Arguably the most powerful publicist in New York, Rubenstein is the founder of Rubenstein Associates and the man whom New York's most influential turn to when they want to get a deal done, crush an enemy, announce good news, or deflect bad news. His son (and heir apparent) is Steve Rubenstein.
A streetwise kid from the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn, Rubenstein initially considered becoming a lawyer and headed off to Harvard Law after graduating from Penn. He quickly changed his mind and dropped out, returning home to Brooklyn. (He eventually finished up law school at St. John's.) It was Rubenstein's father, a newspaper crime reporter who did PR work for various local politicos, who first piqued his interest in the profession. Duly inspired, Howard set up his PR firm from his mother's kitchen in 1954. (He asked his mother to answer the family phone "Rubenstein Associates." She refused.) His first client wasn't the least bit glamorous: He repped the Menorah Home and Hospital for the Aged and Infirm in Brooklyn. Of course, he's done a bit better for himself since then. Today he provides counsel to New York's most notable business leaders, politicians, and celebrities.
Just a few of Rubenstein's clients over the years: George Steinbrenner, Rupert Murdoch, Donald Trump, Ron Perelman, Larry Silverstein, Leonard Lauder, Michael Bloomberg, Leona Helmsley, Charles Kushner, Jerry Speyer, Dan Tishman, Burton Resnick, and Bill Rudin. Rubenstein's repped the last six mayors (including Ed Koch and Rudy Giuliani), the last four governors (including Mario Cuomo and George Pataki), one of the two sitting senators (Chuck Schumer), and the city's most important arts institutions (Guggenheim, Metropolitan Opera, New York Philharmonic).
So what does Rubenstein actually do? He often acts as a fixer and go-between, someone who negotiates behind the scenes to make things happen. It was Rubenstein, for example, who found a suitable rental for longtime client Rupert Murdoch while his $44 million Fifth Avenue apartment was under renovation. (He dialed up another client, Donald Trump, who was more than happy to help out.) Rubenstein also negotiated the pact between Murdoch and Mort Zuckerman to keep their private lives out of their respective papers. He's often called to assist with some of the most impossible PR situations (such as rehabilitating Naomi Campbell's reputation after she beat her assistant for the umpteenth time) and he's typically the first person other publicists (such as Lizzie Grubman) call when they need a spin doctor.
Not everyone, of course, appreciates his influence. ("An evil, duplicitous samurai," is how a less-than-impressed peer described him to New York.) One of the most frequent complaints is Rubenstein's willingness to disregard conflicts of interests: His firm, for example, simultaneously represented the Tobacco Institute and a cancer hospital, and he represented both Leona Helmsley and Donald Trump when the two were publicly sparring.
On the job
Fixing problems, in case you're wondering, pays quite nicely: Rubenstein Associates generates revenues of more than $40 million a year and has more than 200 employees. The firm's Midtown office—which is decorated with a statue of Rubenstein's reporter father wearing a fedora and standing in front of a typewriter—is home to two other members of the family. Howard's younger son, Steven, who reps the likes of David Letterman, Robert De Niro, and Jerry Seinfeld, is expected to take over the agency when he retires. Rubenstein's other son, Richard, branched out and started his own boutique firm called RPR. It operates out of the same office as Rubenstein Associates.
Rubenstein is married to Amy Forman Rubenstein. In addition to Steve and Richard, the couple has a daughter, Roni, a former assistant district attorney. (A third son, David, died of a brain tumor in 1971.) Rubenstein and his wife live in a co-op on Fifth Avenue in the 80s and also own a home in Pound Ridge, NY.
Rubenstein's wife runs the famed steakhouse Peter Luger's with her sister, Marilyn Forman Spiera. The restaurant was founded by Amy and Marilyn's father, and the two daughters remain responsible for selecting the choice meat that's served to diners every week. Interestingly, the Rubensteins say they keep a kosher home, but make an exception when they're at the family restaurant, in which case they allow themselves to indulge in a Peter Luger porterhouse.