David Gruber looked contented after giving his remarks to the board following his election as chairperson. Photo by Lincoln Anderson
BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | Until three weeks ago, it looked like Brad Hoylman was a shoo-in for re-election as Community Board 2 chairperson. But then everything changed when Tom Duane announced he wouldn’t seek re-election to the state Senate. The L.G.B.T. political icon was quick to give the nod to Hoylman as his successor, and Duane recently formally endorsed Hoylman to take over his seat.
As a result, David Gruber, who wasn’t planning to challenge Hoylman’s re-election bid, became the favorite to win C.B. 2’s leadership.
Gruber won an uncontested election at last Thursday’s full board meeting, by a vote of 35 to 0.
Gruber had first mulled a run for board chairperson a year ago, but Hoylman — after having taken a two-year hiatus from the board’s leadership — was also running again, and it would have been tough to beat him. At the time, Gruber said he was also busy with business matters, and so decided to put the idea on hold.
Tobi Bergman and Bo Riccobono — two other board members whose names had been mentioned as potential chairperson candidates — ultimately decided not to throw their hats in the ring for last week’s election.
Gruber is president of both the Carmine Block Association and Friends of Father Demo Square, and is a broker for retail space.
Board chairperson often can be a launching pad to elected office. But Gruber said he has no ambition to use it that way.
In recent years, in addition to Hoylman, a number of previous C.B. 2 chairpersons have run for City Council, including Aubrey Lees and Maria Passannante Derr, as well as Alan Gerson — Gerson winning election in 2001 as Lower Manhattan’s councilmember.
“I’m political — but I’m not interested in running for office,” Gruber said in an interview this week.
As for why he wants to head the board, he said, “I want to mentor some of the newer and younger members who have come on the board. We need to honestly mentor people for the next generation.”
C.B. 2 right now has “a full plate” of issues to deal with, he said.
“Hearings are coming up on N.Y.U.,” he said. “We’re expecting the Hudson Square rezoning to be certified this fall. We have Pier 40… .”
At last Thursday’s meeting, the board chose not to vote on its Waterfront Committee’s resolution in support of allowing residential housing on the West Houston St. pier. Gruber said, with the state Legislature having failed to vote on legislation to modify the Hudson River Park Act before its legislative session ended on June 21, C.B. 2 now has some time to consider the issue more fully.
“We’ll have more public hearings on it,” he said. “We really want to get as much public input as we can. We don’t need to vote on a resolution if the state Legislature is not going to consider anything until December.”
However, he acknowledged, “We’ve got a real problem — something has to be done with that pier. We want to look at all options, including housing. My mind is open, and I want to see what other people have to say about it.”
Gruber said the board, before doing anything, wants to see “some real economic projections” for various scenarios for Pier 40.
“We’ve got a lot of stuff in front of us,” Gruber reiterated. “There’s Hudson Square — it’s not as contentious as N.Y.U., but there’s issues.” He said a good process here “could be better for both sides of the ULURP,” referring to the city’s uniform land-use review procedure.
As for changes that he’ll be making under his watch, Gruber said one he can already announce is that he has appointed Bergman chairperson of the Land-Use and Business Development Committee. This is considered one of the board’s most important committees, considering applications for major rezonings and new development projects.
In recent years the committee was chaired by David Reck, who abruptly stepped down from C.B. 2 only a few weeks ago. Gruber, who has a background in urban planning, took over the committee in the interim, before tapping Bergman for the key post.
Bergman for years has led C.B. 2’s Parks Committee. Gruber said he’s confident Bergman is up to the task.
“Tobi’s going to take Zoning [the committee’s former name] because he’s competent and he’s smart,” Gruber said. “He’s been a member of the Zoning Committee for a long time. He’s been a committee chairperson for a long time — but he wants to be challenged.”
As for his tenure at C.B. 2, Gruber began as a public member 11 years ago when Lees was chairing the board, eventually being appointed a board member.
He formerly chaired the board’s Arts and Institutions Committee, as well as, more recently, the N.Y.U. Working Group, which put together the board’s “absolute no” resolution slamming the university’s 2031 superblocks mega-development plan.
Gruber also said he plans to give each committee “its own day,” so people don’t have to choose which committee meeting to attend when more than one is meeting on the same night.
