The Municipal Forum of New York honored three people for their service to public finance at its 20th annual awards dinner Tuesday night in Manhattan.

The forum bestowed its lifetime achievement award on Richard Ravitch, who headed New York Gov. David Paterson's commission to develop a plan to fund the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's long-term capital and operating needs. It also awarded New Jersey Office of Public Finance director Nancy Feldman its public service award and M.R. Beal & Co. founder and chief operating officer Bernard B. Beal its Austin V. Koenen award for private-sector service.

City Council member David Weprin kicked off the presentations with proclamations from the City Council for each of the honorees.

"I would have preferred the tolls," Ravitch said, referring to his proposal to toll East River bridges to raise revenue for the MTA that didn't make it into a compromise reached by the Legislature earlier this month.

Ravitch said he was honored but that he couldn't "help but be a little bewildered about why I would be getting an award from the municipal bond industry when one of my proudest accomplishments in the years that I issued a great deal of debt as the chairman of a series of public benefit corporations was how tightly I squeezed spreads."

Ravitch has worn many hats in the public and private sector, including as a real estate developer with H.R.H Construction and chairman of the Urban Development Corp. and the MTA.

"There is no reward in life quite as good as public service," Ravitch said. "I hope all of you serve in public life at some point in your life ... because the country, the state, and the city need you."

Beal recalled how when he was first looking for something that would marry his desire to do social good with his need to make money a friend gave him four reasons why public finance was a good business to get into - there were wide spreads; it was an industry that never changed; there were few regulations; and public finance didn't attract the smartest people, so he'd have an edge. These have all proven false over the years, he said, especially the last one.

"I have never met smarter people," Beal said. "There are some of the best minds on Wall Street working in the municipal bond business."

Feldman, a veteran of Roosevelt & Cross, Standard & Poor's, and Goldman, Sachs & Co., said that when she started at the New Jersey office of public finance her staff didn't understand her love for bond deals.

"Maybe they had never met a true finance geek like me before," Feldman said. "Now that they've worked with me for three years, I think they get it and maybe they love the elements and challenges of municipal finance as much as I do."

The forum also gave special recognition to Standard & Poor's managing director Colleen Woodell for her years of service to the Municipal Forum.

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