Donald Zucker, chairman of the Donald Zucker Co., will be the recipient on Jan. 17 of The Bernard H. Mendik Lifetime Leadership in Real Estate Award at the Real Estate Board of New York‘s annual banquet. Click here to register for REBNY’s banquet. A member of the Board since the early 1960s, Zucker talks to about what the award means to him and his thoughts on the current market. What does winning this award mean to you?

Bernie was such a close friend of mine and such a great guy. I really liked him a lot and went back a long time with him. Unfortunately, he died long before he should have. He was a very special person. The fact that they would give me an award that is named after Bernie is very important to me. What do you think the mood will be like at the banquet?

It depends a lot on what Washington does. If the fiscal cliff doesn’t happen, or they postpone it, I believe the market will crash, and a lot of things will follow suit. People will not be able to make the expenditures that really run this country. People love to spend money in this country, and that’s what keeps the economy going. Just a little thing like the payroll tax, which is an average of $1,200, but you take that $1,200 out of their pocket, they don’t spend it. Give them the $1,200, and they’re not going to put it in the bank. Take that down the line with the taxes that will occur if the Bush tax decreases go away…the whole thing is so psychological. It’s the way people feel. We’re living with this enormous unemployment already that looks like it goes on forever. That’s the biggest single problem in the country, and it doesn’t seem to be going away at all. If in fact these guys could get their acts together and do something for the benefit of the country rather for the benefit of themselves — the idea of public service went out the window. There was a time when people who worked in Washington, Upstate New York or in the City, everybody was interested in doing public service and trying to better everyone’s situation. Unfortunately that’s gone. But given all that, New York’s commercial real estate market seems to be doing pretty well?

New York hasn’t felt the recession we have gone through the last three years like the rest of the country has. You go to other places, and it’s really tough. I own a lot of commercial property in the form of retail stores in the city, as well as on Long Island, and they’re doing great. I own a bunch of garages that are doing great. The rental world of my apartments has held its own fairly well, but by and large the apartments rent. New York is unique. We had 51 million visitors last year. The museums are going to open on Mondays for the first time in years, it’s worth your life to try to get a theater ticket, and at any decent restaurant if you call the same day for a reservation, they laugh at you. The city doesn’t really know that there is a recession going on in the rest of the country. I don’t expect REBNY to be downbeat dinner at all, and if the Obama people and Boner get together and make a deal, it’s going to be a super upbeat dinner, and the stock market will probably go up 1,000 points. How has REBNY been important to you?

It’s been a very important part of the real estate industry, and Steve Spinola [REBNY's president] is more responsible for that than anybody else because he has brought together the real estate leaders of New York, and the executive board meets all of the time, and he invites politicians who are important to the industry to come talk to us. It’s a very important part of our world. It wasn’t that way before Steve Spinola came in there.