By Sabina Mollot
It was in 2005 when Dan Garodnick, an attorney who worked for the firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkin, Wharton & Garrison before running for office, was elected to the City Council, replacing Eva Moskowitz.
Garodnick won with 63 percent of the vote and since then, has held onto the position easily while making tenant rights a signature issue.
At the start of the New Year, however, Garodnick will be the one term-limited out of his Council seat, to be succeeded by a neighbor he endorsed, Keith Powers.
Recently, over a cappuccino at the Starbucks in Peter Cooper Village, Garodnick, now 45, reflected on his 12 years in office, all the while giving little away about what he’ll be doing next.
For the time being, Garodnick said he’ll be taking some time off out of town with his family, sons Asher and Devin and wife Zoe Segal-Reichlin, who’s an attorney for Planned Parenthood. He said he’d think about his future employment sometime in January. That said, he also indicated going back to becoming a practicing attorney wasn’t off the table.
Garodnick also explained his decision not to run for State Senator Brian Kavanagh’s now-vacant Assembly seat.
“I have two little boys in my house and I want to spend as much time with them as possible when they are this age,” he said. “To spend half a year in Albany was not the right decision for me and my family.”
In 2013, he did try to become the City Council speaker but that effort was derailed after Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio reportedly meddled by asking other members to support Melissa Mark-Viverito. Garodnick also briefly ran for comptroller a year earlier but left that race after Scott Stringer announced his own intention to run.
At one time a rumored candidate for mayor, Garodnick laughed when asked if he had any interest in running for mayor in the future. (He does still have roughly a million dollars in campaign money from recent fundraising efforts, though he never declared a specific position he was after).
As for the time being, when interviewed, Garodnick already had the bigger issues on his City Council agenda wrapped up. All the bills he’d been trying to get passed have gotten passed in the Council within the past month, and all received the mayor’s support. They included the Commercial Rent Tax reform bill, raising the rent threshold for retailers made to pay the tax from $250,000 a year to $500,000, albeit with some income requirements. This was signed by Mayor Bill de Blasio on Friday. Garodnick had also successfully gotten the city to publish a predatory equity watch list for buildings where sale prices seemed too high for the existing rent rolls. A bill passed last week to put baby changing stations in bathrooms for both genders in new buildings. There was also a bill that was passed to make the murky world of buildings’ water tower inspections more transparent.
Earlier in the year, there was also the passing of the East Midtown Rezoning plan. After initially not being happy with the proposal, Garodnick later gave it his blessing to once $1 billion in public infrastructural improvements were committed to.
Along with this, Garodnick was especially proud of the Commercial Rent Tax bill as a way to help stave off retail blight.
“It was important because we have a vacancy crisis in Manhattan,” he said. “Businesses are struggling for a variety of reasons and we had to educate people about why this was happening and why this could help.” The legislation had overwhelming support in the Council among businesses and, since it didn’t squeeze landlords in any way, even the Real Estate Board of New York.
But anyone who knows Garodnick’s history knows that he and landlords have not always been on the same side. He was newly elected when Met Life announced it would be selling Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village, where he’d always lived.
“I realized if they did it, that was about 20 percent of my Council district,” he said.
Eventually, he helped organize a tenant-led bid for about $4.5 billion, although initially the landlord refused to recognize the tenants as a serious bidder. “We of course got them to change their minds with our strong advocacy,” he said. Fast forward to 11 years and three landlords later, the tenants still haven’t succeeded in buying the complex and turning it into non-eviction condos. While Garodnick acknowledged this was “disappointing,” he nevertheless is happy with the way things turned out in 2015 with the Blackstone purchase, which preserves 5,000 rent-stabilized apartments.
“We’ve created stability and affordability for the next generation of middle income New Yorkers,” he said. “I’m very proud of that.”
