Home News Morton Povman, longest-serving member of NYC Council, dies at 93

Morton Povman, longest-serving member of NYC Council, dies at 93

Morton Povman, a soft-spoken but whip-smart Brooklyn-born lawyer who represented Queens in the New York City Council for 30 years, becoming the chamber’s longest-serving member in history, died Tuesday at home in Kew Gardens Hills. He was 93.

The cause was pancreatic cancer, said his daughter-in-law Jennifer Povman.

Morton Povman, a Democrat, served in the Council in the time before term limits, beginning his tenure in 1971 and serving until 2001. His district sprawled over neighborhoods including Forest Hills and Kew Gardens.

Povman, an advocate for city parks, also pushed to build out the USTA Tennis Center near Citi Field.

For a period, he served as chair of the Health Committee, and he took on Mayor Ed Koch’s administration to prevent hospitals closures.

“They were looking to save money and the mayor chose the hospital system,” he once said, according to The Queens Chronicle. “It felt good being able to save the health system from those kinds of attacks.”

But though Povman could fight when he saw fit, he generally had a gentle and “avuncular” style, said City Councilman James Gennaro, the Democrat who replaced him.

Povman was known to all as Morty. He spurned opportunities to pursue higher office, content with perch on the Council.

“He was the Mr. Rogers of the Queens political scene,” Gennaro said. “He had this very soft, sweet demeanor.”

He left office when newly introduced term limits required him to step down from the Council. Now, Council members cannot serve more than eight consecutive years, meaning that Povman’s record may last forever.

He was a moderate Democrat, and one with a “very personable” touch, said Sal Albanese, who spent a decade and a half in Council during the 1980s and ’90s.

“He had an encyclopedic knowledge of politics but also had great interpersonal skills,” Albanese said of Povman, characterizing his longtime colleague as “honest, smart” and an “excellent, excellent lawyer.”

Povman is survived by his sons, Michael and Bruce, and 5 grandchildren. A funeral was scheduled for Friday.

Born in Sheepshead Bay in 1931 to Jewish immigrants, Povman studied at Baruch College and Brooklyn Law School, where he finished first in his class, before launching careers in politics and the law.

He worked as a lawyer in Forest Hills for more than 60 years, according to an obituary notice. He took many pro bono cases and enmeshed himself in the Queens Democratic Party.

Along the way, he was seemingly always alongside his wife, Sandra Arkow. Povman married Arkow in 1958.

“He always looked relaxed; he never looked flustered,” Gennaro recalled. “He just had a very peaceful and sublime way about him.”

“When you talked it was almost like his main mission of the day was to talk to you,” he added. “You were the highlight of his day.”

“That’s at least how he made you feel.”


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