Gerry Esposito is a neighborhood guy. Esposito’s roots have been planted in the Greenpoint neighborhood for over three generations and his commitment to serving the community began with his father. Described as a “bit of a radical” by Esposito himself, his father, a bridge operator, was concerned about the safety of the barging and trafficking practices that he observed on the East River. The senior Esposito was a member of the Crusader Civic League where he was concerned about the transport of Key Span liquid natural gas and helped to oppose the move of the Fulton Fish Market to the area.
As a student at LaGuardia Community College, this history of community involvement helped to pave his own path. Esposito earned an internship with the Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) as a VISTA Volunteer, which is the branch of the national AmeriCorps dedicated to fighting poverty. After his time at the DCA, he took a position at St. Nicholas Housing where he dealt with landlord negotiations. After his time working in city government, he was hired by Community Board No. 1 (CB 1) as the “youngest District Manager in the City of New York.”
As District Manager, Esposito is the intermediary between local neighborhood organizations such as Greenpoint Waterfront Association for Parks and Planning (GWAPP) and Neighbors Allied for Good Growth (NAG) and the city government, where he pleads the case for local community board needs. Depending on the agenda of each mayoral administration, city funding can be invested in the individual needs of local community boards or on broader city-wide topics. The current administration tends to fall on the side of the city. Mayor Bloomberg enacted a budget cut of $10,000 for every agency, which has a large impact on CB 1. “All agencies are getting cut, but some have multi-million dollars budgets,” said Esposito.
Through his years of local level governing, Esposito has learned how to navigate the channels of the various city agencies. Recently, he was able to secure $300,000 in funding from the city to renovate the Grand Ferry Park located at the end of Grand St.
The neighborhood has changed, but the major issues remain. When asked about the three most important issues facing Greenpoint today, he lists, in order “housing, housing and housing.” During the rezoning of the area, most residents were not informed of the details of the plan. “When the city does rezoning, the city must contact each property owner,” he said. CB 1 opposed the rezoning, and the Board was able to influence the city to mandate that any housing development within the rezoned area would need to include affordable housing. “There is still a housing issue—providing for the original stakeholders when this area wasn’t trendy or chic. These people need to remain in the mix.”
He recalls when a Bushwick resident walked into the CB 1 offices looking for help when his landlord sent him an eviction notice. Even though the tenant did not reside in the CB 1 district Esposito said, “If we’re here to help, we’re here to help anyone that walks in.” He “put back on the landlord-tenant hat from years ago” and his experience at the St. Nicholas Housing and was able to get the man through accelerated Section 8 and save his housing. “Projects that touch our heart are those that keep them in their apartments.”
“As long as the older residents still have a foothold in the community,” Esposito sees the changes to the neighborhood as positive development. He also recognizes that these changes are part of a cycle of growth, one where history often repeats itself again and again. “When I was growing up, there were bars on every corner that were replaced by banks. Now, there is a bar on every corner being replaced by a bank. It’s nothing new.”
Esposito would like to see Manhattan Avenue continue to prosper. A nostalgic strip for this Greenpoint-Williamsburg native, Esposito remembers the old store fronts of the avenue and reminisces over the old Chevrolet dealership. “Back then”, he said, “everyone was driving a Chevy.”
After 30 years of service, Esposito will retire from his District Manager position at CB 1 in March of 2009, though he will not retire from his community service. He has filed to run for the City Council Member seat in District 34 when Diana Reyna’s term expires. “It’s half my Community Board,” he says in reference to the district that covers Williamsburg, Bushwick and Ridgewood, Queens. First, with the thought of retiring, he had entertained the notion of permanently retreating to a house he bought in Pennsylvania. But, on further thought, he just couldn’t bring himself to get out of town. “I like to spend my time here,” he says. “Whatever you want is here.”