Mailing it in: A Q&A with New York Postmaster Kevin Crocilla
Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night will keep Kevin Crocilla from the James A. Farley Post Office Building on Friday – but the forecast looks pretty clear anyway. There, he will be officially sworn in as New York postmaster. It’s a position that has been around since at least 1753 with the same basic goal: get Manhattan its mail. City & State’s Jeff Coltin caught up with him ahead of the ceremony to talk about his path from Hells Angels’ mailman to chief of Manhattan.
C&S: What does a postmaster do all day?
KC: My responsibilities include managing the day-to-day operations for all the delivery and retail operations in the borough of Manhattan, which is 67 different offices. And that would include all the carriers, all the window clerks and all the employees that process, transport and deliver the mail for the borough.
C&S: You’ve been with the U.S. Postal Service since 1983. Did you start by delivering mail?
KC: Yes, I did. I was a letter carrier. I started at Cooper Station on the Lower East Side back in 1983. That was before it became gentrified and NYU bought up all the property. (Laughs.) It was pretty tough back then. The Cooper zone actually goes from Houston Street up to Gramercy Park. So day-to-day you’re either delivering in the Bowery or you’re delivering to the richest of the rich. So that was a little bit of a culture shock. When I first started, I got to deliver to the Hells Angels clubhouse, which is down on East 3rd Street. Kind of a culture shock being a kid from Brooklyn, 21 years old, never delivered mail before. I got a lot of exposure to things that I had never really seen.
C&S: You’re a federal official. What kind of coordinating is there with local government?
KC: Being new to the role, not having a lot of other contacts, what I’ve been working on is doing just that. Reaching out to the Manhattan Borough President’s office, we actually had a meeting several months ago where I got to meet her staff and they introduced us to several of the commissioners or acting commissioners for the various departments within the city. Another strategy I’m working on, because I am new, is I’m trying to reach out to a lot of the community boards around Manhattan to either meet with them or attend their meetings so I can see what their agenda items are. Right now, probably not as much interaction as I would like, but that is something I’m working on, and I plan to continue doing that going forward.
C&S: Before this, you served as the emergency manager for Manhattan and the Bronx during Superstorm Sandy. What were the biggest challenges after that?
KC: Sandy was certainly one of the biggest challenges we had. There were so many moving parts to Sandy and even Irene. The biggest challenge is that, in Manhattan, we do have a lot of employees that live in other boroughs and even other states. So one of the challenges is getting people to get to work. So when mass transit is down or when it closes early it becomes very challenging because if you don’t have the people here, obviously, you can’t get the work done. On top of that, we had the gas shortages, so people that would drive to work couldn’t drive to work. And then there were restrictions on carpool lanes, you had to have three people in a car.
You know, a lot of people rely on mail. Some will say it’s dying. I would argue that point. There’s definitely a shift between letter mail and parcels, but we still have our customers that rely on things as important as their medicine in the mail, not to mention sustenance checks, welfare checks. So it is a very important thing that we do and I’m very happy to be in this role right now.
C&S: I imagine when most people contact the postal service it’s out of anger – they didn’t get a package or it came late. How do you deal with that criticism?
KC: A lot of my career I have worked in customer service – I was the manager of a postal facility in charge of the carriers and clerks years ago. Unfortunately, I agree with you that a lot of the feedback we get is negative because people are frustrated. A lot of people won’t take the time to write a compliment letter but they’ll certainly take the time to complain. And that’s one of the reasons I want to be proactive and get ahead of that – to reach out to the community so I don’t always have to react to things that went wrong. I want to find out what we need in different parts of the city.
C&S: On the other side, I saw you emceed the World Stamp Show at the Javits Center recently. That must be a lot of people that have very good feelings toward the Postal Service.
KC: That was a lot of fun! I didn’t realize it was going to have the turnout that it did. The (stamp) unveiling itself was in front of about 400 or 500 people. And the show itself drew thousands of people. I got over there about three days that week and I got to meet with customers and stamp collectors and vendors and it was a lot of fun. Those folks are pro-post office. They love us! It was good to meet a lot of them.
C&S: You’ve said you want to bring more automated kiosks at post offices, especially in upper Manhattan. What other changes can we expect to see with you as postmaster?
KC: I’m big on automation. About a year ago, we rolled out these handheld scanners for retail associates. We don’t have them in every post office in Manhattan, but we have them in the majority right now. It’s really just an iPhone that can do basic functions. If you wanted to come in and just buy a roll of stamps or a sheet of stamps, something simple, we could actually keep you from even getting on line. We could have lobby directors asking, “What can I help you with today?” And if it’s something simple like buying a priority mail flat-rate box or buying a coil of stamps, you can do it right then and there with that lobby director, keep you off the line and get you in and out. I’ve been pushing that big.
We’ve also got other products and services like passports that we offer and I’d like to do a better job of rolling out information to the public. I’d like to also take those services like passports and have extended hours and even weekend hours where we don’t have them now to make it more convenient hours. Let’s face it, people are working for the most part Monday to Friday, who has time to rush to a post office that might be closing at 5? I’m willing to look at that and extend hours where it makes sense for the convenience of the customers.