Tireless Wall Street watchdog Harvey Goldschmid dies at 74

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Correction appended.

Harvey Goldschmid, a longtime Riverdalian who died at the age of 74 on Feb. 12, was a soft spoken man, but his voice resounded on Wall Street, in Washington, D.C. and in the halls of academe.

At the time of his death he was a professor at Columbia Law School, but he had previously been one of the most influential and outspoken members of the Securities Exchange Commission.

He rose from a position as special advisor to SEC Chairman Arthur Levitt to become the agency’s general counsel from 1998 to 1999. A lifelong Democrat, he was appointed by President George W. Bush to serve on the commission from 2002 to 2005 and he was in the running to become its chair in 2009, but President Barack Obama chose Mary Shapiro for the job.

His Riverdale friends were aware of his familiarity with Washington politics and asked him to predict the outcome of the epic Supreme Court case which determined whether Mr. Bush or Al Gore would become President.

“I know Nino Scalia,” he said. “He’s a good judge, but he’s a better Republican: Bush will be President.”

During his time with the SEC, he came to be known as a leading authority on securities law. Joel Seligman, the president of the University of Rochester, wrote a 2006 tribute to him in the Columbia Law Review in which he described Mr. Goldschmid as the most influential SEC commissioner in history who never rose to become chair.

A fierce crusader for investor rights, he helped develop a regulation designed to prevent Wall Street traders from getting market-moving information ahead of other investors. He was at the SEC when Congress passed the Sarbanes-Oxley Act in the wake of the Enron and Worldcom scandals.

His affable manner may have been one reason he was able to forge an alliance with the SEC’s Republican chairman, Bill Donaldson. Together they were able to push through a number of controversial rules over the objections of the commission’s other two Republican members.

In the years after the financial crisis of 2008, he was an outspoken critic of Wall Street shenanigans, appearing in a widely viewed documentary film and speaking and writing about the need for stronger oversight of the financial sector. In 2012 he was named to the Systemic Risk Council, a group of former government officials and other experts formed to provide an independent voice for reform.

He was born in the Bronx on May 6, 1940. He didn’t follow in his father’s footsteps as a furrier and postal worker. Instead, he attended Columbia College and Columbia Law School and joined the law school faculty in 1970, becoming Dwight Professor of Law in 1984. When he returned to the school after his stint with the SEC, he was a popular teacher of antitrust, corporate and securities law.

All three of his sons followed in his footsteps. Each graduated from Columbia Law School. 

Mr. Goldschmid was a gifted tennis player and his son, Charles, was captain of the Columbia men’s tennis team.

He is survived by his sons, Charles, Paul and Joseph and his wife, Mary.

A previous version of this story incorrectly said Mr. Goldschmid died on Feb. 11.

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