Lewis Katz has kept close to his Camden roots
He has bought and sold sports teams, and has homes in Rittenhouse Square, Florida, and New York. But Lewis Katz has never strayed too far from his rowhouse roots in Camden.
In the Parkside neighborhood where he grew up, raised by his mother after his father died, Katz built a Boys and Girls Club that now serves 3,000 young people. He has also given money to rebuild Camden churches, and hopes to open a charter school there.
Katz, 70, made fortunes in parking, banking, billboards, and real estate, and became a kingmaker in politics. In the last 20 years, he has given more than $300,000 to campaigns, documents show.
He was an early supporter of Bill Clinton. Ed Rendell, a close friend, once called Katz his "single biggest" political fund-raiser.
One of Pennsylvania's coveted casino licenses went to a Foxwoods venture that included Katz family charitable trusts as partners. The project never got off the ground and the state finally revoked the license.
Katz graduated from Temple University, where he is now a trustee, and Dickinson School of Law, to which he donated $15 million for a building that bears his name.
In his senior year at Temple, Katz worked as a "leg man" for the columnist Drew Pearson, helping him do the digging that led to the censure in 1967 of Sen. Thomas J. Dodd of Connecticut over the personal use of campaign funds. Pearson was best man at Katz's wedding, and Katz named a son after him.
At a news conference Monday to announce the sale, Katz said he felt his career had "come full circle."
"I share your love," he told the journalists present, "and your respect for your profession."
In 1998, the 6-foot-2 Katz was a controlling partner in the purchase of the New Jersey Nets NBA basketball team. He donated the profits to a trust benefiting inner-city schools in Camden and other New Jersey cities.
Katz is a founding partner of the Cherry Hill law firm of Katz, Ettin & Levine, where he remains of counsel.
With help from former Camden Mayor Angelo Errichetti, Katz was elected a Camden County freeholder. As Cherry Hill Democratic Party chairman, Katz mentored former Mayors Maria Barnaby Greenwald and Bernie Platt.
"Lewis gave me my start in politics," said Platt. "He's been an inspiration to me and many people over the years."
In the 1980s, Katz helped buy and turn around a couple of New Jersey banks before selling them for a profit.
He is former chairman of Interstate Outdoor Advertising, a regional billboard firm, and formerly owned Kinney Parking Systems. He's former general counsel to South Jersey Port Corp. and the New Jersey Expressway Authority.
Katz said he knows how to turn businesses around. When he took them over, he said, Kinney was bankrupt, the Nets were in last place, and one of his banks was fourth on a list of the nation's worst.
Registered as independent, Katz is a significant donor, mostly to Democrats. He has given more than $211,000 to federal candidates in the last 20 years. Since 2000, he has given more than $150,000 to Pennsylvania candidates and $107,000 to those in New Jersey.
"He's a businessman," said Alan Kessler, a Democratic fund-raiser who has known Katz for years. "Some of it is what you believe in, some is what you need to do for your business."
Katz's campaign giving has trailed off significantly in recent years, reports show.
Katz and his wife, Marjorie, have two children. The couple have lived apart for many years. Katz is in a long-term relationship with Nancy Phillips, an award-winning Inquirer investigative reporter.
In Camden, Katz has won over opponents with his generosity. He once had a run-in with the Camden activist Frank Fulbrook over a billboard. The two worked out an agreement in 2002 that resulted in the creation of a nonprofit called Camden Neighborhood Revitalization Corp., which helps fund revitalization projects, including affordable housing.
Katz "has had a good influence on the city," Fulbrook said.
"He's been a very philanthropic person," Platt said. "If it was a good cause and he believed in it, he was the man to go to."
Contact staff writer Edward Colimore at 856-779-3833 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Inquirer staff writer Craig R. McCoy also contributed to this article.