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Howard J. Rubenstein, Public Relations Impresario, Dies at 88


#Howard J. #Rubenstein, who softened life’s blows and polished the tarnished images of the rich, the famous and the flawed for more than 65 years in becoming #New #York’s pre-eminent public relations impresario, died on #Tuesday at his home in #Manhattan. #He was 88.

A spokeswoman, #Nancy #Haberman, confirmed the death. #No cause was given.

#In a profession often regarded with skepticism, #Mr. #Rubenstein, the founding chairman and president of #Rubenstein #Associates, was sometimes called a spin doctor, a charlatan or worse. #But with a little help from his friends in the news media, he publicized the triumphs of many achievers, and when crises struck celebrities, politicians, corporations or cultural institutions, he was a fixer of choice, called in at a moment’s notice to control the damage and restore reputations.

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#His hundreds of clients were among the best-known names in town: #Donald J. #Trump, #Rupert #Murdoch, the #Yankees owner #George M. #Steinbrenner 3rd, #Columbia #University, the #Metropolitan #Opera, the #New #York #Philharmonic, #Wall #Street tycoons and constellations of entertainers, civic and religious leaders, their signed pictures lining the walls of #Rubenstein #Associates in a midtown #Manhattan skyscraper.

#His business was lucrative. #Corporate clients often paid retainers of $10,000 a month, while the largest paid $750,000 or more a year, according to senior associates of #Mr. #Rubenstein. #He did not publicly discuss his company’s billing practices or revenues. #Estimates ranged from $30 million to $75 million in revenues a year. #In any case, they made #Mr. #Rubenstein wealthy. #He was said to earn $4 million to $7 million a year.

#With mild manners and a soft voice, #Mr. #Rubenstein was the antithesis of the swaggering press agent caricatured in films like “The #Sweet #Smell of #Success” and denigrated in newsrooms as a “flack” or “mouthpiece.” #He did not inhabit nightclubs for gossip. #He lived on #Fifth #Avenue overlooking #Central #Park, where even in his 60s and 70s he liked to jog daily. #He dined often with corporate, cultural and political leaders.

#He employed hundreds of people, preached ethics in speeches and articles on public relations, and impressed clients as diplomatic and trustworthy, although some rivals accused him of using underhanded tactics. #He had been a friend of every #New #York mayor, governor and #United #States senator since the 1970s, and made seamless nonpartisan transitions between #Democrats and #Republicans.

“It doesn’t matter who it is,” former #Mayor #Edward I. #Koch once explained. “It could be #Caligula.”

#Indeed, with his vast contacts in government, business, the news media and the arts, #Mr. #Rubenstein was often more power broker than public relations man, making connections among people and institutions for mutual benefit. #He advised politicians, devised corporate strategies to shape public opinion, represented real estate interests and brought leaders of business, government and unions together to make deals.

#His power lay hidden in countless favors, large and small. #But his most visible stock in trade was trouble — a marital fight, a star blurting a racist remark, a drunken toot. #His customized rehabilitation plans often involved simple public admissions or apologies, then silence to contain the imbroglio. The task, he said, was not keeping a lid on bad publicity. #It was controlling its flow, tone and volume. #He cautioned against lying, although his selective “truths” favored clients: #People were never fired; they left to seek new opportunities.

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“When you have a crisis, you first have to ask, what’s the right thing to do and say,” he told The #New #York #Times in 1995. “Not what kind of spin can we put on, but what’s the right thing to do. #You don’t let the facts dribble out. #Sometimes you do it by holding a news conference. #Other times you do it with a written statement, depending on how the client feels or the ability of the client to conduct himself or herself in a tough situation.”

#For the sports broadcaster #Marv #Albert, a tough situation arose in 1997, when his dalliances with a cross-dresser and a prostitute-dominatrix were exposed by his guilty plea to a misdemeanor assault charge for biting a woman during a sexual encounter. #After conferring with #Mr. #Rubenstein, he submitted to a news conference and a weeklong tour of the talk shows — #Larry #King, #David #Letterman, #Katie #Couric and #Barbara #Walters — elaborating his denials. Then he refused to talk about it anymore. #Almost nothing new about the matter emerged, except a perception that #Mr. #Albert had forcefully defended himself, and after a period of withdrawal and rehabilitation, his career resumed virtually intact.

#In 1996, the talk-show host #Kathy #Lee #Gifford was caught in a scandal after a human rights organization reported that child sweatshop labor in #Honduras was being exploited to manufacture a clothing line in her name. The #Rubenstein prescription in her case was deflection and rehabilitation. #Ms. #Gifford went on national television to say she was not involved in factory management processes, then called for investigations and campaigned for new laws against sweatshop conditions. #She even appeared at the #White #House with #President #Bill #Clinton to support initiatives against child labor abuses.

