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Friday, November 24, 2000

RAYMOND T. SCHULER, 71; COMMISSIONER OF TRANSPORTATION UNDER THREE GOVERNORS WAS FOUNDING PRESIDENT OF THE BUSINESS COUNCIL

Raymond T. Schuler

ALBANY—Raymond T. Schuler, who created the New York State Department of Transportation, served as its commissioner under three governors, and then founded The Business Council of New York State, Inc., to build an economic renaissance in his native state, died early Friday. Schuler, 71, had fought cancer for eight years. He passed away at a hospice in Fort Myers, Florida, near his retirement home at Boca Grande. His exceptional career in public service was notable for the determination he displayed in building new institutions with missions focused on New York's most critical problems.

As commissioner of transportation under Governors Nelson Rockefeller, Malcolm Wilson and Hugh L. Carey, Mr. Schuler developed and implemented New York State's first master plan for transportation; he led the fight to save passenger rail service and to strengthen freight service.

In the private sector, he forged The Business Council into what is widely regarded as the nation's most influential state-level business organization, creating a force strong enough to help reverse New York's long economic decline. Born in Kingston on November 20, 1929, Mr. Schuler was named commissioner of transportation in 1972 at the age of 42 - the youngest member of Governor Rockefeller's cabinet. He was named president of Associated Industries of New York State, Inc., in 1977, created The Business Council in 1980, and served as its chief executive officer for the next eight years. After his nominal retirement in 1988, he remained active on corporate boards, and in governmental policy, economic development, civic affairs, and charity work.

He is survived by his wife, the former Patricia Ann Martin of Kingston; his daughters Patricia (Mrs. Iver) Anderson of East Greenbush, New York, and Ellen Schuler of New Fairfield, Connecticut; and five grandchildren. Patricia Anderson is national sales manager for Verizon local sales; Ellen Schuler is a manager with IBM in its International Customer Care Center.

Mr. Schuler was graduated from Syracuse in 1952 with a bachelor of arts in public affairs and public administration from the Maxwell School of Public Administration. While at Syracuse he became active in New York State Young Democrats, which he served as vice chairman, and he worked in efforts to elect a reform administration in Kingston to replace the Republican organization that then controlled the Hudson Valley city. He volunteered for the U.S. Marine Corps upon graduation, and served in the Korean War as an officer, platoon leader and company commander in the First Marine Division.

Mr. Schuler began his public-service career in New York State under the administration of Democratic Gov. W. Averell Harriman. He joined the executive staff of the then Department of Public Works and rose steadily through the ranks under the Republican administration of Governor Rockefeller. He was the key architect of the reorganization plan under which portions of the Department of Public Works were consolidated with functions from other state agencies to form the New York State Department of Transportation. This was the nation's first unified state agency incorporating all transportation-related functions. Mr. Schuler served as the first executive deputy commissioner of the new department under Commissioner Theodore Parker, and then was nominated by Governor Rockefeller to succeed General Parker as its commissioner. In 1974, as Commissioner of Transportation under Governor Wilson, Mr. Schuler coordinated the state government's disaster relief efforts in the wake of Hurricane Agnes. And he led the successful effort to win voter approval of an historic rail bond issue that became the foundation for preserving Amtrak and rail freight service in New York State. The next year Governor Wilson was succeeded by Governor Carey; Mr. Schuler was the only Cabinet commissioner retained in the new Democratic administration. As New York's commissioner he led the creation of the Conference of State Departments of Transportation, to help state governments around the nation cope with the growing transportation responsibilities being assigned them by federal policy. In 1977 he was recruited to become president of Associated Industries of New York State, Inc., the then somewhat moribund state manufacturers' association based in Albany. He immediately focused on two core objectives: to build a constructive rather than hostile relationship between business and government; and to create an organization that would have foundations strong enough for a long-haul, multi-year struggle to restore economic growth in New York State.

