Bill Morris in Building Operations on January 11, 2018
This article is part of our occasional series, “The Previous Lives of Property Managers.”
Neil Davidowitz took on everyone from petty thieves to hard-core felons in his five years as a prosecutor in the office of the legendary Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau. This was the 1980s, when New York was a gnarlier place, with criminals to match.
“One of my most fascinating cases was a pimp who’d committed a brutal robbery,” recalls Davidowitz, now 61 and in an altogether different line of work. “He sent a 15-year-old girl up to see a 90-year-old man. Then the pimp beat up the old man, threatened to cut off his fingers, and robbed him. I flipped the 15-year-old prostitute to testify against the pimp – and when she told her life story, she actually brought some of the jurors to tears. We got a conviction, with a maximum sentence. He was a bad guy.”
Growing up in the Bronx and then New Jersey, Davidowitz exhibited early signs that he might be headed for the prosecutor’s life. “Everyone said I had a big mouth and I’d make a good litigator,” Davidowitz says with his booming laugh. “I think they were right.”
Davidowitz still speaks with reverence for Morgenthau, now 98, who retired in 2009. “I was so proud to be connected to him and his office,” says Davidowitz. “Our mantra was to get justice and fairness for all. It was not about using dirty tricks. It was an intellectually stimulating place to work, with a sense of community and nurturing.”
But after five years, Davidowitz faced a choice. His wife, Doreen Etingin, a college girlfriend who also worked as a prosecutor in Morgenthau’s office, was pregnant. Raising a family in New York is not a cheap proposition. Davidowitz interviewed with several private law firms before a curious thing happened: he decided to heed the call of his father-on-law, Maks Etingin, who for years had been urging him to join the family business, Orsid Realty. The call resonated. Both Maks and his father, Albert, had survived the Holocaust, and Davidowitz’s father, a native of Transylvania, had endured the horrors of the Auschwitz and Mauthausen concentration camps before coming to New York and going into the diamond trade on 47th Street. After Davidowitz decided to sign on at Orsid, he hit the ground running.
“I liked the history of the firm,” he says. “What appealed to me was that we owned buildings and we were converting them to co-ops, plus managing buildings. What I found wonderful was the diversity of people I dealt with on a daily basis.”
The lessons learned in the D.A.’s office were about to come into play.
“What I brought to the job at Orsid was an ability to communicate with and respect all people,” Davidowitz says. “It’s the same in property management. I’m dealing with wealthy people, the elderly, building staff, vendors, architects, engineers, attorneys, younger families. We’re always seeking middle ground on capital planning. You have to know when to use the carrot and when to use the stick.”
Davidowitz is now president of Orsid, with a full-time staff of 73 that manages 156 buildings. He’s still a gifted storyteller with a big laugh, and he still works alongside his 91-year-old father-in-law. Neil and Doreen ended up having three kids, and now that the youngest is in law school, Doreen recently joined the company, renovating apartments for sale and handling special management projects. With the traditional retirement age looming, has the president of the family business given any thought to hanging it up?
“I’m not a retiring guy,” Davidowitz says, and this time he doesn’t laugh. “I don’t even like the word.”
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