Roots of term limits law traced back to Corona

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As an heir to the Estée Lauder cosmetic fortune, the owner of several private businesses and a philanthropist, Ronald Lauder wears many hats, but his spokeswoman says he has never been more dedicated to any pursuit than to the setting of city council term limits.

Ronald’s mother, Estée Lauder, who was born in Corona and grew up on Hillside Avenue, founded her multibillion-dollar company in 1946 and by 1982 it was the largest privately held cosmetics firm in the country. Ronald’s brother, Leonard, serves as the chief executive officer.

Ronald Lauder, who unsuccessfully ran for mayor on the Republican ticket in 1989, has been heavily involved in the fight for city council term limits since 1992.

The chairman of New Yorkers for Term Limits, Lauder believes that the restrictions on the amount of time served open up the political process, allowing new ideas to flourish and giving newcomers the chance to break into the field, said Lauder spokeswoman Jeanine Kemm.

“One million people voted for this issue — twice,” Kemm said, referring to the 1993 and 1996 referendums. “Over one million New Yorkers think that it’s a good thing.”

Kemm said Lauder believes New Yorkers have spoken, and the will of the voters should be respected.

While critics of term limits claim the law will cause political instability, Lauder often points out that the presidency has an eight-year term limit and the country withstands the change.

Lauder ran for mayor in 1989, but lost the Republican primary to current Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. He appeared in the general election as the Conservative Party candidate, but lost that race to David Dinkins. Kemm said she highly doubts Lauder will run again for political office.

He is also very committed to education and in 1987 he formed the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation to support and develop schools and community centers in eastern and central Europe.

The foundation also offers an international student exchange program, which enables high school students from Vienna, Budapest, Warsaw, St. Petersburg, Prague, Berlin, and Sofia to study for half of the school year in New York. The New Yorkers travel to Europe for the second half of the year.

The Polish branch of the foundation’s web site quoted Lauder: “It is my belief that through education, restoration of our holy landmarks, and the creation of worldwide linkages, we can eradicate the bigotry and hate which mar the past and cast shadows on the future.”

The foundation also has a special connection to Austria, where Lauder served as U.S. ambassador from 1986 to 1987, under President Ronald Reagan. All four of Lauder’s grandparents were Austrian immigrants.

Lauder is also the chairman of the Board at the Museum of Modern Art and at the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations.

In 1998, he formed RSL Communications, a global network of Internet and phone systems.

Lauder, who will be 57 next week, is married to Jo Carole and they have two children, Aerin and Jane, as well as two grandchildren.

Reach reporter Betsy Scheinbart by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 138.

Updated 7:02 pm, October 10, 2011
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