Honesty and persistence land School of Public Affairs alumnus John H. Banks III (EMPA ’92) in a job central to every New Yorker’s life: real estate. Photo by Adam Jones.

[dropcap sid=”dropcap-1432675082″]W[/dropcap]hen John H. Banks III was named president-elect of the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) last December, news stories quoted the city’s mayor, a former City Council speaker, a college president, and a corporate executive all saying the same thing: in the rough-and-tumble world of politics, Banks is a tenacious advocate who is liked even by those he disagrees with.

“I’ve always believed that people would prefer me to be candid rather than to pander or obfuscate,” says Banks (EMPA ’92). “It’s easier to reach a compromise if people trust me.”

As the real estate industry’s chief lobbyist (along with Steve Spinola, who will retire later this year after serving as REBNY’s president for three decades), Banks is negotiating with the de Blasio administration on the number of affordable housing units developers must include in new residential buildings.

“The mayor’s affordable housing agenda is aggressive, and the real estate industry supports that,” Banks says. “Developers, though, are driven by economics, and the challenge is to lock in affordability and make the bottom line work.”

If Banks’s characterization of these negotiations seems less heated than the media’s, it may be because his career and education afford him an ultraclear picture of people, power, and politics. Shortly after graduating from Manhattan College as a double major in government and economics, he was hired as an investigator in the Mayor’s Office, charged with rooting out corruption. Later, while working as New York City Council’s deputy director of finance, Banks enrolled in Baruch’s Executive MPA Program, where he learned “how organizations work, where power lies, and how to manage change.” He capped his career in government by working as chief of staff for the NYC Council. [pullquote sid=”pullquote-1432675295″ align=”right”]In the Executive MPA Program, I learned how organizations work, where power lies, and how to manage change.[/pullquote]

Until his REBNY appointment, Banks was Con Ed’s vp of government relations. He left shortly after achieving a long-fought victory: the city and the utility can now jointly bid infrastructure projects, saving time and money. While at Con Ed, Banks also led the effort to obtain $750 million in federal funds to rebuild electrical systems destroyed in the 9/11 attacks.

Active in the community, Banks focuses on assisting young people and those seeking upward mobility. He is a member of the Dean’s Advisory Board of Baruch’s School of Public Affairs and the boards of Manhattan College and the New York Public Library—institutions he reveres for helping first-generation college students, like himself, and immigrants “transition into a new world.”

—Brian Kell