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Ira M. Millstein, a venerable lawyer who crusaded for greater independence by corporate boards of directors, invoked his bipartisan bona fides in helping to shepherd Ruth Bader Ginsburg onto the federal bench, and vigilantly helped New York City evade bankruptcy in the mid-1970s, died on Wednesday at his home in Mamaroneck, N.Y. He was 97.

His death was confirmed by his daughter, Elizabeth Millstein Tremain.

Mr. Millstein trained as an engineer at Columbia before switching to law and was respected for his meticulousness and tact. He became the senior partner at Weil, Gotshal & Manges, a New York-based law firm, where he specialized in antitrust law and government regulation. As a member of the firm, he was enlisted to untangle corporate governance imbroglios at Bethlehem Steel, the Walt Disney Company, General Electric, General Motors, Macy’s, Tyco International and Westinghouse, among other companies.

“All of our icons were losing out to foreign competition and being subjected to takeovers,” he told The New York Times in 2006, as he pressed for more oversight of New York’s myriad public authorities as well. “Where were the boards? Inactive.”

Throughout his career, Mr. Millstein pressed for more aggressive corporate governance by directors in the private sector. “The evolution of directors is essential to maintaining our system free of further intrusive regulation,” he said in an interview with Strategy+business magazine in 2005. He further expounded on his views in a book, “The Activist Director: Lessons From the Boardroom and the Future of the Corporation,” published in 2016.

He was also recruited to civic leadership roles that were beyond the ken of politically-hobbled government bureaucracies.

He was chairman of the nonprofit Central Park Conservancy from 1991 to 1999. He was chosen to lead Gov. George E. Pataki’s New York State Commission on Public Authority Reform, which streamlined and illuminated hundreds of quasi-independent agencies. And he headed a special mayoral commission charged with investigating the 1977 blackout that virtually paralyzed New York City. The panel concluded that the power outage was caused by Consolidated Edison’s poor management and recommended that the utility’s rates be cut when it provided inadequate service.

Mr. Millstein’s voiced his support for Ruth Bader Ginsburg during Senate hearings on her nomination to the United States Supreme Court in 1993, noting in his testimony that he had known both her and her husband, Martin Ginsberg, since 1957, when Mr. Ginsburg was a summer associate at Weil. He recalled President Jimmy Carter’s nomination of Judge Ginsburg to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in 1980, and in his telling it was languishing, and probably dead.

“Opposition to Ruth was largely based on the assertion that she was a single-issue lawyer — women’s rights,” Mr. Millstein testified. A lifelong Democrat, he contacted an old acquaintance, Senator Orrin G. Hatch, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, asking for an audience so that Mr. Hatch could “make up his mind on the evidence, not on gossip and rumor,” he said.

“The senator apparently concluded that Ruth Ginsburg was, indeed, a legal scholar from no ideological school,” Mr. Millstein said. “The opposition thereafter seemed to have melted away. And Ruth was confirmed and on her way to today.”

In October 1975, as New York City faced a crippling fiscal meltdown, Mr. Millstein counseled city officials not to declare bankruptcy and instead helped draft a formal petition attesting to municipal default. Signed by Mayor Abraham D. Beame, the petition was ready to be served on the banks that were the city’s leading creditors, and it was accompanied by a news release that pointedly shifted responsibility.

“I have been advised by the comptroller,” the mayor said in the release, that the city “has insufficient cash on hand to meet debt obligations due today.”

At the last minute, municipal unions dipped into their pension funds to bail out the city, and the signed petition was never invoked. For years it hung framed in Mr. Millstein’s Fifth Avenue law office.

Throughout his career, Mr. Millstein pressed for more aggressive corporate governance by directors in the private sector, as he did in this 2016 book.Credit…Columbia Business School

In “The Activist Director,” Mr. Millstein described the city’s fiscal crisis as “among the worst examples of poor corporate governance oversight I have seen.”

He also wrote that he was one of three Beame confidants who were approached by Gov. Hugh L. Carey to persuade the mayor to resign. They refused out of personal loyalty to Mr. Beame.

Ira Martin Millstein was born on Nov. 8, 1926, in Manhattan to Harry and Birdie (Rosenbaum) Millstein. His father was a furniture salesman; his mother managed the household.

After graduating from the Bronx High School of Science, he earned a Bachelor of Science degree from the Columbia University School of Engineering in 1946.

But engineering wasn’t for Mr. Millstein after all, and the assistant dean of Columbia Law School, who was teaching an undergraduate course in law for engineers, steered him toward a legal career. Mr. Millstein graduated from the law school in 1949.

He was later the founding chairman of the Millstein Center for Global Markets and Corporate Ownership at Columbia Law School.

After working briefly as a special assistant to the United States attorney general in the Justice Department’s antitrust division, he joined Weil, Gotshal & Manges in 1951. He relinquished day-to-day management of the firm in 1999 but never retired.

In 1949, he married Diane Greenberg; she died in 2010. In addition to his daughter, Elizabeth, he is survived by a son, James E. Millstein, five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Both of his children are lawyers. Two sisters, Lucille M. Etra and Marcia M. Miller, died. His marriage to Susan Marie Frame in 2013 ended in divorce

Among Mr. Millstein’s civic roles was chairman of the New York Governor’s Task Force on Pension Fund Investment, in which he urged the state to use its assets more aggressively in matters of public and corporate policy. He was also a consultant to the Business Roundtable, an organization of chief executives. As chairman of the Central Park Conservancy, he called for local property owners to be empowered to tax themselves to support their neighborhood parks.

Describing his role in New York City’s fiscal crisis as “pro bono, official kibitzer,” Mr. Millstein recalled in an interview for this obituary in 2021 that on the night the city nearly went bankrupt, he was rushing from his Midtown office to Gracie Mansion, the mayor’s residence, when he was held up by a man who demanded his wallet. When he opened it to show that all he had was $10, the man said, “Well, I’ll take that.”

“I said, ‘Look, I’m on my way back to meet with the mayor,’” Mr. Millstein recalled. “‘The city is in big trouble. You got to let me get my car out, and that’s the only $10 I have.’ He let me go, so I went to the garage, got the car and went back to Gracie Mansion. Where else could something like that happen but in the city of New York?”

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