sister, Myra, works for Soros Fund Management in New York City and lives in Long Beach. While I spent a little more than ten years living in Indiana, Buffalo, New York, West Virginia, and Washington D.C., I have spent well over five decades living in New York City. I think, at this point, I really am a New Yorker, through and through.

When we were kids, we used to go to the Catskills every summer, and in 1962 my parents bought a summer house in Lake Secor, New York. We grew up to the sounds of rock, folk, and soul music in the 1960s. I have always loved baseball and the Yankees. In high school, I was active in the anti-Vietnam War movement and in efforts to promote racial justice. I went to college in Franklin, Indiana, made some great friends, played in the band Palmyra, and delivered the Daily Journal Newspaper in rural Johnson and Brown counties. After college, I joined my brother in Buffalo, lived with him, and went to graduate school there. I studied environmental policy with Les Milbrath and Rich Tobin and organizational management with Marc Tipermas. Marc eventually hired me to work at the EPA, where I worked on public participation and organizational management in the water pollution control and Superfund programs.

I came back to New York City in 1981 to work at Columbia University when Jim Caraley hired me to teach in the MPA Program. It was there I met my wife, Donna Fishman, and in 1985, we were married on a beach in Long Island. Two years later, we bought a small house a block from the beach in Long Beach. After Hurricane Sandy, we rebuilt the ground floor of our Long Beach home, and like many of our neighbors, we decided to stay because we love the ocean and the beaches. During most of the year, we live on Morningside Drive in Manhattan. Donna was the Vice President for External Affairs at the Community Service Society (CSS) of New York, a nonprofit organization that advocates for the poor, for over a decade. In July 2004, Donna became the Deputy Director of the Jewish Fund for Justice; “The Jewish Fund for Justice is the only national Jewish organization solely committed to fighting the injustice of poverty in America.” From December 2005 until December 2010, Donna served as the Executive Director of the Gilda’s Club of Westchester, whose mission is “to provide a place where men, women, and children with cancer and their families and friends join with others to build social and emotional support as a supplement to medical care.” In December 2010, she became Deputy Director of the Fund for Public Health in New York, which was created in 2002 as a nonprofit organization to connect the NYC Health Department with public and private sectors to build public health programs. The Fund implements programs to address pressing public health needs and “is dedicated to the advancement of the health and well-being of all New York City residents.” Donna left the Fund in the spring of 2022 and has started up a management consulting business.

Both my biography and vita are on this web page. They give you a pretty good idea of what I’ve worked on. If my books sound interesting, they can be ordered online from either Jossey-Bass, Georgetown University Press, MIT Press, or Columbia University Press (or Amazon, where you can find most things these days.)

A Return to Environmental Policy and Management

Back in 2005, I returned to the issue of environmental policy and management with a co-authored book published by MIT Press on Strategic Planning and Environmental Regulation with my friend Sheldon Kamieniecki, Dean Emeritus of Social Sciences at UC Santa Cruz. In 2006, Columbia University Press published my book Understanding Environmental Policy, which was re-issued as a second edition in 2014. In 2011, Columbia University Press published Sustainability Management, a book that represents some of my current thinking on organizational and environmental management. In 2015, my Columbia colleagues Bill Eimicke, Alison Miller, and I published the book Sustainability Policy: Hastening the Transition to a Cleaner Economy with Jossey-Bass. This book focuses on the role of government in facilitating the transition to a renewable economy. In the fall of 2017, Columbia University Press published The Sustainable City. In June 2021, my colleague Dong Guo and I released a second edition of the book, which is being translated into Chinese. I published Environmentally Sustainable Growth: A Pragmatic Approach with Columbia University Press in the spring of 2023.

My Blog: State of the Planet

In February 2008, I began to write a blog mainly on environmental issues on the Green Pages of the New York Observer. When that ended in 2009, I started to write a weekly blog for the Huffington Post. Most recently, I moved my weekly blog to Columbia Climate School’s State of the Planet. If interested, you can view my blogs here.

