There are few people in Fort Lee who have contributed more to athletics, academics, quality of life and commerce, than Craig Weinstein. Craig donates substantial amounts of time, energy, legal services and financial contributions to make Fort Lee a better place to live for the entire community.
The organizations, businesses, teams and individuals he has helped are too numerous to include in this blog. However, I have selected examples that demonstrate Craig’s commitment to Fort Lee.
In response to the question of what motivates Craig to be involved in the community, Craig said, “I am mostly motivated by songs.” He said it is songs such as Simon & Garfunkel’s, Homeward Bound or Bruce Springsteen’s, My Hometown, that inspires Craig to make his community a better place.
Born in Colonia, NJ, Craig was a sports enthusiast from early childhood. He loved basketball, football and baseball. In high school, Craig transitioned into journalism and was the team reporter for his high school. His journalism role models, sportscaster Howard Cosell and hard news reporter Dan Rather, inspired him.
Upon graduation, Craig attended Syracuse University to focus on journalism. He gravitated toward the student newspaper, the Daily Orange. He became a general reporter focused on athletics. Coincidentally, Craig’s freshman year was also the first year for Syracuse head basketball coach Jim Boeheim.
In his sophomore year, Craig interviewed the assistant coach of the basketball team and found this individual to be very impressive and one who he believed was “destined for greatness.” This coach happened to be Rick Pitino.
During Craig’s four years of college, Syracuse never lost a home basketball game. That was, until the last home game he attended, when Syracuse blew a ten point lead with nine minutes to go, against Big East rival Georgetown University. It was the last game at the Manley Field House before the Orange moved to the Carrier Dome.
What was most upsetting for Orange fans and Craig, other than the end of a 57 home game win streak, was the post-game announcement by then-Georgetown coach John Thompson Jr. when he declared, "Manley Field House is officially closed." That event escalated the bitter rivalry between Syracuse and Georgetown.
Along with his passion for music, Craig also found inspiration in books. One such book, Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi, had a profound impact on Craig in high school. He was extremely impressed with the lawyering skills and arguments exemplified by the prosecutor during the Manson trial. It was an incredibly difficult case to prosecute, and because of the prosecutor’s brilliance, the case resulted in a conviction.
The book Helter Skelter proved to be an influential force in Craig’s decision to enroll in law school after graduating from Syracuse. Craig headed west and enrolled in University of San Diego School of Law.
He always had a desire to live on the west coast and greatly enjoyed his experience in San Diego. He also noted, that if he discovered his current passion for cycling during law school, he may have stayed in California. However, as nice as California was, it did not feel like home.
Craig returned to New Jersey and started as a junior associate at a Newark law firm. Also, at this time, Craig convinced his mother to move to Cliffside Park with his brother and Craig settled next door in Fort Lee in 1985.
While in college, Craig had a friend from Englewood Cliffs and as Craig became more familiar with the area, he decided this was where he wanted to settle in and never left.
In 1988, Craig was ready to step out on his own and formed his law firm, which is based in Fort Lee. Craig married his wife Ranee in 1991 and they moved to the Atrium. Within a couple years, Craig and Ranee had a daughter and another daughter followed a couple of years later. At this stage, Craig wanted to become more involved in the Fort Lee community.
He sought advice from friends and approached local political figures about getting involved. The next thing he knew, he was running for Fort Lee Borough Council and lost the race in a very close election. However, the highlight of the election for Craig was campaigning with former New York Knicks star and United States Senator, Bill Bradley.
Undeterred by the election defeat, Craig continued to look for avenues to contribute to the Fort Lee community and was appointed to the Fort Lee Planning Board. Along with Frank Patti and Mike Feiler, Craig formed the Main Street Revitalization Committee.
The purpose of this committee was to reverse what Craig and others saw has a downward trend in the physical condition and perception of Fort Lee’s business district. Craig also wrote Fort Lee’s Outdoor Café Ordinance.
The committee was successful implementing uniformity of facades, improving sidewalks and promoting business opportunity in Fort Lee.
Craig then focused his attention his attention on youth sports and coaching his daughters’ sports teams. He coached soccer, indoor soccer, basketball and softball for over 10 years. He has fond memories of great comebacks and heartbreaking loses over his tenure. However, his most memorable coaching experience was winning a girl’s softball championship on a squeeze bunt.
