Public Agenda at 40 Years

One afternoon in 1975, a prominent social scientist and a future Secretary of State met for lunch. Both were frustrated that the issues the public cared the most about were being ignored in the current presidential campaign.

The two men, Dan Yankelovich and Cyrus Vance Sr., decided to form an organization that would work to shrink the gap between leaders and the public. Thus from that fateful lunch 40 years ago, Public Agenda was born. (Read more about Public Agenda's history and co-founders here.)

Earlier this week, we gathered to celebrate Public Agenda's 40th anniversary, along with the 90th birthday of our co-founder Dan Yankelovich, with a cocktail reception hosted at the home of our board member, Norton Garfinkle, and his wife, Sally Minard.

The event was co-chaired by Admiral Bob Inman and former Labor Secretary Ann Korologos, and former Senator Bill Bradley was an honorary co-chair. In addition to Dan, speakers included Public Agenda's President Will Friedman, Board Chair Mitchell Wallerstein, and Betsy Smith, former assistant commissioner for marketing and revenue at the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation.

The occasion was an opportunity for us to both celebrate the past with the generation that contributed to the legacy of Public Agenda and envision the future under a new generation of leadership.

While Cy Vance Sr. passed away in 2002, his son, New York District Attorney Cy Vance Jr., joined us for the 40/90 celebration. Of Public Agenda, he said, "My father had a great deal of affection and respect for the organization he founded with his friend, Dan Yankelovich, in 1975. If he were here today I know he would be proud of its accomplishments and enthusiastic about its ambitions."

Dan and Will spoke to the crowd about these accomplishments and ambitions, during the course of which Will announced the launch of a new initiative, Restoring Opportunity, whose vision and mission is rooted firmly in Dan's newest book and recent writing.

Restoring Opportunity is a ten-year commitment by Public Agenda to help communities and the nation address stagnating opportunity, which we consider to be one of the greatest challenges of our day. In order to meet this challenge, we will attack three critical questions:

    How to ensure high-quality educational opportunities for all How to create more good jobs and economic security How to engage citizens more meaningfully in politics and public life

We also surprised Dan with the announcement of the new Yankelovich Center for Public Judgment. This Center, to be housed at Public Agenda, will develop, disseminate and apply Dan's seminal ideas about democracy, ideas that have profoundly influenced our own work. The Center will ensure that these ideas continue to sharpen and evolve to meet the changing challenges of the day.

We are able to launch the Yankelovich Center for Public Judgment thanks to the Kettering Foundation's generous contribution and commitment to a robust program of joint research through the Center. David Mathews, the president of the Kettering Foundation and a long-time friend of Dan's, was unable to join us for the evening but shared his remarks about his friendship with Dan and the new Center in the video below (which brought a tear to the eye of a few of us here at Public Agenda):

Kettering's David Mathews on the Yankelovich Center

You can read more about the Restoring Opportunity initiative and the Yankelovich Center for Public Judgment on our website. To meet our goals for these initiatives, we need your help! To make a gift online, click here or contact Patricia Balaci at

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