Peter Korn (Fels '63)

April 5, 2014

By Kelliston McDowell, MPA '14

Reflecting on an impressive career in city management, alumnus Peter Korn, ‘63 recalled powerful advice that was given to him in its earliest days.

“The city manager who hired me for my Fels internship was Porter Horner, who was then the city manager of Rochester, NY,” said Korn. “He said to me: ‘Start fast and keep going.’”

“Don’t delay taking opportunity and keep looking forward.”

Korn’s career in public service certainly started fast and, in the decades since, kept going.

Upon completing classes in 1962, Korn became executive assistant and, two years later, Budget Director of Rochester. From there, he held city manager posts in Long Beach, NY; Jersey City, NJ; and Broward County, FL before becoming a professor of public administration at Nova University in Ft. Lauderdale, FL

In 1980, Korn returned to Rochester as city manager, a post he held for six years before returning to academia at SUNY Brockport.  After serving as city manager of Peoria, IL, in 1996 Korn assumed the manager’s post in New Rochelle, NY, a suburban community just north of New York City.

Arriving in New Rochelle, Korn found himself managing a city that “had been in economic doldrums for some time.”  

“The city had been struggling unsuccessfully with its downtown development,” said Korn. “There’d been urban renewal projects thirty years before – a lot of land clearance, and empty lots remained when redevelopment failed to occur.”

But then, as Korn describes, the municipality’s fortunes changed.

“The economy suddenly improved as developers focused on downtown urban centers,” said Korn. “Gates of opportunity opened and we galvanized our organization and community for downtown redevelopment. 

“What had been a downtown with its tallest building at twelve stories now has two over twenty stories and two others that are almost forty stories, in addition to new rental apartments and condominiums.”

In terms of city operations, Korn described how “we substantially computerized municipal operations and invested money and staff to improve technology. 

“We convinced city council that while the City is managed from city hall, almost all services are delivered through field operations.” 

“We had to make investments in needed heavy equipment,” said Korn. “In my second month, there was a huge Nor’easter storm that caused dozens of trees to fall on homes and roadways, and, unhappily, I discovered there were no tree chippers or equipment to haul away the debris.”

Semi-retired since 2002, Korn embarked on a second career as a labor arbitrator and mediator. In 2004, he was awarded the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) Distinguished Service Award for “outstanding contributions to the management profession and local government,” citing his work in budgeting and labor relations.

Over the years, Korn has remained involved with Fels. In addition to making regular contributions to the Stephen B. Sweeney Scholarship Fund, Korn also assists with admissions by interviewing prospective students.  He is a member of Fels Leadership 100, which engages alumni and seeks new opportunities to further the mission of Fels.

For his contributions as an alumnus, Korn will be recognized by the Fels Institute of Government at the May 18 commencement ceremony. There, in the company of faculty, alumni, and the graduating Class of 2014, he will be honored with the Alumni Award for Service to Fels.

“Many lifetime friendships started at Fels,” said Korn. “There’s a strong sense that much of what I achieved and what I am is because of my education received there.

“It provided the kind of framework we all needed – what government is all about, what administration is all about,” he continued. “Even before retiring, I realized it was time for recognition of what the school did for me, and time to make a contribution to the next generation.”

A generation of Fels students, thanks to his efforts, better positioned to “start fast and keep going.”

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Contact Information

Fels Institute of Government
University of Pennsylvania
3814 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104

Phone: (215) 898-2600
Fax: (215) 746-2829