Before Mr. Schuler entered the private sector, relations between government and the business community were strained and negative. Structural changes in the economy had made the traditional high cost of government in New York an ever more serious competitive disadvantage for the state's business community, leading to a marked shortfall in New York's economic growth relative to that of the rest of the nation. Business organizations in Albany were openly hostile to the political community, and vice versa. Building on his political skills, his close relationship with Governor Carey, his longstanding contacts with legislative leaders in both parties, and his knowledge of key players in both business and labor, Mr. Schuler quickly moved to make Associated Industries a more positive force in state government affairs. Seizing opportunities to praise governmental leaders who were working to improve the business climate - rather than simply criticizing those who weren't - Associated Industries played a key role in supporting Governor Carey's personal income-tax cuts, and in supporting environmental and labor policies that were sensitive to business concerns. In his first year with Associated Industries, Mr. Schuler negotiated an historic agreement with then state AFL-CIO President Raymond Corbett that raised unemployment benefit levels to benefit the jobless, while enhancing the investment tax credit for companies that were growing in New York State.

Meanwhile Mr. Schuler began the negotiations that led, in 1980, to the consolidation of Associated Industries with its longtime rival, the Empire State Chamber of Commerce, to form The Business Council - a single, unified voice for all employers in New York State. The new organization's first chairman was Frank T. Cary, who was then the chairman and chief executive officer of IBM Corporation. The most contentious aspect of consolidating the two organizations had been Mr. Schuler's insistence that the Board of Directors of the new Business Council should consist of senior corporate executives. The boards of the two predecessor organizations had included a number of mid-level executives who had less clout both within their companies and with government. The senior executives for the new Board were recruited with the active help of Amory Houghton, Jr., then the chairman/CEO of Corning Inc. (and later a Member of Congress), who had first met Mr. Schuler during Corning's recovery efforts after Hurricane Agnes. With the consolidated structure in place, Mr. Schuler set about increasing the resources, visibility, stature and clout of the new Business Council. He cast aside the old model of a "special interest" business lobby, and determinedly positioned The Business Council as an advocate of economic growth that would benefit all the people of the state.

After Mr. Schuler pledged his personal financial resources in order to secure low-cost financing for a new headquarters, the Council renovated an historic but abandoned building at 152 Washington Avenue in Albany; the staff was moved into the new facility in 1981. He strengthened the dues base of the organization, tripled its lobbying and public-relations staff, and expanded the insurance programs that helped its members cut the cost of doing business. He created a research affiliate, The Public Policy Institute, to do in-depth analysis of New York's economic and social problems. To project a positive image of New York State to the rest of the world, The Council founded a magazine called New York Alive. In it, Mr. Schuler repeatedly expressed his deeply held affection for New York and its people. "What a state!" he wrote once. "Not just because of its geological features and its natural resources. But New York in its total sense - the land, the life style, the work, the culture and, most importantly, the people. Together, the whole adds up to more than the sum of the parts."His service at The Business Council strengthened Mr. Schuler's reputation for consummate skills as both an executive and a lobbyist. And he relished the occasional flamboyant gesture - such as his public presentation of two dozen red roses to then Assembly Speaker Mel Miller in 1986 upon the passage of a major tax-cut bill. In 1981, at the request of then President Ronald Reagan, Mr. Schuler joined the Board of Directors of the Consolidated Rail Corporation, which at the time was under government ownership. He was a leader in the effort to return the corporation to private ownership, playing an active role in the $1.8 billion initial public offering by Conrail on the New York Stock Exchange. He continued on the Conrail board until 1998, through the transition to a $10.5 billion merger into CSX and NS.

Mr. Schuler also served on the Board of Directors of Oneida Ltd. in Oneida, New York; as a Director of Northeast Savings Bank; as a Director of North American Medical Instrument Co. in Glens Falls; and as an owner/partner in Albany T.V. 23, Inc. The collaborative effort Mr. Schuler engineered to help improve New York's business climate had a significant impact on the state's fortunes; in fact, the state added over one million private-sector jobs during his time with Associated Industries and The Business Council. After Governor Carey left office in 1982, the attention of the state's political leadership to the business climate began to wane, and there were enormous job losses during and after the 1990 recession. One measure of the organization Mr. Schuler had built, however, is the fact that years after he had retired The Business Council was able to set a successful agenda for public policies that have once again spurred significant job growth in New York. In 1988, Mr. Schuler hand-picked and recruited then Assembly Majority Leader Daniel B. Walsh to succeed him as president of The Business Council. He regarded Mr. Walsh as one of the most astute legislative leaders in his long experience, and Directors of The Business Council repeatedly congratulated Mr. Schuler on what they saw as a major coup for the organization in securing his succession by such a prominent and respected leader. One year after leaving The Business Council, Mr. Schuler was appointed chairman of the Private Sector Commission on Cost Control in New York State Government, created by the Legislature to make recommendations on cost-effectiveness in government. The commission disbanded in the fall of 1991 after its work plan was rejected by the then leaders in both the legislative and executive branches. Its preliminary research, however, helped lay the intellectual foundation for the program of taxpayer relief and economic growth launched by Governor George E. Pataki in 1995.