Collaborative Publications

Most of the articles and books I’ve published are co-authored because I prefer to work as part of a team. In the last few years, I’ve done much of my writing with my friend, consulting partner, and intellectual co-conspirator, Bill Eimicke. In 2008, we wrote an academic public administration book entitled The Responsible Contract Manager, which was published by Georgetown University Press. Over the past few decades, Bill and I have been exploring new ways of bringing public management education to those who need it. We’ve taught courses in public management, management innovation, and the MPA workshop. We have taught strategic planning, total quality management, and management innovation to thousands of public sector practitioners. In 1988, I wrote the first edition of The Effective Public Manager, which Bill and I revised in 1995 and 2002. In the fall of 2008, Professor Tanya Heikkila joined us as co-author for the 4th edition, and in the summer of 2013, we again joined forces and co-authored the book’s 5th edition. Rather than revise that a 6th time, Bill and I have decided to write a book about fundamental management concepts of use to managers in public, private, or nonprofit organizations, and in the spring of 2020, we published the book Management Fundamentals with Columbia University Press.

Nearly two decades ago, Bill and I wrote a book entitled Tools for Innovators: Creative Strategies for Managing Public Sector Organizations. It discusses how and when to use total quality management, reengineering, team management, benchmarking, strategic planning, and privatization. Our thoughts on strategic planning are described in the Strategic Planning Handbook available on this page. The ideas in the book were first developed in a paper we delivered at the 1996 meeting of the American Society for Public Administration (ASPA). Some of our work to improve management in the public sector has found its way into our research and writing, including:

  • An effort to bring team management into the U.S. EPA’s Regional Office in New York City
  • The evolution of ethics in government during the 20th century
  • How New Yorkers perceive their parks
  • The use of surveys as a way of measuring the outcomes of public programs
  • The issues that government faces when trying to manage nonprofit contractor

I have co-authored numerous conference papers over the past few decades, presenting them at annual meetings of the Association of Public Policy Analysis and Management (APPAM), the American Society for Public Administration (ASPA), and the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration (NASPAA). I have written these papers with both colleagues and students on topics related to public management, policy analysis, environmental policy, management innovation, and sustainability management. Many of the papers have supported my work to bring practical professional education into Columbia’s MPA curricula. During the COVID pandemic, I stopped delivering conference papers and focused on writing blogs and books.

In the fall of 1999, I co-authored a conference paper with Tracie Abbott, who was then a student in our MPA Program, which dealt with integrating nonprofit management education into MPA curricula. We presented this paper at the 1999 meeting of the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration (NASPAA). In the fall of 2000, I delivered a paper at the annual meeting of the Association of Public Policy Analysis and Management (APPAM) on marketing executive MPA programs. In the fall of 2001, I served on a panel at the Annual meeting of the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration (NASPAA) and prepared a paper for the panel entitled “Developing International Partnerships and Projects: The Case of Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.” In 2007, I wrote a paper on the role of capstone workshops in connecting environmental policy master’s students to employers and delivered it at the Annual Meeting of the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration (NASPAA). I also co-authored a paper with my colleague Alison Miller for the 2015 annual meeting of NASPAA entitled “Enriching the MPA through Global Education: Columbia University’s Hybrid Teaching Model.” You can find copies of these papers here.

Developing Sustainability Curricula at Columbia

I have been working since 2001 to build a master’s program in Environmental Science and Policy at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) and the Earth Institute. The program’s first year was taught at the Biosphere 2 Center in Oracle, Arizona. In June 2003, we moved the program to New York. In the fall of 2003, I presented a paper entitled “Developing a Specialized Master of Public Administration Program: The Case of Columbia University’s Master of Public Administration Program in Environmental Science and Policy” at the annual meeting of the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration (NASPAA). To help fully integrate the program’s curriculum, I have worked with several colleagues to develop the cornerstone of the MPA in Environmental Science and Policy: a three-semester workshop sequence where students serve as management consultants for real-world government or nonprofit clients. Syllabi and handbooks from those classes can be found on the program’s website. Reports and videos of workshop briefings are also on the program’s website.

