Borough Park

In Public Service: Greenfield committee at center of housing debate

November 3, 2015 By Paula Katinas Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Councilmember David Greenfield is the chairman of the City Council’s Land Use Committee. Photo courtesy of Councilmember Greenfield’s Office
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David Greenfield is one of the most influential members of the City Council, and his clout will likely grow over the next few years.

In 2014, City & State named him on its Power 100 list, a ranking of the most powerful New Yorkers. He was ranked 51st, only one slot behind billionaire George Soros.

As chairman of the powerful Committee on Land Use, Greenfield will have a large say in the implementation of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s ambitious plan to build 200,000 affordable housing units in the five boroughs.

“The Land Use Committee has always been an important committee, but with the mayor’s affordable housing plan coming, the committee will be much more important,” Greenfield told the Brooklyn Eagle in a recent interview in a kosher pizzeria across the street from his office.

The mayor’s plan calls for the rezoning of several neighborhoods in order to accommodate the new construction. That’s where Greenfield’s committee comes in. No rezoning plan will pass without the Land Use Committee’s approval.

East New York is the first neighborhood that will be rezoned.

Greenfield said his goal is to give neighborhood residents a voice in the rezoning process. “I want to make sure those communities are represented. We want to give the local community a voice through their councilmember,” he said.

Greenfield has already sat down with some of his colleagues to discuss the coming rezoning efforts to get a feel for where they stand. “We sit down with the individual councilmember and ask, ‘What are your concerns?’”

The city needs to take a comprehensive view of rezoning, according to Greenfield. “Everyone wants affordable housing. No one is against that,” he said. But the city should also ensure that the proper infrastructure is in place, including schools and parks, he added.

“My job is to represent the interests of the community through the councilmember,” Greenfield said.

Greenfield represents the 44th Council District, a district that covers the heavily Orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Borough Park, as well as Midwood and parts of Bensonhurst. Greenfield, who is an Orthodox Jew, said he works hard to represent the interests of constituents in all parts of his district.

He is easily recognizable to constituents.

While sitting down to lunch with the Eagle, he was approached by a constituent who noted that trees were being planted on streets and suggested to the councilmember that bike racks be installed.

Greenfield said his philosophy is simple. “I try to bring some common sense to government,” he said.

He pointed to the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission as an example.

The commission places properties under consideration for landmark status on a calendar. The panel will then hold hearings on whether particular sites should be declared landmarks.

The problem, according to Greenfield, is that some sites languish on the commission’s calendar for years on end. “There are 100 items that have been on the list for 49 years. I kid you not,” he told the Eagle.

“It impacts thousands of people,” he said, adding that property owners can’t make changes to buildings while the sites are under consideration for landmarking.

Greenfield and Councilmember Peter Koo (D-Queens) have put forth legislation that would place time limits on calendar items for the commission — one year for buildings and two years for historic districts.

Greenfield is a big supporter of Vision Zero, the mayor’s plan to reduce car accidents and pedestrian and driver fatalities by 2020.

He has successfully sponsored bills to reduce the aggravations drivers face on city streets.

It was Greenfield’s bill that led to the law allowing drivers to pre-pay at muni-meters if they arrive early at their destination. Prior to the law change, motorists had to wait until the muni-meters became operational at 9 a.m. to pay for parking. It was a great inconvenience, Greenfield said.

In addition, the law changed the configuration of the meters so that if they run out of paper to print receipts, they will cease to operate.

It eliminates the frustration felt by many drivers who put money in muni-meters only to find that they couldn’t get receipts.

Greenfield also sponsored a bill to stop the Sanitation Department from affixing large stickers on car windows when the drivers are in violation of alternate-side parking rules. The stickers are the bane of existence for many drivers because they are difficult to remove, Greenfield said.

Besides, said Greenfield, by slapping a sticker on a car, the Department of Sanitation is jumping the gun. “You’re innocent until proven guilty,” he said.

In one year, the city put 1 million stickers on cars, according to Greenfield.

An important part of keeping streets safe is to keep roadways smooth, Greenfield said. He has secured funds to ensure that the Department of Transportation repaves roadways in his district. “Repaving is important to me,” he said.

More than 100 streets in Greenfield’s district have been repaved this year.

The cleanliness of sidewalks is important to the overall quality of life, he said.

The City Council adopted an idea of Greenfield’s to allow councilmembers to use funds for community cleanups. Each councilmember got to decide how to use the funds in his or her district. “In my district, we hired a company to come and clean the streets,” he said.

Smooth roadways, clean streets and renovated parks are all part of Greenfield’s mission to improve the quality of life for his constituents.

Greenfield is a graduate of Touro College and Georgetown University Law Center in Washington D.C.

Greenfield was an attorney with the firm Rosenman & Colin LLP before going into politics. He had an epiphany when his father died at the age of 54. “I realized that life is short,” he told the Eagle.

He served as deputy director of finance for the presidential campaign for Joe Lieberman and was Assemblymember Dov Hikind’s chief of staff.

Greenfield decided to go into community service. He served as executive vice president of the Sephardic Community Federation and founded TEACH NYS, a nonprofit education advocacy organization.

Greenfield’s friend Simcha Felder, who is now a state senator, was the Borough Park councilmember and encouraged Greenfield to run for public office.

“He told me, ‘You have to step up when you’re needed.’ I thought about it and realized that he was right,” Greenfield recalled.

Felder left the council in 2010 to become deputy city comptroller under John Liu. Greenfield ran in a special election that year for Felder’s council seat and won.

Greenfield’s district is a busy place. The office handled more than 5,000 constituent cases last year.

The councilmember had seven phone lines installed so that when constituents call, they can always reach a staff member and not a voicemail.

“I’m trying to make the lives of New Yorkers and my constituents a little bit better, a little safer, a little cleaner. It’s not glamorous, but it’s what I was elected to do,” Greenfield said.

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