George Gross, 70, a lawyer and lobbyist who focused primarily on urban issues and who helped develop the Community Development Block Grant program while at Housing and Urban Development, died Nov. 10 at George Washington University Hospital while undergoing surgery for lung cancer. He was a longtime resident of Chevy Chase.
Mr. Gross, who described himself in an interview last year as "a government type who likes to see cities and states do well," seemed to relish tackling daunting tasks.
A diabetic who survived a bout with lung cancer in 1998 and quadruple bypass surgery in 2000, he went back to Bridgeport, Conn., his scandal-plagued home town, to become city manager in spring 2003. Former Bridgeport mayor Joseph P. Ganim had just been convicted of 16 federal corruption counts, and 11 conspirators had pleaded guilty to corruption charges. Council member John Fabrizi, who took over as mayor, reached out to Mr. Gross to be the city's chief administrative officer to help, in Fabrizi's words, "to rebuild the trust and confidence in city government."
Mr. Gross had been in a similar situation two decades earlier, when New York City Mayor Ed Koch persuaded him to run the city's beleaguered Human Resources Agency, the department with the largest annual budget ($4 billion at the time), the second-largest number of employees (about 25,000) and a mountain of problems.
Described as a somber man who sported a crew cut and thick, black-rimmed glasses, Mr. Gross was asked if he had enough of a sense of humor for the job.
"I think I had one of the best senses of humor in Washington, and I hope to show that in New York," he told a reporter. "But it's not that the questions are funny."
That was an understatement. His challenges included trying to find space in shelters and hotels for 3,000 homeless people; deal with allegations of sexual attacks on children at agency-financed centers; fix horrendous welfare, food stamp and Medicaid difficulties. With Congress and the Reagan administration intent on cutting government funds to cities, Mr. Gross found little to be humorous about.
"I was there two years," he told the Connecticut Post last year. "It probably helped ruin my health. It was higher stress than I imagined."
Mr. Gross was born in Vari, Hungary, a village that no longer exists. In 1939, with Hitler's army on the march, his father managed to get the family out of the country, to Bridgeport. In 1940, the family moved to Fairfield, where the elder Gross ran a corner grocery.
Mr. Gross spent a year at Fairfield University before graduating from the University of Connecticut in 1959. He received his law degree from Boston University in 1962 and after passing the bar exam in Connecticut, moved to Washington to work for the Department of Labor.
In 1963, he took a job as a lawyer for the Housing and Home Financing Agency, which later became HUD.
In 1966, he became a deputy lobbyist for the National Association of Home Builders. After a brief period with the New England Regional Commission, he became chief counsel to the House banking subcommittee on housing and community development. It was there that Gross developed the idea of lumping a number of competitive grant programs into a formula grant for cities. It took four years to pass legislation creating the Community Development Block Grant program.
Gross left the subcommittee in 1974 to be counsel for the newly created House Budget Committee. He was named executive director of the committee a year later by Rep. Brock Adams (D-Wash).
In 1978 , he became chief lobbyist for the National League of Cities. He worked there for six years before answering Mayor Koch's call. He worked for the City of New York from 1984 to 1986.
He served for two years as executive director of the New York State Financial Control Board before returning to Washington as a lobbyist for the Magazine Publishers of America, a job he held from 1989 to 1998. He retired after a bout with lung cancer.
He came out of retirement in May 2003 and worked as Bridgeport's city manager until the end of the year.
Mr. Gross's marriage to Marcy Lynn Gross of Bethesda ended in divorce.
Survivors include two children, Julian Gross of San Francisco and Alexandra Drees-Gross of Georgetown; a brother; and a grandchild.