In the last 24 hours, I've been sharing a lot of Henry Stern stories (better known as StarQuest to the Parks world and as SQ to those of us who truly orbited his universe). They're fun. The time we dressed him as a groundhog, buried him in Cunningham Park and had him pop his head out of the ground when the press arrived (the front page of Newsday the next morning: a photo of Henry in costume with the headline "Flakes in the Forecast" in 48 point font). The time we tried to get Boomer in the Guinness Book of World Records as the most petted dog ever (we could never catch Josh from Maryland). The time Henry convinced us you can share soup (you can't).
There was always a method to the madness. Henry taught us what city government truly means. If the parks are safe and clean, all 8.6 million New Yorkers have a higher quality of life. If they're dangerous and dirty, their daily lives suffer. It's that simple. It's why he'd constantly pick up trash in any park. It’s why he’d do anything to make people aware of all of the fun (and sometimes wacky) programs Parks had to offer. It’s why he worked so desperately to convince anyone with a capital budget to give us money for new playgrounds. And it's why a laser-like focus on operations, on details, on performance – in all city agencies and programs – remains so important today.
But that's not the main thing I took away from my nearly four years working for him. Henry built a culture that truly felt like family. A lot of workplaces say that, but the test is how those relationships live on long after you've left.
Ed Skyler was the best man at my wedding and is the godfather of my kids.
Seth Webb and I endured long winters and blustery politicians in Illinois, trying to apply the lessons we learned from Henry. Seth now runs our Vermont office (seriously).
Tusk Strategies’ first office consisted of two desks that Stuart Ruderfer, David Cohn and Parke Spencer gave us in their bullpen of their marketing startup.
Rob Galligan, in a three hour walk in Central Park, convinced me to go back to Illinois and keep serving as Deputy Governor (I think he was right; still not entirely sure).
Cas Holloway's brother helped me figure out how to write my first script. And when my wife and I needed to settle a debate over how often you should flush the toilet in NYC, Cas was the only person we both trusted.
Bob Lawson is the first person I call when I get to LA.
Ian Shapiro not only drafted the first contract we ever had for Tusk Holdings, we still use a version of it to this day.
When I needed someone to run the Board of Education in Illinois, Elliot Regenstein was the obvious choice. He's also the person I text most with during football season.
I know I just listed a lot of white dudes. That speaks to Henry's problems and flaws as much as the quality of those ten people does to his strengths. But these people have been my friends, some of them my family, since the day I walked into the Arsenal in 1994.
I'm grateful to Henry for learning what effective, creative city government means to people's everyday lives. I'm grateful for learning how to work with reporters, how to churn out press releases in ten minutes or less, how to rent a costume that'd guarantee us a lead story on NY1. I'm grateful for learning that any job worth doing merits working around the clock, no matter how much money you make. I'm grateful to have had a job where you’d meet the King of Jordan one day and then spend the next 36 hours building a beach volleyball court in Van Cortlandt Park. I'm grateful to have worked for someone so unafraid.
But mostly, I'm grateful for the people I met at Parks along the way. It's a community that has shaped my perspective, my choices, my career ever since. StarQuest may be gone, but just based on the flurry of texts and emails alone between all of us when we learned he passed, it’s clear we'll keep building his legacy for years to come.