Greenpoint Gazette

Garden Spotlight: Carolyn Sanders-James

BY Juliet Linderman

Carolyn Sanders-James knows Greenpoint like the back of her hand—after all she’s worked here for nearly 25 years. For the last quarter of a century, Sanders-James—the Brooklyn Director for the Mayor’s Community Affairs Unit in North Brooklyn—has worked tirelessly with the Greenpoint/Williamsburg community, attending meetings and rallying on behalf of the neighborhood to establish and support relevant legislation, initiatives and programs. And now, it’s time for her to move on to the next chapter of her life: traveling the world, finishing her Master’s degree, and retiring from her post in the Mayor’s office.
“Yes, I’m a little nervous to leave,” Sanders-James said with a grin. She is dressed in a stylish, bright purple pants-suit and smiles like the Cheshire Cat. “Everyone in the office is like family to me now. And there are some ongoing projects that I’ll stay involved in even after I leave.”
Politics is unsurprisingly embedded in Sanders-James’ demeanor and daily routine. She’s been deeply involved since Sanders-James became the Lincoln Place Junior Block Association President at fifteen years old, where she first met Councilmember Al Vann.
“Councilmember Al Vann had a great influence on me,” she said. “I loved the way he listened to the community. He held meetings every Saturday on issues that ended up being part of legislation he introduced.”
Shortly after becoming Junior Block President, Sanders-James began working on various political campaigns in her neighborhood of Crown Heights, where her family moved after relocating to New York from South Carolina. She began learning the tricks of the trade, and eventually ran for district leader in the 55th Assembly District and won: a position she would hold for ten years.
“My favorite part of being district leader was talking to community members. Sometimes we were able to find jobs for young people who were out of work,” Sanders-James said. “It was very rewarding.”
After holding various jobs in the political sector, working closely with the likes of former City Council President Andrew Stein, in 1994, Sanders-James landed a position in the Mayor’s office as the Special Assistant for Brooklyn to Mayor Rudy Giuliani. She immediately began moving up the ranks, quickly becoming Giuliani’s Brooklyn Borough Coordinator—A position she would inherit in the Bloomberg Administration.
“I always say that working in the Giuliani Administration was like getting my bachelor’s degree,” Sanders-James joked. “Working under the Bloomberg Administration was like getting my Ph.D. I now know exactly what agency to call if someone comes to me with a problem or a complaint.”
Every North Brooklynite knows: Greenpoint/Williamsburg residents have their fair share of problems and complaints, and Sanders-James has heard them all.
“There have been so many affordable housing issues in North Brooklyn over the years,” she said. “There are so many new families moving in, much more so than in other parts of the borough. And of course, the 2005 waterfront rezoning, and the parks soon to be developed.”
Over the years Sanders-James has been intimately involved with many of these issues, actively arranging meetings and information sessions, and acting as the primary link between the Greenpoint/Williamsburg community and the Mayor’s office. In addition, she played a pivotal role in the recent establishment of the CB1 Community Advisory Committee.
“When I would go to meetings I would hear over and over again that board members wanted to see more transparency,” Sanders-James said. “So, I would go back to City Hall and communicate that. The Community Advisory Board now holds monthly meetings, and we make sure we have representatives from all different city agencies present.”
When she looks back at her time working in so many Brooklyn communities for the Mayor, some of Sanders-James proudest accomplishments can be traced back to Greenpoint/Williamsburg.
“The Newtown Creek Nature Walk was big,” she said. “I was able to carry the message of the community—that they really wanted a nature walk—back to the city agencies. And I can’t forget the Moore Street Market! I worked with elected officials and community leaders to make sure it didn’t get relocated, because it is in a historical spot. The city listened to us, and now the market remains.”
Sanders-James also recalled the Gateway Mall in East New York, where she rallied to have the subway extended inside the mall in order to make it safer for employees leaving after dark; paving the way for Brooklyn Bridge Park, which had its grand opening just last week; helping the Bed-Stuy Campaign Against Hunger found their first backyard garden in which to grow fresh fruits and vegetables; and helping establish and foster merchants associations all across the borough.
Sanders-James is currently working with the Caribbean Chamber of Commerce to create the first Caribbean-American trade center in the country.
“I’ve still got projects to do! So I’ll be popping in for visits here and there,” Sanders-James said with a smile. “Everyone says their doors are open for me. And I love it: Helping people, that’s one of my main goals. Seeing smiles of people’s faces, I just love it.”


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