He was named executive director of the city parks department by Commissioner Thomas P. F. Hoving in 1966. From 1967 to 1969, he was an assistant administrator in the city Consumer Affairs Department. Over the next four years he was an associate commissioner, then the deputy to two commissioners of consumer affairs, Bess Myerson and her successor, Betty Furness.
Mr. Stern was elected councilman at large from Manhattan in 1973, running on the Liberal Party line, and re-elected to another four-year term in 1977. In that post he led fights for noise-control and gay-rights bills and became known as a nonstop public servant, attending thousands of community, civic and planning commission meetings.
Jeffrey Sussman, who was Mr. Stern’s press secretary in 1981, recalled recently that Mr. Stern had arranged to have a site in Central Park near 72nd Street named Strawberry Fields, after the Beatles song, in honor of John Lennon after he was murdered outside his home at the nearby Dakota apartment building in 1980. Mr. Stern, he said, also created a consumer truth-in-dying regulation for the city’s funeral home industry and a regulation to protect carriage horses.
Mr. Stern, who lived on East 84th Street in Manhattan for more than 50 years, married Dr. Margaret Ewing, a pediatrician, in 1976. She and his son Jared survived him, as do another son, Dr. Kenan Stern; his sister, Susanne Bonnet; his brother Kenneth; and five grandchildren. His brother Jerome died before him.
Political observers said that Mr. Stern, who was long identified with liberal causes, drifted from left to center under Mayors Koch and Giuliani. Critics said his outlook was governed by expediency as municipal budgets were cut and programs reshaped.
While out of city government during the Democratic administration of Mayor David N. Dinkins from 1990 to 1994, Mr. Stern was president of Citizens Union of the City of New York, which monitors city government.
In 2002, he co-founded and became president of New York Civic, a Manhattan-based good-government group. In recent years he wrote hundreds of articles on public policy for the organization, sending them to thousands of subscribers. They were regularly published by The Huffington Post (now HuffPost), The Queens Tribune and other publications.
“I have remained friends with Henry throughout the years,” Mr. Sussman, his former press aide, recalled. “When he attended my wedding reception in 1984, he sold ties with the city seal to my guests. The money from the sale was donated to the city’s libraries.”