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A Brooklyn Yankee in King George’s Court

Randy Levine, BA ’77, is talking about how one becomes president of the New York Yankees when a buzzer interrupts. “Do you mind stepping outside for a moment?” he asks politely. “It’s ‘The Boss’ on the phone.”

The boss, in this case, is George Steinbrenner, whose reputation as a bully and intimidator was, for several seasons, routinely satirized on the hit sitcom “Seinfeld.” “I don’t find him [Steinbrenner] that way,” says Levine, 47. “Yes, he’s demanding and intense and believes in accountability. But he always tells you to your face what is expected and goes to the mat for his people. And he’s never asked me to do anything he wouldn’t do himself.”

Levine, a lifelong Yankees fan while growing up in the East Flatbush section of Brooklyn, N.Y., first got to know Steinbrenner in 1990 while serving as the team’s outside counsel. Levine, who soon after had earned a reputation as an effective negotiator as commissioner of labor relations in the Giuliani administration, was asked by baseball’s movers and shakers in 1995 to serve as Major League Baseball’s chief negotiator and director of the Players Relations Committee. It was Levine who helped negotiate baseball’s five-year collective bargaining agreement that expired this summer.

Levine left that position in 1997 to become the city’s Deputy Mayor for Economic Development, Planning and Administration. In 2000, he was named president of the Yankees and became senior counsel at Akin, Gump, one of nation’s largest law firms. Last year he was named executive vice president of Yankees/Nets, a holding company that also owns the New Jersey Nets and 30 percent of the New Jersey Devils. He also sits on the boards of both teams. His incredibly demanding schedule includes attending every home Yankee game and representing the Yankees at owners meetings.

Levine’s role with the Yankees has included negotiating deals of such high-profile stars as Jason Giambi, Derek Jeter, and Mike Mussina. Another function is to provide counsel in the never-ending quest for a new stadium. “We were recently given $25 million by the city for planning a new stadium that would mirror the dimensions and look of the original stadium,” says Levine. “It would be located in the Macombs Dam Park area, which is adjacent to Yankee Stadium.”

Levine, who majored in political science and communications, has been on a career fast track ever since graduating from Hofstra University’s School of Law in 1980. “I liked labor law because you’re dealing with people, it’s intellectually challenging, and you’re solving problems,” he says.

He worked for five years as a labor lawyer before becoming deputy associate attorney general in the Department of Justice, where he met his wife, Mindy. It was there that he met and began to work closely with Rudy Giuliani, the then U.S. attorney in New York who was carving out a national reputation in high-profile, white-collar crime and organized crime cases.

When Giuliani decided to run for mayor of New York City in 1989, Levine took a leave of absence from his New York law firm to help run the losing campaign. In 1993, he took another leave of absence to help run a second campaign, but this time Giuliani won. Levine was soon named labor commissioner in a city where 50 percent of the budget is tied to about 180 unions and 300,000 municipal employees. “The city was in terrible shape at the time, and we helped turn it around by hammering out the kind of groundbreaking agreements that saved the city billions of dollars while not laying off anyone,” he says.

Levine explains his three rules for negotiating contracts: 1. Listen more than you talk. 2. Don’t promise what you can’t deliver. 3. Never go back on your word. “In the labor business, it’s vital that you look at the situation from the other side,” he advises. Levine’s no-nonsense demeanor seems a lifetime away from his more carefree days described by his former Colonials basketball teammate and Thurston Hall roommate Scott Pakula: “Hogan’s Heroes was Randy’s favorite show. He used to crack up big time.”

On an occasional trip to Washington, Levine sometimes finds himself wandering onto the Foggy Bottom campus. A stroll though his old haunts, he says, reminds him of all the fun he had in college and helps him reflect on how much life has changed. “This has been a particularly tough year,” he explains. “Working for the city, I sat across the bargaining table and became close with some of the people who died on September 11 in those towers. It’s made me more fully appreciate all the good things that have happened to me.”
—Bill Glovin, BA ’77

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