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#Howard #Joseph #Rubenstein was born in #Brooklyn on #Feb. 3, 1932, to #Samuel and #Ada (#Sall) #Rubenstein. #His father was a police reporter for the #Standard #News #Association, which served #New #York #City papers, and later for The #New #York #Herald #Tribune. #Howard and his sister, #June, grew up in the #Bensonhurst section. #He graduated from #Midwood #High #School and in 1953 from the #University of #Pennsylvania, where he majored in economics.

#At his mother’s urging, he applied to all the #Ivy #League law schools and was accepted at #Harvard. #But he dropped out after two months and went home, uncertain what to do. #He declined his father’s idea of a copy boy’s job but was more receptive to another. #Like some reporters then, his father did a little public relations work on the side, and he taught #Howard how to write news releases and pitch story ideas to reporters. #He also helped find his first client, the #Menorah #Home and #Hospital for the #Aged and #Infirm.

#Howard set up shop at the kitchen table in 1954. #But after his mother refused to answer the home’s telephone with the greeting “Rubenstein #Associates,” he rented an office. #His next client was #Vito #Battista, an anti-tax #Republican whose perennial quest for office eventually landed him a #New #York #Assembly seat. #Mr. #Rubenstein rented a camel to plug #Mr. #Battista’s mayoral candidacy and draped it with a sign saying its back would be broken by another city tax.

#Still drawn by the idea of being a lawyer, he took night classes at #St. #John’s #University and earned a law degree in 1959. #Through #Representative #Emanuel #Celler, a #Brooklyn #Democrat who was chairman of the #House #Judiciary #Committee, #Mr. #Rubenstein became the panel’s assistant counsel, but quit after six months to resume his public relations career.

#In 1959, he married #Amy #Forman. #She survives him, along with three children, #Roni, #Richard, and #Steven #Rubenstein, and seven grandchildren. #David, another child, died in 1971 at the age of 9.

#Mr. #Rubenstein continued to be involved in his business in recent years, but his son #Steven oversaw the day-to-day running of #Rubenstein, as the company is now known, as its president. #Richard #Rubenstein founded his own agency, #Rubenstein #Public #Relations, in 1987.

#Mr. #Rubenstein, nominally a #Democrat, signed up a host of politicians as clients, many of them — like #Abraham D. #Beame, #Hugh #Carey and #Stanley #Steingut — starting careers that would lead to seats of power in #City #Hall, the #Governor’s #Mansion and the #State #Legislature. #Through real estate contacts he recruited developers like #Fred #Trump (#Donald’s father) and #Lewis and #Jack #Rudin.

#By the 1970s he was representing hundreds of the city’s most prominent people and organizations. #He also served international celebrities, including #Sarah #Ferguson, the divorced #Duchess of #York. #Occasionally he had to drop clients — notably four state agencies after #Mr. #Carey was elected governor in 1974, and the #Brooklyn #Museum of #Art in 1999 after his friend #Mayor #Rudolph W. #Giuliani condemned an exhibit there. #In both cases he was caught in a conflict and deemed his friendship and loyalty to the officeholders to be the greater interest.

The 1990 breakup of #Donald and #Ivana #Trump put a clash of public relations rivals on display, each with an eye on the bottom line. #John #Scanlon, known as an aggressive crisis manager, portrayed #Mrs. #Trump as an integral part of the #Trump business empire. #Mr. #Trump, coached by #Mr. #Rubenstein, played down her responsibilities. #So who won? #Her settlement topped $20 million. #But #Mr. #Trump’s net worth at the time was estimated at $1.7 billion to $4 billion.

#Mr. #Steinbrenner, whose harsh treatment of #Yankee players and managers was a publicist’s nightmare, often left #Mr. #Rubenstein resorting to “no comment.” #Starting a decade before #Mr. #Steinbrenner’s death in 2010, the publicist orchestrated a tactical retreat for “the #Boss.” #Reporters said he was shielding an aging man from public view, but #Mr. #Rubenstein offered a more benign interpretation, saying #Mr. #Steinbrenner’s lowered profile “just comes with maturity — he just doesn’t relish publicity the way he used to.”

#Another difficult client was #Leona #Helmsley, the hotel and real estate magnate who was convicted of income tax evasion in 1989. #She became a symbol of arrogance when a former maid quoted her in testimony as saying, “Only the little people pay taxes.” #Mr. #Rubenstein visited #Mrs. #Helmsley in prison, and after she died in 2007 and left $12 million to her dog, #Trouble, a #Maltese, prompting lawsuits and death threats against the pet, he became a spokesman for #Trouble, too, as interest peaked in its life of luxury.

“The dog is being well cared for in an undisclosed location,” he said tactfully.

#After #Mr. #Trump became president, #Mr. #Rubenstein distanced himself from him. “While I haven’t worked with him for more than 20 years,” he told PRWeek.com in 2017, “it was clear even back then that he was a highly astute communicator.”

#Alex #Traub contributed reporting.



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https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/29/business/Howard-J-Rubenstein-dead.html

##Howard ##Rubenstein ##Public ##Relations ##Impresario ##Dies

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