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State of Play: The Infrastructure Bill A Briefing with Rep. Peter DeFazio

Thursday, July 22, 2021 at 11:00am

Virtual Event

Join the Institute of Politics and Global Affairs as we welcome Rep. Peter DeFazio, to discuss the Infrastructure Bill moderated by Rep. Steve Israel, Howard Milstein and Kate Slevin.

Speaker Bios:

Congressman Peter DeFazio has spent his time in Congress working for Oregonians. As the dean of the Oregon House delegation, he has developed a reputation as an independent, passionate, and effective lawmaker.

In 2019, DeFazio was elected to the powerful position of Chair of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, which has jurisdiction over the Coast Guard, highways and transit, ports and water resources, railroads, aviation, and economic development.  As Chair, and previously as Ranking Member, DeFazio has taken the lead role on several multi-billion-laws that have created jobs, improved transportation options, kept our ports open, ensured clean drinking water, and kept the airline industry accountable.

He authored and passed in the House the Moving Forward Act, transformative legislation that addresses the climate crisis head-on by modernizing our energy infrastructure for a clean energy future.  In addition, the bill invests more than $760 billion over five years to bring our nation's transportation and infrastructure up to a state of good repair, reducing gridlock for commuters and business, investing in rural communities, strengthening Buy American standards, and creating millions of jobs.

DeFazio’s priorities are always focused on his constituents and over the course of his career his seniority has brought billions of dollars back to the district.  During the 116th Congress alone, DeFazio has brought home more than $55.8 million in federal funding, for projects including airport repairs, dredging our harbors, and maintenance of the Coos Bay Rail Line.

As a former servicemember with the U.S. Air Force Reserve, DeFazio knows the sacrifices vets and their families make to serve our country.  He secured $80 million dollars to build the Eugene Veterans Clinic, which opened in 2016, and investigated reports of poor health care and personnel issues at the Roseburg VA Health Care System.   

DeFazio previously served as the Ranking Member on the House Natural Resources Committee, where he focused on energy, federal lands, ocean and fisheries, and Native American issues. DeFazio is committed to a responsible management of our Oregon’s natural resources and has led bipartisan efforts for common-sense forest management solutions for sustainability of Oregon’s rural communities, such as his leadership in passing the Healthy Forests Restoration Act.

An avid outdoorsman, DeFazio has been successful in protecting Oregon’s most unique natural and ecologically diverse treasures.  In 2019, several of his conservation bills became law.  In all, they to protect 100,000 acres of salmon habitat in the Steamboat Creek watershed, designate the remote and unlogged Devil’s Staircase area as Wilderness, and stop future mining on the Chetco River and its tributaries to preserve salmon habitat and clean drinking water.  

DeFazio and his wife, Myrnie Daut, live in Springfield, Oregon. DeFazio has voted against and refused to accept every congressional pay raise while the government is deficit spending. Instead, he has used his pay raises to fund scholarships at five southwestern Oregon community colleges. As of the end of 2019, DeFazio contributed $380,421 of after-tax salary toward 278 scholarships and debt reduction. He counts these scholarships among his proudest accomplishments.

Steve Israel, U.S. Congressman 2001–2017, directs the nonpartisan Institute of Politics and Global Affairs at Cornell University. He has published two critically acclaimed satires of Washington: The Global War on Morris (2014) and Big Guns (2018). As a member of Congress, Israel served as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (2011–2015).

Israel is a regular political commentator on MSNBC, and his insights appear regularly in the New York Times, The Atlantic magazine, the Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal. He was profiled on HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and has appeared on CBS’s Sixty Minutes.

As the scion of a family of builders, Howard has particular expertise in large infrastructure projects. This was demonstrated in his Chairmanship of the New York State Thruway Authority, to which he was nominated by Governor Andrew Cuomo and unanimously confirmed by the New York State Senate in 2011.  At NYSTA, he brought to bear a lifetime of private-sector experience and knowledge in large-scale development, initiating and leading a design-build process that saved New York nearly $2 billion from the original cost estimates for replacing the Tappan Zee Bridge.  Within 11 months after the Governor obtained buy-build authorization, a contract was signed for the project, which had languished for more than a decade.  Howard served as Chairman through 2014 and was recognized for his achievements with the Regional Plan Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013.  In addition to RPA, he has been recognized by the New York Building Congress, Associated Builders and Owners of New York, and Phipps Houses for his industry leadership and large scale developments.

In efforts to advance the field, Howard partnered with the Miller Center at the University of Virginia to provide a solid underpinning to infrastructure policy.   The Milstein Symposium:  New Ideas for a New American Century brought together elected officials with business leaders and content experts.  In 2015, the Milstein Symposium took up the subject of: “Rebuilding America: Investing in Infrastructure, Investing in the Middle Class.”  The Commission observed: “The middle class is inextricably linked to activity within the infrastructure sector….11% of the total U.S. workforce fall within the infrastructure category.  Put simply, an investment in our nation’s infrastructure is an investment in the middle class…. Investments in new infrastructure projects are also a boon to middle-class workers.”

In 2016, Howard reinforced his activity in infrastructure policy by launching the Milstein Forums in partnership with the Regional Plan Association.  The Milstein Forums bring together private sector leaders with heads of institutions and public authorities with a mission to formulate and tackle solutions to enable transformation of the New York metropolitan area’s infrastructure in preparation for the 4th Regional Plan.  The focus in on best practices: private and public sector collaboration; value capture techniques; engaging the public; achieving political support and coordinating local, regional and national agencies and legislative processes; permitting and environmental reviews; labor practices.  The involvement of private sector leaders brings diversity of thinking, creativity and entrepreneurial energy to major infrastructure portfolios and institutional processes.  The topics covered to date include:  New LaGuardia Central Terminal Building; the New Tappan Zee Bridge; #7 Subway Line Extension; Sea Level Rise and the impact on major airports in the region; MTA Transportation cost crisis; NY/NJ Gateway.  The last of these is being undertaken by the new Trump administration as a priority project. 

