But in a plan devised by the state, Mr. Ellinghaus was named chairman of the Municipal Assistance Corporation, which was created to contain the crisis, and was later appointed to the Emergency Financial Control Board, which took over city fiscal affairs. The board imposed severe cuts in city services and spending and closed some hospitals, libraries and fire stations.
Federal loan guarantees were eventually worked out, banks deferred maturity on some bonds, investors returned, and, after several years, the crisis faded.
After Mr. Ellinghaus was named vice chairman of AT&T in 1976, he resigned from the Emergency Financial Control Board, citing “the heavy demands of my new assignment.” Gov. Hugh L. Carey, who had appointed him, hailed Mr. Ellinghaus as “a model of the most desirable blend of government-private sector expertise working together for the common good.”
Mr. Ellinghaus was named president and chief operating officer of AT&T in 1979, and over the next eight years he was deeply involved in strategies to defend the company against competitors and government litigation. Washington aimed to dismantle the company’s regulated monopolies over local and long-distance phone services and its equipment manufacturing arm, Western Electric.
For nearly a century, AT&T had been guided by the goal of providing local telephone service to every American who wanted it. It created the Bell System of 22 regional subsidiaries, which together supplied more than 80 percent of the nation’s phone service. It also had virtual monopolies on long-distance calling, allowing 1,600 independent carriers to tie into its lines.
AT&T had survived wars, depressions, floods, earthquakes, scandals, lawsuits, competition, bad jokes and cable-gnawing squirrels. But with its stranglehold on the telephone business, it seemed clear to economists, government regulators and many ordinary Americans that it had finally grown too big.