In addition to coaching, Craig also became the announcer for Fort Lee High School Boys Basketball games. While attending games at Fort Lee, Craig felt the gym was too quiet and the atmosphere was not conducive to a home game, especially given his experience at Syracuse.
Craig started announcing the games and took on the nickname, “The Voice.” His announcing role also led him to the booth at the Fort Lee High School football games, which he started announcing about 5 years ago.
Craig has earned a strong reputation as a high school sports announcer and gets requests from other towns to announce their sporting events. Announcing is one of his favorite activities.
As another example of his dedication and contribution to our community, Craig sends a junior classman on the basketball team to Jim Boeheim’s basketball clinic in Syracuse every year. Craig is currently a member of the Syracuse University Founders Society and endowed a scholarship in 2000.
In 2003, Craig was presented with a ring from Coach Jim Boeheim when the team won the NCAA National Championship. He was only one of two people not associated with the basketball program to receive a championship ring.
Craig enjoys working with kids “more than anything else.” He finds it incredibly rewarding and the kids greatly appreciate it. As mentioned previously, Craig has become a cycling enthusiast over the past few years and has become a coach for a young man, helping him compete in the Special Olympics.
Craig demonstrates incredible patience and compassion and instills in his players and students a “Play to Win,” mindset as a motivating tool.
Craig’s list of organizations that he dedicates countless hours also includes being the attorney for the Fort Lee Education Foundation and a member of the Board of the Academy of Finance at Fort Lee High School.
In connection with the Academy of Finance, Craig hires a paid intern to work in his law office each year. Craig said that his interns “are given significant tasks and responsibilities” and he finds his interns to be hardworking and diligent. They must be timely, properly dressed and professional.
As has been previously reported in the Patch, Craig, in conjunction with the Fort Lee Regional Chamber of Commerce, was the volunteer organizer for the U.S. Ironman Championship which had a significant presence in Fort Lee. Craig also sits on the Executive Committee of the Chamber.
Although the event will not be returning for various reasons, I personally witnessed the exceptional job Craig and Ranee did in organizing volunteers, promoting the event and promoting Fort Lee.
As Craig reflects back on being in Fort Lee for over 25 years ago, he feels “back then, you knew your neighbors. Today it seems there is less of that and more of a “lock your doors” culture. “ However, he is motivated by others who contribute to the community and coach sports and he feels a great sense of community from these other volunteers.
Overall, Craig is Fort Lee biggest cheerleader. He said it was a great place to raise his children and the wonderfully diverse community helped prepare his daughter for college, where you are exposed to a broad and diverse population.
For Craig, “Fort Lee has a small town vibe but only for those who get involved. People who volunteer are the ones who make a community.”
Like other towns, Craig also sees present and future challenges for our aging buildings and infrastructure and the need to maintain and upgrade these facilities. He is also concerned about the explosion of two family houses that has proliferated in Fort Lee over the past several years. However, Craig believes “great communities” find a way to solve problems and Fort Lee is a great community.
About three years ago, Ranee and Craig started biking. Craig got a new bike and was hooked. He is usually up at 6:00am, and bikes over 200 miles each week.
He also enjoys long distance cycling. Just a few weeks ago, Craig, along with his friend and Fort Lee Police Captain Tim Ford, completed a 270 mile ride over three days from Syracuse to Manhattan.
It was a charity ride to raise money for the Cynthia Reynolds Memorial Bicycle Ride. Cythina was a long time and beloved employee of Syracuse University. There was a total of five riders and they were inspired by a sendoff of over one hundred people, including university dignitaries and beloved Syracuse mascot Otto the Orange.
The bike route took Craig and Tim along the Delaware River, through the Catskills and involved over 9000 feet of climbing. Several people told Craig that since he was coming from Syracuse it must have been a “lot of downhill riding.” However, “that was not the case.”
The highlight of the ride for Craig and Tim was the all you can eat Chinese food buffet in Sidney, NY. The ride culminated at the Lubin House, on the upper east side of Manhattan. The ride raised about $10,000 and Craig and Tim said it was a great experience and they hope it turns into an annual event.
In response to the question, what would people be surprised to know about you, Craig responded, “I don’t eat any candy, cake, sugar or bread.” Also, he has been to sixteen Syracuse football Bowl games.
Craig reiterated that “Fort Lee is a great community and one of the best decisions he ever made was moving to Fort Lee.”
Craig, thank you for all your efforts!