Over the course of his life of public service, Mr. Schuler also served as a Trustee of Syracuse University. He served on the boards of directors of Albany Medical College, St. Clare's Hospital in Schenectady, Sunnyview Hospital in Schenectady, the New York State Canal Museum in Syracuse, Teresian House in Albany, and the National Academy of Sciences Transportation Research Board. He was a communicant of Our Lady of Mercy Roman Catholic Church in Boca Grande. Among the many awards he received were the Corning Award for Excellence (presented by The Business Council in 1990); the New York State Newspaper Editors' Freedom of the Press Award; the Salzberg Award for Transportation Leadership; the Arents Pioneer Medal for Excellence in Public Service; an honorary LLB degree from LeMoyne College for Excellence in Public Policy Management; an honorary degree from Cornell Labor-Management School; and induction into the Syracuse University Athletic Hall of Fame.

Though Mr. Schuler rose to a position of prominence in both the political and business worlds, one of his proudest possessions was the small wooden trunk in which his grandmother, Dehlia Reilly Kearney, had brought all her family possessions to the United States from Ireland. He lovingly refinished this box and kept it in his living room. Mr. Schuler's father, also named Raymond, served for a time as a state trooper, but supported his wife and son most years by driving a bread delivery truck to resort hotels in the Catskills. Mr. Schuler often said he learned his first and most important lessons about business, politics and perseverance from accompanying his father on his rounds, seeing the effects of competition and hard work on the family's income. Mr. Schuler's mother, née Ella Kearney, had the family take its vacations camping at North Lake in the Catskills, so the father could deliver bread during the day but return to the campsite at night. Other regular trips were Sunday drives in the bread truck to visit family in Yonkers; the young Ray was always assigned the task of "rushing the growler," which meant taking a lunch pail and 25 cents down to the corner pub to get draft beer for the men of the family who were sitting in the kitchen swapping stories. Mr. Schuler recalled being 10 or so when he made his first trip to Albany, on the old "day boat," with a ticket purchased with money his grandmother made sewing collars in a shirt factory.

He was an athletic youth who once swam with some friends across the Hudson River (reaching the other side a few miles downstream, and only then realizing that they had no money and no clothes and no plan for getting back home). At North Lake the young Ray Schuler rescued two men from drowning and earned a Boy Scout Medal of Honor, which was presented to him by President Franklin Roosevelt in person - an event he credited with cementing his interest in government, and with helping him gain admission to Syracuse University on a scholarship. He was known for his booming voice and would burst into song at odd moments. A favorite offering was "Give My Regards to Broadway"; accordingly, his first grandson, Ryan Anderson, took to calling him "Broadway," and when Mr. Schuler went on-line in 1997 he took the e-mail address broadway@ewol.com. At Christmas time, Mr. Schuler's singing switched to "Up on the Rooftop."Although he was an intense and driven competitor, Mr. Schuler constantly stressed high ethical standards in government and business. At the Department of Transportation and later at The Business Council, his watchword was "responsive and responsible," and he expected his subordinates to adhere to that standard. He was fond of an old adage he often repeated to his protegés: "You be nice to people on your way up, and they'll be nice to you on your way down!" Though he was an innovator in every job he ever held, he also cherished old traditions; even in the hottest weather, for example, he relished dressing up in coat and tie to attend the August races at Saratoga. After his retirement, Mr. Schuler and his wife sold the family home in Niskayuna and moved fulltime to their residence at Boca Grande, Florida. Both were active in civic and charitable affairs in Florida.

The family plans a community funeral service in Boca Grande. A memorial service will be scheduled at a later date in the Albany area. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that contributions in his honor be made to Hope Hospice, 9470 Health Park Circle, Fort Myers, FL 33908; or to the Boca Grande Health Clinic, Inc., P.O. Box 517, Boca Grande, FL 33921.