Departing NYC Council members on leaving their offices, their legacy and what’s next
Eleven new members of the New York City Council will take their seats on Jan. 3, bringing fresh perspectives and new causes. But as the new council gavels in the new year, some long-serving members are departing, a process that involves packing up offices and planning for the future. Four of the departing council members – Elizabeth Crowley, Dan Garodnick, Vincent Gentile and James Vacca – got back to us about their legacies, their plans for 2018 and their experiences cleaning out their desks.
City & State: When you were clearing out your desk, did you find anything that you had forgotten about or that you weren't expecting?
Elizabeth Crowley: No. Clearing out my desk, I see pictures that I forgot about or events that I'm reminded about. It seems like it's gone by so quickly – but nine years is a long time, so there's a lot of paperwork to go through and pictures to look through. And I have a lot of fond memories of the good work that we did. It was a lot of work between school improvements, and preservation work, a lot of park upgrades, cutting ribbons, stuff like that.
Dan Garodnick: (Long pause.) No. (Laughs.)
Vincent Gentile: Sure. There were some photographs that had been taken a long time ago when I first won my race, and those brought back really, really fond memories, like one of me signing my first oath of office before the city clerk and paying my 15-cent fee for taking the oath of office. Now I think it's $9, but it was 15 cents back in 2003. So, there were a lot of things. Being 14 years in the City Council, you tend to build up a large history of not only files, but also photographs, and things that – because so many things happen in any given year and you tend to forget about them, so you go back and look at them again.
James Vacca: Oh, wow. Well, I found many pictures of people over the years, that are no longer with us – pictures that I did not know I had. And I'm going to keep them. Pictures of senior citizens and people in the community over the years, and people that I've known. I've been involved with city government 40 years.
C&S: What is your proudest accomplishment during your time in the City Council?
EC: I'm proud of what I've done for the schools, first and foremost.
DG: I think I have three, as I've been thinking about this. One was negotiating the largest affordable housing preservation deal in New York City history at Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper (Village). Another was developing and shepherding – developing the plan for the East Midtown rezoning, and shepherding it through the City Council. And lastly, our recent victory with the commercial rent tax reform bill, which gave tax relief to 2,700 Manhattan small businesses.
VG: Well, come on, that's a hard question, that's a very, very, very hard question. I'll break it down on a local level and on a citywide level. On a local level, it was the contextual down-zoning that I was able to accomplish in Bay Ridge and Fort Hamilton in 2005, and then again in Dyker Heights in 2007, because those down-zonings will prevent and have prevented the type of development that would change the nature and character of the neighborhood and take buildings out of context. So that will continue long after I'm gone, but now that those are in place I'm very proud that we were able to get those done in 2005, 2007.
Now from a citywide perspective, it's a lot of things, varying from ending Sunday metered parking over the objection and veto of Mayor (Michael) Bloomberg – we ended Sunday metered parking, and that was my bill. From that all the way to the aggravated illegal conversions bill that we passed just recently, earlier this year. Those are the types of things that affect everyday New Yorkers, whether it be the illegal conversions that threatening people, their safety and the character of communities, or being able to park on Sunday without having to feed a meter. That affects everyday New Yorkers. Now particularly one thing I'm proud of that affected the NYPD had been my successful budget drives to put money in the budget on two occasions to upgrade the bulletproof vests for NYPD officers and for the first time auxiliary police officers.
JV: I'm proud of my legislative record. The pregnancy workers bill of rights, my intern bill of rights legislation, the algorithms legislation I just passed. I could go on and on, but I think that I'm proud most of the significant legislation I've passed concerning human rights and technology and transportation, because I was head of the transportation committee. So in those three fields of human rights, transportation, and technology – I'm proud of that record.
C&S: Do you have plans for after you leave the council?
EC: Not yet. I have been super busy closing out my office and doing my job as the council member. And I have a number of options, and as soon as I'm finished with this work, I'm going to weigh them heavily. But you can rest assured that the work I'm going to do is in line with making a difference, and making – whether it's my community, my borough or my city – a better place to live.
DG: First, I'm going to take a little break and hang out with my family, and then think about next steps.
VG: I don't know. Enjoy Christmas and New Year’s and then figure it out after that! (Laughs.) I have nothing definitive at the moment, but I am looking to stay in public service if I can because I enjoy that aspect of what I do; it's been my career for 32 years. I started in the DA’s office in Queens in 1985, so from 1985 to 2017, I've been in public service. So I'd like to continue in public service if possible, and so I'm exploring those options, but also I can also do something in a private sense in the legal field if those opportunities come. So I don't have a definitive answer for you, but I am looking at different possibilities. So right now I'm just going to enjoy my Christmas and New Year's and try to figure it out in the interim.
JV: Well, I've been a college instructor for years, and I'm going to be doing more teaching at the college level (at Queens College).