Howard is currently Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer of New York Private Bank & Trust and its operating bank, Emigrant Bank (the country’s largest privately owned and operated bank.)  He chairs and operates all the Milstein family’s real estate companies.  Howard is also founding Chairman of the merchant bank, FriedbergMilstein, and is an owner and builder of innovative businesses in financial services, technology, sports and entertainment, and consumer goods.  

His entrepreneurial spirit is evident in the family’s major holdings - Milstein Properties, Milstein Brothers Real Estate and the Emigrant Savings Bank - as well as the august institutions that bear their name:  Milstein Hospital Building of New York Presbyterian Hospital; Milstein Hall of Ocean Life ("The Whale Room") at the American Museum of Natural History; Milstein Division of Local History, American History and Genealogy at the New York Public Library; Milstein Hall at the Cornell University's College of Architecture, Milstein Pool & Terrace at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, and many others.  

Howard’s career began at Starrett Housing Corporation, one of the family's companies, where he participated in every aspect of the development of Starrett City in Brooklyn, encompassing nearly 6,000 middle income housing units. 

In the second half of the 20th century, the Milstein family built, or bought with their partners, 50,000 apartments in the Metropolitan area, of which 30,000 were moderate and low income apartments, many built through their companies, Starrett Housing and National Kinney, along with 20 million square feet of office space and 10,000 hotel rooms.   The Milsteins were also leaders in 80/20 housing.  Early on, they built Normandie Court with 1500 units, of which 300 were moderate and low income - more than the rest of New York State combined. 

Since then, the Milstein family has remained one of the most dynamic forces on the real estate scene. Well known for their good timing, though usually as buyers, Howard Milstein sold the last remaining parcel of land in the Times Square area prior to the recent financial crisis, at the height of the real estate bubble. 

The Milstein vision is to invest in large scale developments that serve to anchor and revive ailing neighborhoods.  As such, Howard and his forbears developed a keen vision for identifying areas where they saw extraordinary potential long before most others.   Out of these investments came visionary new neighborhoods.  Their most recent project includes Liberty Luxe and Liberty Green, the Milsteins’ fifth and sixth buildings in Battery Park City.  

Among many honors, Howard was named 2008 Entrepreneur of the Year by Cornell University. He has been honored as a Distinguished Real Estate Partner at the Columbia Business School, and with JASA Man of the Year Award, Make a Wish Foundation Award, ORT Community Builder Award, Tanenbaum Center Corporate Bridge Builder Award; as well as awards from the Jewish National Fund and B’nai B’rith Youth Services.  He was also honored with the Catholic Youth Organization Gold Medal Award, Emerald Isle Immigration Society Robert Briscoe Award, Federal Law Enforcement Foundation Humanitarian Award, and Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce Community Service Award. In March of 2012, Howard was sworn-in as an honorary FDNY Battalion Chief, in recognition of his significant support for the Fire Department and the people of New York.  He has also been an Honorary Police Commissioner for Life since 1995.   Most recently, he was awarded China’s highest recognition of a foreigner, the Marco Polo Award.  The prior year, he was made a Chevalier of the French Legion of Honor.

Howard Milstein leads a family that has been prominent in business and philanthropy for three generations.  Known as one of New York’s great real estate families, it has been a major force in the development of New York City, the region, and beyond.   A leading figure in local, national and global affairs, Howard is a trusted advisor on economic, civic and philanthropic matters. His ability to marshal business, government, philanthropic, and family resources and application of innovative and creative thinking to big challenges drives a breadth of initiatives across health, civic, educational and security matters.

A graduate of Cornell University, Howard earned a B.A. in Economics summa cum laude (1973). At Harvard University, he earned both his Law and Business degrees in the JD/MBA Program (1977). He was admitted to the New York State Bar, and is a member of the Federal Bar Council and the American, New York State and New York City Bar Associations. 

Howard is married to Abby Sniderman Milstein and they have a son, Michael, who also works in the family businesses.

Kate Slevin is the Executive Vice President at Regional Plan Association, overseeing RPA’s programs in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut and working to implement policies and projects to advance RPA’s mission toward improved mobility, equitable economic growth, and environmental resiliency. Kate led RPA’s advocacy for New York City’s congestion pricing program which was authorized by the New York State Legislature in April 2019.

Kate has 20 years of experience in transportation policy and urban planning in the New York City metropolitan area. Before coming to RPA in 2016, she served as assistant commissioner for government and community affairs at the New York City Department of Transportation where she managed the legislative program for former Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, including the initial authorization of speed enforcement cameras.

Previously, she spent a decade at the Tri-State Transportation Campaign serving as executive director from 2007 – 2012. During her tenure at Tri-State, Kate successfully fought against cuts to public transportation, helped to secure millions of dollars in new funding for cycling, walking, and sustainable development projects, and received the EPA’s Environmental Quality Award in 2011. Kate started her career at the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation as an urban park ranger in Brooklyn, and has also worked at the Municipal Art Society and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

Kate has a master’s in urban planning from New York University and a bachelor’s in earth and environmental sciences from Wesleyan University and is an alumna of the International Honors Program. She is married and has two children.

The Institute of Politics and Global Affairs is a non-partisan institute dedicated to elevating public discourse and stimulating civic engagement.

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Emily Anderson


Rep. Peter DeFazio

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This event is open to current members of the Institute of Politics and Global Affairs and the Cornell community. Non-Members may be considered based on availability.

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