For a public-relations agent, Howard J. Rubenstein was so well-known and respected, you’d think he had his own publicist boosting his reputation. Truth is, he didn’t need one: His savvy, charm, integrity and invaluable connections were all it took to make him a New York institution.
He was a spin doctor you could love.
A Brooklyn kid, from Bensonhurst, Rubenstein — who died Tuesday at 88 — dropped out of Harvard Law School, set up a p.r. shop in his parents’ kitchen and went on to represent some of the biggest names in politics, business and entertainment: Donald Trump, the Duchess of York, Mayor Abe Beame, Gov. Hugh Carey, Columbia University, Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, assorted Wall Streeters, even this newspaper.
He worked with “everyone from Presidents to Popes,” notes his Web site. “Chances are, if it happened, Rubenstein was there.”
That wasn’t much of an exaggeration: He was friends with every New York mayor, governor and US senator, regardless of party, over the last half-century.
He was also the “dean of damage control” for marquee names (Marv Albert, Kathie Lee Gifford), shepherding clients through p.r. storms and managing successful comebacks. And make no mistake: Anyone who had to make Steinbrenner look good on his bad days and defend arrogant hotel mogul Leona Helmsley surely deserved all the hazard pay he got.
Even more than a publicist, Rubenstein was a deal-maker, arranging shidduchs between titans of business and government, to everyone’s benefit — including the city, which leaned on his skills in forging key alliances to help pull it through its brush with bankruptcy in the 1970s.
And he did it all with honor: “When you have a crisis, you first have to ask, what’s the right thing to do,” he counseled. It was his “life’s passion to elevate” public relations into “an ethical and honorable profession,” notes his son, Steven Rubenstein.
Mostly, he loved the city and worked to improve it and gave generously to charities. He was “a huge contributor to New York’s life and times, particularly in periods of crisis,” recalls Rupert Murdoch, owner of The Post and who was, yes, represented by Rubenstein.
Soft-spoken, full of grace, Rubenstein defied the classic image of a pushy p.r. flack. We’ll not likely see another like him. RIP.
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