Q: What's your group all about?

A: We are really two organizations. The New York Chamber of Commerce and Industry is North America's oldest business organization. In a nutshell, the role of the chamber is one of an advocate for the city's business community.

The Partnership, for its part, was created out of the city's fiscal crisis of the mid-1970s. The idea was to institutionalize the way the private sector worked with labor and government in solving the fiscal crisis. [Former Chase Manhattan Bank Chairman] David Rockefeller and a group of other business leaders came together to form the Partnership, designed to provide a permanent mechanism to bring the resources of the private sector to bear on the city.

The great majority of our $10 million budget comes from private sector organizations.

Q: How do you see your role?

A: My job is to work with the board of directors and members of the Partnership on policy and develop strategy to carry out that policy. Secondly, the job involves implementing the policy and the various issues we advocate.

Q: I've heard your organization lobbied hard to bring Barry Sullivan to New York as deputy mayor of economic development. Why?

A: We never had a deputy mayor for finance and economic development, to my knowledge, that has his business background, that has been a chairman and chief executive officer of a major corporation.

Q: I guess this underscores one of the themes in the New York Times piece, that the city must use downsizing and other private sector solutions to get the government under control.

A: For the past two years the top missions of the Partnership have been economic development and continuing the restructuring of city government. That means making government compatible with the fact that there has been a permanent structural deficit of around $2 billion dollars every year.

In view of that, you have to fundamentally restructure the government through downsizing, improving the work rules to make government more productive and consolidating agencies. You have to develop a long-term restructuring and make tough choices concerning what is important and what government can no longer afford.

The second big part of our economic development strategy concerns the retention of New York's economic base. I've described the fleeing of corporations in the Times piece. New York is a high-cost location.

There's been a technological revolution making businesses more mobile. And there's been a fundamental restructuring going on in industry. With that kind of challenge, the city faces a constant and ongoing battle which has been aggravated by the recession. Our concern is that the city must develop an economic policy to maximize and maintain its economic base.

Q: How would you rate the city's record in restructuring its vast array of agencies and coming to terms with the level of services it provides?

A: You have to cast that opinion in terms of when this restructuring has taken place, compared to where the city is now. With that in mind, there's been a tremendous improvement in the last year. The mayor's new four-year plan, while needing improvement, has come a long way. He has frozen property taxes and has made a substantial commitment to making structural improvement in city government.

The city did not have to borrow the mirror bonds, and officials did not include the assumption of federal funding in their 1993 fiscal year budget. So when you put it in [the] context of how far the city has come in a relatively short period of time, you have to give the city a good, solid B or B-plus.

But if you put it in the context of what yet has to be done, i.e., deciding what services the city can or cannot provide, how the city is dealing with the greatest problem in the mayor's four-year plan from the business community's point [of view] -- how the city deals with labor and obtaining fundamental work rule changes -- then the city doesn't deserve as high of a grade.

The real challenge is you have this year's surplus and you have commitment to reform. That means the city is going to have all sorts of pressures up on the general commitment to long-term restructuring. Among other things, we all get tired of being depressed. We all get tired of being down. So there is a natural tendency to say, "We got a slight surplus, things are getting better, let's ease up."

That would be a tragedy, because if we do, the likelihood is that we would be facing the same problems in the next couple of years.

Look what happened the last time the city faced up to their problems after the fiscal crisis of the 1970s. We started on the restructuring road, and then we embarked on several years of strong growth, which delayed the process. This time, however, even the most optimistic economists are not seeing a recovery of that magnitude happening for the foreseeable future.

Q: But is the mayor really committed to creating the fundamental change that you are calling for?

A: We are in an uphill battle to reform city government, not because of Mayor Dinkins but because you have almost a century of New York City government operating under the same rules. In fact, many of the structural problems the city faces have been written into state law in one way or another.

Also, you have to take the mayor at his word. He's hung tough and he said he wouldn't agree to wage increase until there are union concessions. It's an uphill battle.

But this is a unique time. When there's a crisis, you can get political leaders to consider things they would not otherwise consider. Some of the things that have been accomplished, like freezing the property taxes and some of the downsizing, would not have happened unless the city faced a financial crisis.

Ronald K. Shelp President, Chief Executive New York City Partnership, New York Chamber of Commerce and Industry

Business leader Ronald K. Shelp believes that bureaucracy-laden government has helped create an unparalleled threat to New York City's economic well-being.

Mr. Shelp, president and chief executive officer of both the New York City Partnership and the New York Chamber of Commerce and Industry, warned in a New York Times opinion piece that the city must change how it treats business to keep from gutting its economy.

In the Feb. 1 article, "The Hollowing of New York," Mr. Shelp argued for such reforms as lower ng taxes, privatizing some city services, and boosting business confidence in government. Otherwise, he said, the city will face a "hollowing of [it] business base, as companies move thousands of mid-level jobs out of the city while their corporate headquarters remain here."

Mr. Shelp, who has worked with three international firms, joined the two business groups, in 1987, when the city's economy was booming.

Now, with New York City mired in recession, Mr. Shelp said city government has a "unique" opportunity to restructure itself and strengthen its relationship with the business community. In an interview with staff reporter Charles Gasparino, Mr. Shelp gives his view of how for Mayor David N. Dinkins has come in reaching these goals.

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.