Cardozo in the Wings: Part 1

Cardozo in the Wings

by Katherine Towler, Contributing Editor

New York, still reeling from the attacks of September 11, is relying on the administration of Mayor Mike Bloomberg to help the city get back on its feet. Michael Cardozo, corporation counsel, is one man Mayor Bloomberg turns to when asking, "What's the right thing to do?"

Michael A. Cardozo '66 admits that he found the weight of his family's history at Columbia a bit daunting when he arrived at the Law School. He remembers, in particular, a class with "the great torts professor" Willis L.M. Reese.

"He would call on someone to talk about one of Benjamin Cardozo's cases," recalls Mr. Cardozo, "and he would say, ‘Don't worry, we have Cardozo waiting in the wings to explain it.' I can still remember quaking in my seat."

You could say that law runs in the veins of the Cardozo family. Although Mr. Cardozo would not have predicted his current position as corporation counsel to New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg before he attended the Law School nearly four decades ago, it was clear that he would earn a law degree - and that Columbia was the natural choice.

"People thought I would be a lawyer from the time I was in high school. I guess I acted like a lawyer, however a lawyer acts when he's in high school," Mr. Cardozo says with characteristically understated humor. Michael H. Cardozo, his grandfather, graduated from Columbia Law School in 1904. His father, Harmon H. Cardozo, attended Columbia as an undergraduate. And his grandfather's first cousin Benjamin Cardozo, the renowned New York jurist and U.S. Supreme Court justice, was a member of Columbia Law's Class of 1915.

Michael Cardozo grew up in Manhattan, at 71st Street and Columbus Avenue. When he was 12, his family moved to Westport, Conn., where he attended public school. After receiving his undergraduate degree at Brown University, he enrolled at Columbia, where he was a member of the Law Review, a student adviser, and a Harlan Fiske Stone Scholar. Among his classmates were future NBA Commissioner David J. Stern, who remains a close friend; Nat Leventhal, former president of Lincoln Center (and the head of Mayor Bloomberg's transition team after the election); and Howard L. Ganz, a Proskauer, Rose attorney. To become corporation counsel, Mr. Cardozo resigned as a senior partner in the litigation department at Proskauer, Rose, where he and Mr. Ganz co-chaired the Sports Law Group. Over the years, they represented most of the major sports leagues in the United States, pioneered the field of sports law, and handled major class action suits. Of his professors at Columbia, Mr. Cardozo says, "I learned at the feet of the greats." These included the late Curtis Berger, whom he counts as a major influence, and E. Allan Farnsworth '52.