Conan Freud with Iris Weinshall, former NYC Department of Transportation Commissioner. Photo courtesy of Judith Pincus
After a distinguished career in city government, one of New York’s brightest lights succumbs to a 9/11-related illness
by tom allon
In seventh grade at the McBurney School on the Upper West Side many of my classmates yawned and scribbled in their notebooks during Mr. Barnes’s “New York City History” class.
Except for wide-eyed intellectual Conan Freud, whose precocious knowledge of arcane city history impressed me even then.
When we were asked in 1976 in that class to write a manifesto for the secession of Staten Island from the other four boroughs, I recall that Conan’s presentation stood out and made a compelling financial case for the forgotten borough.
Even then, Conan understood that to really analyze a municipality, you had to roll your sleeves up and study its complicated finances. Following the money was key to following its destiny.
We both transferred to the same high school, the esteemed Stuyvesant High School in lower Manhattan. Even among the 3000 eggheads there, Conan carved out his distinct niche. He became the student government treasurer, not the sexiest perch for teenagers, but an extremely vital and important cog in the wheels of student government.
Conan was the guy I went to when I felt the student newspaper I edited wasn’t getting its fair share of student government funding. He carefully looked over the ledger to find some pocket of loose change and creatively moved it to satisfy his ink-stained friends request. Conan was a whiz with budgets and he worked his magic even then.
Unlike his fellow Stuy grads, Conan wasn’t looking for fame in law or medicine or string theory physics. He always aspire le to work in City government; his parents were civically active Westsiders and he learned the importance of community involvement at the dinner table.
In fact, as I recall, his feisty mother, Olive, was one of the biggest thorns in the path of a greedy West Side developer named Donald Trump.
Her activism in opposing his West Side project, Trump City, was one the reasons it took him decades to get approval for even a scaled back version of his original project.
After a distinguished 30-year career in government that included stints at OMB, DOT, TLC and probably countless other acronyms — all in a budgeting capacity — Conan succumbed to a 9/11-related illness last week at the way too early age of 56.
I knew him as a classmate, a friend, a husband, a father (our children attended pre-school together) and as a committed and engaged New Yorker.
Like legions of his former colleagues and friends, I was very saddened to hear the news of his passing last week.
Our city has lost one its brightest lights. I hope that his legacy of training young New Yorkers in the arcane ins and outs of municipal finance will continue to benefit our great metropolis.
Tom Allon is the president of City & State.