Other fights included challenging former landlords Tishman Speyer and CWCapital’s attempts to oust tenants. The former issued mostly baseless residency challenges to over 1,000 households and the latter hit over 1,000 households with mid-lease rent hikes. For the residency challenges, Garodnick set up a legal hotline for tenants. For the mid-lease increases, Garodnick brought the matter to the attorney general who found that at least in a few dozen cases, tenants were misled by leasing agents into believing they wouldn’t get an increase and therefore didn’t have to pay it. Garodnick also filed the “Roberts v. Tishman Speyer” lawsuit that established that the owner had illegally deregulated apartments.
Smaller victories at his home base included helping various tenants win apartment succession cases and getting quite a few pedestrian safety measures implemented around the complex. They include greenstreets on First Avenue and 20th Street and at Avenue C and 16th Street, a few medians and countless curb cuts.
Nonlegislative projects included coordinating a door-knocking effort in ST/PCV and Waterside following hurricane Sandy to check on tenants of the flooded properties. Joining in the initiative was the Coast Guard and TV personality and chef Rocco DiSpirito, who arrived with a pot of chicken soup. Then, last year, prior to the presidential primary, Garodnick, a staunch supporter of Hillary Clinton, arranged for former President Bill Clinton to visit Stuy Town’s community center to chat with voters.
He was also involved in getting the city to turn Asser Levy Place into a now highly-utilized playground and the old Con Ed pier between 38th to 41st Street into part of the esplanade that opened this year. At a town hall Garodnick hosted with the mayor in the fall, the mayor also agreed to make further improvements to green spaces in the district.
With all these matters dispensed with, Garodnick’s office is now all boxed up and in recent weeks, much of his work has revolved around dealing with constituents’ individual grievances. Asked how often he’s stopped on the street by people with a problem in need of solving, Garodnick said, “It happens constantly.
“But,” he added, “so long as I’m not with Zoe and the boys, I love it. If you don’t enjoy that, you’re in the wrong business. I’m happy to be a person they would go to if they have a problem.”
For Garodnick, checking his email is the first thing he does in the morning (and the last thing he does at night). He then makes breakfast for his family and he and Zoe take turns taking their sons to school.
“I’m at the office by 8:45 a.m. or 9,” he said. Often he’ll be meeting with constituents on issues of concern. Those issues can be anything from pedestrian safety on the Upper East Side to traffic congestion in East Midtown to aggressive Elmos in Times Square, who are still apparently hassling tourists. “It’s an ongoing challenge,” Garodnick said.
While he acknowledges Stuyvesant Town, more so than other neighborhoods, has had “a disproportionate share of drama for over a decade, there are always issues north of 23rd Street.”
This also means Garodnick’s evenings are typically filled with events like meetings with community boards or tenant associations or co-op boards. “I’m usually home by 9:30 p.m.,” he said.
Prior to last week, when Garodnick attended his final City Council hearing, this too often took up a lot of his time. He’s served as the chair of the Economic Development Committee and as a member of a couple of other committees, so often his mornings were spent preparing for and then attending hearings.
Asked if he had any advice for his successor, Garodnick had this to say.
“Keep a cool head. Set your own agenda or else you’ll just get swallowed up by inbound demands on your time. I learned after a few years you could do the job full-time just by responding to requests made of you. If you just do that you won’t accomplish much. Carve out time and set your own agenda and focus on the issues you believe are important.”
Other than this, Garodnick said he doesn’t believe Powers needs any other advice in getting started. In fact, Garodnick said if he calls the incoming Council member it’ll be so Powers can start dealing with Garodnick’s own constituent concerns.
“I can’t wait to complain to him about everything I can think of,” Garodnick said, adding he’ll probably start with the laundry room in his building. “Those washing machines make me crazy,” he said. “It says there’s a 25-minute cycle. It shouldn’t be 37 and a half minutes. We’re busy people.”
Correction: A earlier version of this article stated that Dan Garodnick’s predecessor on the City Council, Eva Moskowitz, was term-limited. She actually left her seat to run in the race for Manhattan borough president, which was won by Scott Stringer.