John E. Petersen, economist and George Mason professor, dies at 71

John E. Petersen, 71, a municipal finance expert who had taught public policy at George Mason University for the past decade, died April 4 at his home in Fairfax City. He had a heart attack, said his daughter Mary LeGrand Asel. His son is Virginia state Sen. J. Chapman “Chap” Petersen (D-Fairfax).

In more than four decades as a consultant and economist, Dr. Petersen advised city, state, federal and international governments on finance issues. He became known as “the godfather of municipal government finance,” said John Krause, the president and owner of Government Finance Group, an advisory firm that Dr. Petersen founded in Arlington in 1992.

At Government Finance Group, which he ran until he joined George Mason in 2002, Dr. Petersen advised cities including Alexandria, Arlington, Falls Church, Washington and Cambridge, Mass., on municipal bond issues. Local governments use bonds to help finance public projects including schools, libraries and roads.

Dr. Petersen advised organizations such as USAID and the World Bank on applying American bond practices in developing economies.

Before founding his company, Dr. Petersen worked for about 18 years for the Government Finance Officers Association. As senior director of its finance research center in the District, he became a leading expert on financial disclosure guidelines and the fiscal health of American states and cities.

In 1972, he was elected to the Fairfax City Council on the “Livable City” platform, which called for the preservation of the city’s residential character. He served one term and was defeated for reelection. Over the years, Dr. Petersen served on Fairfax City’s Economic Development Authority and with Historic Fairfax City Inc., a nonprofit historical preservation organization.

At the time of his death, he was a public member of the board of directors for the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board, an Alexandria-based organization that advocates market transparency.

John Earle Petersen was born May 5, 1940, in Lafayette, La. In 1962, he received a bachelor’s degree in economics from Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. He received a master’s degree in business administration in 1964 and a doctorate in economics in 1968, both from the University of Pennsylvania.

He began his career as an economist with the Federal Reserve Board in the mid-1960s and in 1974 joined the organization that became the Government Finance Officers Association.

Dr. Petersen’s publications included the recently released “Oxford Handbook of State and Local Government Finance,” which he edited with Robert D. Ebel.

Survivors include his wife of 49 years, the former Mary Stuyvesant Livingston, of Fairfax City; three children, Elizabeth Schuyler Morgan of Alexandria, Asel of Falls Church, and his son, the state senator; one brother; and eight grandchildren.

Emily Langer is a reporter on The Washington Post’s obituaries desk. She has written about national and world leaders, celebrated figures in science and the arts, and heroes from all walks of life.
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