When I stepped down after thirteen years as Director of SIPA’s MPA Program to become the school’s Vice Dean, I wrote a paper analyzing the evolution of the program’s curriculum. I’ve also included that paper on this site since it reflects my views and those of my colleagues about the way to teach public policy and management in a professional school. That paper is entitled “The Evolution of an MPA Program: The Case of the Graduate Program in Public Policy and Administration at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.”

From 1985 to 1998, I was the Director of Columbia University’s Graduate Program in Public Policy and Administration. From 1987 to 1998, I was the Associate Dean for Faculty and Curriculum at SIPA. From July 1998 to January 2001, I served as Vice Dean of SIPA. In January 2001, I became Director of SIPA’s Executive Master of Public Administration Program and Director of the Master of Public Administration Program in Environmental Science and Policy. In January 2002, I was appointed Director of the Office of Educational Programs at the Earth Institute. I served on the Earth Institute’s Management Committee and Council of Directors. In 2002 and 2003, I was part of teams that developed a new Ph.D. program with SIPA in Sustainable Development and a new master’s program in Climate and Society. In 2005, at the request of SIPA Dean Lisa Anderson, I stepped down as Director of the Executive MPA Program and became Director of SIPA’s Concentration in Environmental Policy Studies.

In the spring of 2006, Earth Institute Director Jeffrey Sachs asked me to serve as Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer of Columbia’s Earth Institute. I helped grow the research, education, and practice initiatives at the Earth Institute, reporting to the university’s provost. That job took up a good deal of my time and energy as we worked to continually grow and evolve this institution at the university. In 2010, I designed and then was appointed director of a new master’s program in Sustainability Management at Columbia’s School of Continuing Education (now School of Professional Studies) and the Earth Institute. I teach a course called Sustainability Management for my students in SIPA and the School of Professional Studies (SPS). I also continue to teach in the three-semester workshop sequence in the MPA in Environmental Science and Policy program. After 12 years, in April 2018, I stepped down as the Executive Director of the Earth Institute. That Institute is now in the process of evolving into Columbia’s Climate School. In November 2018, Columbia Provost John Coatsworth, Arts and Science Vice President Maya Tolstoy, and School of Professional Studies Dean Jason Wingard recruited me to serve as the Senior Vice Dean of SPS. When Dean Wingard left Columbia, his replacement Troy Eggers asked me to stay on, and I agreed and continue to enjoy my work at SPS.

Public Service

In late 2001, my former boss Michael Crow nominated me to the U.S. EPA’s National Advisory Council for Environmental Policy and Technology. I was appointed to that Council in January 2002. My term on the Council ended in 2004 and, from 2004 until 2006, I served as a management consultant to EPA Region II. In 2010 I took on the assignment of Senior Advisor to Willdan Energy Solutions, a company that promotes energy efficiency and sustainability. In the spring of 2015, I joined Willdan’s Board of Directors. Currently, I serve as the Lead Independent Director of the board. In the fall of 2016, I joined the Advisory Board of the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment and I also became the Chair of the Science and Technology Committee at The Lotos Club. Both of these roles ended in 2022, but I continue to serve on the Admissions Committee of the Lotos Club.

