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Elizabeth Berger, Downtown Alliance President, Dies at 53

By Irene Plagianos | August 6, 2013 10:24am | Updated on August 6, 2013 1:18pm
 Elizabeth Berger, president of the Alliance for Downtown New York, died Monday at the age of 53.
Elizabeth Berger, president of the Alliance for Downtown New York, died Monday at the age of 53.
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Courtesy of the Alliance for Downtown New York

LOWER MANHATTAN — Elizabeth Berger, president of the Alliance for Downtown New York and a longtime advocate for Lower Manhattan, died Monday of pancreatic cancer at Bellevue Hospital. She was 53.

Berger led the Alliance  — which manages the Downtown-Lower Manhattan Business Improvement District — since 2007 and was known as a passionate champion for the growth, people and interests of Lower Manhattan, where the mother of two made her home for many years.

Her tenure helped shape and rebuild the neighborhood after 9/11, and more recently, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, the Alliance's chairman, Robert Douglass, said in a statement.

“Liz Berger’s passion, sophistication and drive shaped Lower Manhattan as surely as any skyscraper or bulldozer,” Douglass said. “Her strength as an advocate and strategist was only exceeded by her loyalty as a friend and her dedication as a mother and wife. She will be sorely missed.”

Under her lead, the Alliance championed the Fulton Street Transit Center, the reconstruction of the Borough of Manhattan Community College’s Fiterman Hall and the enactment of post-9/11 commercial leasing incentives.

"She was a fighter, and was always working hard to make things better," said Catherine McVay Hughes, the chairwoman of Community Board 1 and a longtime friend of Berger's. "She absolutely loved her family, her friends and Lower Manhattan — and we've all benefited from that love."

Hughes said Berger worked tirelessly after Sandy devastated Lower Manhattan, from pushing Con Edison to get the power turned back on, to securing Alliance grant money for businesses wiped out by the storm.

Berger had survived a bought of pancreatic cancer about 10 years ago, Hughes said, but recently had a relapse — though she kept working until the end.

"She didn't want to slow down — she was always pushing forward," Hughes said. "She lived through 9/11, Superstorm Sandy — she was not someone who ever wanted to give up."

Berger, born Aug. 3, 1960 in New York City, was a graduate of Yale University, where she created her own major, "The Study of the City."

Before working at the Alliance, she established and built government relations practices at the law firms Lord Day & Lord Barrett Smith and LeBoeuf, Lamb Greene & MacRae and the Law Offices of Claudia Wagner. She is also credited with creating the Department of Government and External Affairs at Lincoln Center and served as an assistant mayoral representative to the New York City Council during the Koch administration.

Berger was also active in numerous city organizations, at various times serving as a board member of the Municipal Art Society, Film Forum, Second Stage Theatre, American Museum of Natural History Planetarium Authority and the New York Building Congress. She was also a mayoral appointee to the board of the Trust for Governors Island and served on Community Board 1 from 1999 to 2005.

“Liz Berger loved our city with passion and gave her great intelligence and inventiveness to New York without reserve. She was more than an advocate for Lower Manhattan, she was a partner in building its future," said Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a statement. "As new transit hubs, skyscrapers, full access to our waterfront and a fresh vitality emerge downtown, Liz’s influences are everywhere to be seen."

Berger is survived by her husband Frederick Kaufman, children Phoebe and Julian, mother Anita and brother Gideon.

A memorial service will be held this fall, an Alliance spokeswoman said.