Retired police captain looks back at Bay Ridge re-zoning fight
The next time you get that jury duty notice in the mail, don’t rip it up. Serving jury duty could change you life. It changed the direction of Bay Ridge resident Dean Rasinya’s life.
It was the early 1970s and Rasinya was on jury duty. He saw a poster near the courthouse in downtown Brooklyn advertising the New York Police Department. “They were looking for people to join. I was working in the restaurant business at the time and I thought I’d be doing that forever. But my wife Helen urged me to fill out an application,” he said.
Rasinya took the entrance exam and passed it. But in his reluctance to join the N.Y.P.D., he passed on the opportunity to go to the Police Academy “seven or eight times,” he said. Finally, a recruiter called him and told him it was his last chance: either join now or have your name removed from the list of candidates. He joined. “Thirty years later, I was retiring and looking back on a great police career,” Rasinya said.
During his years on the police force, Rasinya worked in tough neighborhoods like Alphabet City, where he worked to get drug dealers off the street. He rose to the rank of captain. “And that was fine with me. What I liked about promotions in the Police Department is that up to the rank of captain, there’s no politics involved. If you pass the test, you earn the promotion,” he said.
Rasinya commanded the Midtown South Precinct in Manhattan, an assignment that put him in charge of safety at such tourist sights as Times Square and Rockefeller Center.
The secret to being a good leader, he said, is to be fair to those serving under you and give those who work for you a set of guidelines to follow.
Rasinya has been a leader in his civilian life, too.
In the 1990s, he and another Bay Ridge resident, Joan Regan, led the fight to prevent a multiplex movie theater from being built on a plot of vacant land near the 69th Street pier.
Rasinya, Regan and the other opponents said they believed that the theater would be the death of their end of Bay Ridge. It would bring bands of rowdy teens, flood the streets with traffic jams, and cause the sidewalks to overflow with litter.
Rasinya formed the Concerned Residents of Bay Ridge, a group he still heads, to go up against the developer. “It was just a small group of us in the beginning,” Rasinya said.
The developer eventually gave up and built condos there instead.
The battle over the movie theater proposal helped stimulate a movement to strengthen zoning laws in Bay Ridge to protect homeowners.
Community Board 10 held hearing, drafted a proposal, and worked with the Department of City Planning to change the zoning.
The zoning fight and his dealings with the community board got Rasinya interested in civic life. At the suggestion of his friends Jim Sempepos, a board member, and Mary Sempepos, a former board district manager, he applied for membership. He was appointed by the borough president and has been a member for 12 years. For three years, he served as the board’s chairman.
Rasinya, who is Greek Orthodox, is active in Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Church on Ridge Boulevard.
Rasinya was born and raised in Sunset Park. His family lived on 44th Street, and then 49th Street, before moving to 51st Street between Fourth and Fifth Avenues. He attended P.S. 94, Charles Dewey Junior High School, and John Jay High School.
He earned an Associate Degree from New York City Community College. He later earned a B.A. in business from Empire State College, going to school at night while he was in the Police Department. It was a hectic schedule. “The Police Department was very supportive. But it was a lot of work to do both. There were days when, oh my goodness, I was so busy!” he said.
He chose business as a major “because I think you need business skills,” he said. ‘Everyone could use knowledge in accounting or bookkeeping.”
Rasinya and his wife Helen moved to Bay Ridge when they got married and have been living in the community for more than 40 years.
Rasinya was recently elected to serve as president of Friends and Neighbors of Owl’s Head Park, a group of advocates who look after the park and work to get city funding for capital projects.
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