I believe very strongly in the importance of public service and the value of public service education. As my former colleague, professor, and former Mayor, the late David Dinkins often said, a society is judged by how it treats the least among it; the young, the poor, the frail, the elderly. I think that, as individuals, we are also responsible for what we give to each other, not what we accumulate in treasure. Having a family has taught me that life is precious and fleeting. One moment you are looking into the eyes of a baby one hour old, and the next moment that baby is showing you a story she wrote at school and asking for guitar lessons. In 2003, our daughter Gabriella celebrated her Bat Mitzvah. In 2006, our younger daughter Ariel celebrated her Bat Mitzvah. In July 2017, Gabriella gave birth to her daughter Lily, who she gave the Hebrew name Sara, in memory of my late mother. In December 2021, Ariel and her husband Eitan welcomed twin daughters into the world: My granddaughters Noa and Adi. Noa is also named for my mom. Gabriella and her family live in Washington Heights and Ariel and her family live in Modiin, Israel. Both of my daughters are now adults making their own way in the world. Time passes quickly and each of us must contribute what we can to make the world a better place. Our great responsibility is to make the world safe for our children and to make it possible for them to accomplish and be all they can.

On Being a New Yorker and an American

I have lived in New York City for most of my life and I often comment on New York City policy and political issues. I participated with my colleagues Mark Gordon, Gregory Frankel, Nickolas Themelis, and others in an analysis of New York City’s waste management plan. I also wrote a paper for the 2003 ASPA meeting analyzing New York City’s solid waste problem as an environmental policy issue. I have a deep interest in the management of New York City’s government. Despite the assertions of the Giuliani administration claiming that they were the only New York City government that knew how to manage, I found continuous and creative management throughout the Beame, Koch and Dinkins years as well. Mayor Bloomberg continued this tradition of excellent management in the New York City Mayor’s office, and while the de Blasio administration was a deep disappointment, I hope that Mayor Adams will follow in these footsteps.

In the fall of 2001, after the horror of the destruction of the World Trade Center, I gave the MPA students in my graduate seminar in public management the choice of either taking the course’s normal final exam or working in teams to research the response by the public sector to the catastrophe of 9/11. More than half of the students decided to work on the research. The work they did provided some of the material for a case study that I wrote with Bill Eimicke and the course’s Teaching Assistant, Jess Horan, entitled “Catastrophe And The Public Service: A Case Study Of The Government Response To The Destruction Of The World Trade Center.” We all learned a great deal and felt great pain during September 2001. I will never forget the white cloud of smoke visible from the window of my office or the sounds of silence on Broadway as I walked to Bank Street School to check on my daughters. Through it all, I was proud to be a New Yorker and thankful for the courage of my neighbors and friends. I thought of the dreams and wisdom of my grandparents that brought them to this country and found my love for America deepen and grow. Today, my love of country remains, although I am deeply ashamed of the failure of fundamental public administration we see in our national government in Washington D.C. We need and deserve a competent federal government. Instead, all we see is failure. From Iraq to Katrina, from global warming to the BP Oil Spill, we have managed to forget the lessons we should have learned in the second half of the 20th century. Sadly, our federal government remains a dysfunctional mess. Joe Biden is doing his best, but Congress and the Supreme Court are disasters.

Recent and Current Research

My research now alternates between the fields of public management and environmental policy and often combines both fields of study. The work of managing the Earth Institute combined with teaching, blogging and directing the MPA in Environmental Policy Program at Columbia’s SIPA and the MS in Sustainability Management Program at Columbia’s SPS has made it difficult to pursue a research agenda. Nevertheless, my interest in maintaining and improving urban environmental quality has raised a number of questions that I have worked on in recent years:

  • “How do we build institutions that permit meaningful public voice in local community and economic development?
  • “How do we plan and finance the infrastructure needed to provide water, transport, energy, waste treatment, shelter, education, health care and transport here in New York and in cities around the world?
  • “How do we ensure accountable and representative political institutions in a world growing more technically complex and economically interconnected every day?”

The result of this is a new emphasis on sustainability management. I am working to combine environmental science, policy and management into a single field. My recent academic and research pursuits illustrate my commitment to this task. As I mentioned above, I direct a master’s program in sustainability management and teach a course in sustainability management. In 2011, Columbia University Press published my book entitled Sustainability Management: Lessons From and For New York City, America and the Planet, and in 2015 I co-authored a book entitled Sustainability Policy: Hastening the Transition to a Cleaner Economy. I see a bright future for sustainability. As I wrote in the Huffington Post in December 2010:

“It is increasingly difficult for me to see how anyone can claim to be well trained in management in our business schools or competent in policy analysis, in our public policy schools, if they lack any knowledge of the physical dimensions of sustainability. These physical dimensions are no longer simply engineering issues or “externalities” but factors that influence an organization’s ability to survive and thrive. These are core issues of organizational management… before long all competent management will be sustainability management, and all competent managers must be sustainability managers.”

