When I last saw Don Lewis, he absorbed a stream of information from RIOC President/CEO Charlene Indelicato, circa 2013. They walked under a Westview overpass along Roosevelt Island’s East Promenade. Not much later, he sued her and the state agency’s board.
By David Stone
Like Steve Jobs at Apple, Indelicato held walking around meetings, and before she left, I saw her doing the same with Lewis’s successor, Susan Rosenthal.
The snake pit at 591 Main Street is so fraught with litigation, you sometimes wonder when they manage to work. Most, like Lewis’s, involve racial strife within the agency, and numerous others strain the employee complaint chain north to Albany.
In spite of his lawsuit against RIOC and its alleged hostile racial environment, the brilliant, Harvard trained lawyer moved on.
As our astute reader and friend Sylvan Klein found, he’s started his own law firm, Lewis Law, LLC, but the surprise is in how he got there.
Don Lewis and His Trail Out of Brooklyn
A nationally ranked junior tennis player in the 1980s, Lewis had a choice of doors to walk through, but he picked law. With two Harvard degrees in hand at the turn of the 21st Century, his career started with high profile Skadden Arps, a prestigious start for any young lawyer…
…which makes his next more a little strange.
Don Lewis became the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation’s chief counsel. He was “appointed,” he says, by Governor Andrew Cuomo. That’s a striking piece of honesty because RIOC’s board is responsible for hiring and firing, but they allow Cuomo to usurp them with sheeplike consistency.
Lewis is an honest guy.
But it still makes no sense that he went from Skadden Arps to RIOC, a state job so low profile you couldn’t find it on the mountain range of NYS legal profiles.
And it ended badly.
With his boss Leslie Torres skedaddled out of office, Lewis became acting ceo and president of a scandal-filled state agency, and it got worse.
During his last months in that job, community outrage over abusive tactics from the Public Safety Dept. boiled over in protest. Hundreds crowded Good Shepherd Plaza, demanding action.
Catch the Roosevelt Islander’s report on Lewis’s last board meeting as acting CEO.
Cuomo acted, bringing in Charlene Indelicato as president and CEO while Lewis went back to general counsel. Significantly, she recruited the much admired Jack McManus as PSD chief, resolving the crisis.
Before long, though, Lewis left RIOC, filing a lawsuit against them, citing a daily dose of racially charged comments. Funny coincidence — his successor, Rosenthal, also sued RIOC after being fired. And she filed a parallel claim against its board and Cuomo for, you guessed it, racial bias.
But Don Lewis never lets moss grow under his feet…
As Sylvan Klein noticed, finding Lewis featured on Hulu’s documentary about WeWork, he led the legal team during the company’s wild ride through corporate upheaval.
He describes WeWork as “legitimately the craziest work experience you’ll ever have in your life.”
And this came after RIOC.
“If you wanted to drink ’til the end of time, you could drink ’til the end of time,” he added.
This sounded, honestly, more interesting than anything going on at 591 Main Street, Roosevelt Island.
Later, he hooked up with Pierce Bainbridge Beck Price & Hecht LLP, a law firm Lewis now says was “built on smoke and mirrors.” That ended badly.
The much traveled Harvard grad today…
Don Lewis’s career makes a great story, if Hollywood or Publishers Row is looking for one. This is a smart guy who lands on his feet.
He brags about his vast array of connections, from business execs to “the guy who fixes the elevators.”
His career is equally varied, and it promises great — and fun — things to come.
We will try to keep up.