As for how the board should function, he said it’s not to debate or advocate for issues, but to listen to all sides.
On the other hand, there’s a limit to listening, he noted. He’d like to try to speed up the monthly full-board meetings, for example, by avoiding the lengthy back-and-forths between board members over Robert’s Rules of Order that sometimes bog down proceedings.
“Everyone I’ve spoken on the board would like to run a tighter meeting,” he noted.
Outside of C.B. 2, Gruber is vice president of Open House New York, a popular program that opens up private homes and more for the public to explore on one weekend in October.
“It’s not just houses,” Gruber stressed. “It’s sewage-treatment plants, private gardens, basement museums… .”
Talking of exploring, starting in his 20s, he spent 15 years in India — not searching for enlightenment, but for the ultimate lacquered box.
“I went there looking to see the world,” he recalled. “I started a little handicraft business — boxes from Kashmir.”
He eventually got a master’s degree in planning from Pratt and worked at the Department of City Planning. After graduate school, he settled on Carmine St.
Six years ago, he developed a new residential building on Sixth Ave. at Washington Place.
Gruber was born in Manhattan, but grew up on Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn. He has roots in the Meat Market, where his maternal grandfather was a large commercial butcher with five buildings on Little West 12th St.
“He used the High Line to bring in large cows,” Gruber noted.
As for why he won’t seek higher office, he said it’s simple.
“I like my life,” he said. “I have business interests. I’m on different boards. I like travel. I have a very well-balanced life.”
On his predecessors, Hoylman and, before him, Jo Hamilton, Gruber said they’ve set the bar high.
“They have raised the level of what a chairperson should be in terms of professionalism and set a standard,” he said.
During the public session of last Thursday’s meeting, Borough President Scott Stringer presented a proclamation to Hoylman for his service as board chairperson. Hoylman had resigned from C.B. 2 a few days earlier to start focusing on his state Senate campaign.
Stringer’s proclamation praised Hoylman’s “remarkable leadership.”
Borough President Scott Stringer, left, presented Brad Hoylman, holding his daughter, Silvia, with a proclamation declaring “Brad Hoylman Appreciation Day” in Manhattan.
“He stepped up when the board needed leadership the most,” the proclamation stated. “Brad shepherded the board through intelligent and comprehensive responses to several of the most significant issues in the city, including the redevelopment of the former St. Vincent’s Hospital campus, New York University’s expansion and school overcrowding.”
Regarding his successor, Hoylman told The Villager he has full confidence in him.
“I think David Gruber is going to be an outstanding board chairperson,” he said. “He has a deep understanding of what makes our neighborhoods unique from his years of involvement in local block associations and community groups, as well as a strong base of knowledge in issues, such as zoning and landmarking, and good relationships with our elected officials.”
Of his own tenure as chairperson over three years — the first two years were followed by two years of Hamilton as chairperson, followed by Hoylman’s return to the post over this past year — Hoylman said the highlights were the board’s work on N.Y.U. 2031 and the St. Vincent’s redevelopment.
“As chairperson, I’m most proud of helping unite the community and articulate its position on two key issues in the last year — the N.Y.U. expansion plan and the St. Vincent’s redevelopment. On N.Y.U., the community conducted an unprecedented comprehensive public review and has stood unwavering in the face of pressure from the city administration. There’s more work to be done, but I’m confident our voices are being heard.
“On St. Vincent’s, I’m proud we made the Rudin plan more reasonable while saving six historic buildings, creating a legal defense fund for rent-regulated tenants, making a public park with an AIDS memorial, directing developer money into arts programs for local school kids and achieving what many thought was impossible: two new public schools, including a new middle school at 75 Morton St.
“At the same time,” Hoylman continued, “we launched a community health-needs assessment through the Hunter College School of Public Health that demonstrated the impact of losing the hospital and what services we need from the new North Shore-L.I.J. health facility [planned at the former St. Vincent’s O’Toole Pavilion].
“Almost everything I learned about community organizing was from my decade on Community Board 2,” Hoylman said. “I’ll miss it, but hope to continue to work closely with my friends and neighbors on the board should I be successful in replacing Tom Duane in the state Senate.”