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Shop Steward

Barry Lipton, 74, lives in the 95-unit pre-war building at 400 West End Avenue, which Joe DiMaggio once called home. Lipton has served on his co-op board for five years, four of those as president. He’s married with one son.

Habitat: Tell me about your early years.

Lipton: I was born in Pittsburgh, but my parents moved back to New York when I was six weeks old. When I was 13 or 14, they bought a house in Glen Cove. I began working on a chain of weekly papers headquartered in Glen Cove. I sold advertising, and then I ended up at one of the papers, the Levittown Tribune, where I did everything, including a short stint as managing editor. I went to work for The New York Times in 1966, selling ads. I went to college, but I didn’t complete it until two years ago.

Habitat: What kinds of things were you involved in outside of selling ads?

Lipton: I served on the Newspaper Guild for 25 years, 23 of them as president. When I was there, there were 26 or 27 different contracts, ranging from the Times to various Time Inc. magazines. We represented Radio Free Europe in Munich for a time. My job was to oversee everything and to administer the contracts. I was involved in running the financial aspect of the union; I negotiated contracts. My primary role – if it was a difficult negotiation – was to come in at the end and work to close the deal. At the Times, we represented everybody from security guards and janitors and cafeteria workers all the way up to editorial writers, newsroom employees, and white-collar office workers. We had contracts when I was there covering roughly 3,400 members.

Being union president to some degree prepared me for being board president. Sometimes I feel like the shop steward for this co-op. My union owned a four-story building built in 1906 in Times Square that had five tenants, and I was responsible for the care of the building. So I had experience in building management.

Habitat: Early leadership lessons for you?

Lipton: As president, you don’t want to be over-involved and micromanage, but you must know what’s going on and then be able to participate in the significant issues.

Habitat: What about more recent lessons?

Lipton: You’ve got to make sure it’s collaborative. We are actually changing the proprietary lease. We’re preparing a final version of changes after having had membership meetings and member input on the initial draft. We’ll have a vote on it sometime in the next couple of months. We also just went through a preference poll. It wasn’t a binding poll. We went through a preference poll regarding a possible increase in the transfer fee, which hadn’t been increased since 1983. The transfer fee here is, if I remember correctly, $35 a share. We proposed increasing it by an amount equal to the cost-of-living increase since 1983. It would have raised it to somewhere around $75 a share. We had a preference poll, and it was resoundingly turned down, so we’re not going to include that proposal in the final draft.

Habitat: Has the role of president been different from what you expected?

Lipton: No. It’s about dealing with people, and I’m used to bridging differences, should they exist. I’m retired, so that helps to a large degree. I have the time to devote to this – to meeting and talking with people.

Habitat: Is curb appeal a big issue for you?

Lipton: We have a lot of younger families coming in now either expecting children or with children, and that’s very healthy for a building because it provides for the next generation. Last year, we redesigned an existing playroom, which was initially constructed, I think, eight or nine years ago. It has been very successful, and it’s used a lot. We also just renegotiated the underlying mortgage, which got us a tremendously lower rate than we had in the past. As a result we had no maintenance increase this year.

Habitat: You recently re-instituted the annual holiday party, which had been dormant since the 1940s. Why?

Lipton: We had a party for our retiring building manager. It was so successful that people asked us to keep doing it on an annual basis as a holiday party. As a result, we just had our first holiday party since the 1940s, and a majority of shareholders pitched in. That sense of community goes back to the early 1940s, when Joe DiMaggio lived in one of the two penthouses. He brought down signed baseball bats for the kids during the last party they had. Our recent party was an opportunity for people to interact with each other, outside of meeting in the elevator. It was a tremendously successful event.

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