In the spring of 2013, I established the Research Program on Sustainability Policy and Management at the Earth Institute. Our major initiative is a multi-year project on sustainability metrics. The field of sustainability management will not fully develop until we have a generally accepted set of sustainability metrics. As Peter Drucker once observed, “You can’t manage something unless you can measure it.” Without measurement, you can’t tell if management’s actions are making the situation better or worse. That research program is led by my colleagues Satyajit Bose, Dong Guo, Kelsie DeFrancia, Hayley Martinez, Alison Miller and Alix Schroder.

In recent years my published work has focused on sustainability issues. Typically this has focused on blogs and books but I have published a few articles, including:

  • “The Use of Strategic Planning, Information, and Analysis in Environmental Policy-Making and Management” in Oxford Handbook on U.S. Environmental Policy, ed. Sheldon Kamieniecki. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.
  • “Sustainable New York City: A Work in Progress” in European Financial Review, December 2011.
  • “U.S. Climate Policy in 2011: A Status Report” (with Alison Miller) in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, January/February 2012
  • “Yes, global warming caused this” in the NY Daily News, November 4, 2012
  • “Life Cycle Assessment and the U.S. Policy-Making Context” in Emerging Technologies: Socio-Behavioral Life Cycle Approaches, ed. Nora Savage ( 2013.
  • “The Irrelevance of Global Climate Talks” in America’s, Summer 2013.
  • “Sustainability and Management Competence” in World Financial Review, March/April 2014.
  • “What Is Stopping the Renewable Energy Transformation and What Can the U.S. Government Do?” in Social Research, Fall 2015.
  • “A Positive Vision of Sustainability,” (With Kelsie DeFrancia and Haley Martinez) in Environmental Studies and Sciences, Spring 2016.
  • “All Environmental Politics is Local” in Sustain: A Journal of Environmental and Sustainability Issues, Issue 37, Fall/Winter 2017: pages 8-15.
  • “Understanding the Sustainable Lifestyle,” in The European Financial Review, December/January 2017: pages 7-9.
  • “COVID-19 in New York City and an Extreme Event: The Disruption and Resumption of the Global City” in The Journal of Extreme Events, Volume 7 Number 3, March 2021*

Before COVID I did a bit of travelling outside the U.S. In June 2015, I was a keynote speaker Eco Forum Global Annual Conference in Guiyang, China. In November 2015 I was a keynote speaker at the Comunitas 8th Annual Leaders Forum in Sao Paulo, Brazil. And in January 2016, and again in March 2018 I gave talks on sustainability at the Porter School of Environmental Studies at Tel Aviv University in Israel. I serve on the Porter School’s Faculty Advisory Committee. I am also a judge for the Yidan Prize Foundation, “the world’s biggest prize in education.” Charles Yidan, the prize’s originator and founder, is one of the great visionaries of our time.

To Conclude

That is a little about me and what I do. I try to work in my own way to try to make a small difference. I’ve worked since the early 1980s to build graduate programs to train people to work effectively in public service. I’ve tried to research and write about ways to build innovative and creative public organizations. Today, I’m working with a talented team of educators, researchers and administrators to build the profession of sustainability management. Our goal is to bring the social and natural sciences together to help make the planet sustainable and free of extreme poverty. I’ve consulted for many public organizations and tried to help them in their work. It’s been fun, frustrating, and fascinating and I can’t think of anything I’d rather do. That’s it for now… I try to answer my e-mails personally and quickly (although I tend toward brief responses) and would be happy to hear from you.