New manager at C.B. 4 knows from development
By Albert Amateau
It took a few months, but Community Board 4 found an ideal replacement for Anthony Borelli, who resigned in January as the boards district manager after five years to become Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringers director of land use.
Robert Benfatto, 40, who took over as C.B. 4 district manager in August, was chief of staff for City Councilmember Helen Sears of Queens and had previously served on the staff of the Councils Public Safety Committee.
He comes to a community board whose district covers Chelsea and Clinton, neighborhoods where land use and commercial and residential development are major issues after serving the councilmember from a district covering Jackson Heights, Elmhurst and part of Rego Park, where residential and commercial development are also pressing issues.
We dealt with the issue of Wal-Mart coming to Rego Park to a parking lot that was the old Alexanders department store, he recalled. Some people wanted it, but the reaction was very mixed low prices and job opportunities versus nonunion workers and threats to small business. We eventually were against it, and the plan was dropped, he said.
As chief of Searss staff since 2002, Benfatto became well acquainted with Community Board 4 issues during the Hudson Yards and West Side Stadium controversy.
The board [C.B. 4] will still have the Hudson Yards district and the citys proposal to buy the yards from the M.T.A. [Metropolitan Transportation Authority] on the agenda, Theres still more zoning to be done, he said. And well have to keep an eye on how development proceeds in West Chelsea Special District, principally on the issue of affordable housing, he added.
Benfatto, a lifelong Queens resident, was born in Jackson Heights, went to a public elementary school and then moved with his family to Douglaston. He graduated from Holy Cross High School in Flushing and went on the SUNY Albany where he majored in English.
People say Albany is dead, but I like the town. I still have friends there, he said. After graduating, Benfatto was undecided about whether to go into teaching or to law school. He worked for about seven month as an aide in the Skadden Arps law firm and deiced on law school. He went to St. Johns and graduated in 1992.
In 1993 he went to work for his father, who had retired from the banking business to form a political consulting firm.
He was a Republican but he also did consulting work for Carol Bellamy [a Democrat and former City Council president, state senator and unsuccessful candidate for mayor and for state comptroller].
My mother is still a Republican and so is my wife Im a Democrat, the black sheep of the family, he remarked.
Benfattos father, who died in 1999, was raised on Carmine St. in the Village. He was also a founder of a cultural group, Americans of Italian Heritage, so Italian connections were and important part of Benfattos boyhood.
Angelo Raffettos wife, Alma Bisso, was my fathers aunt, he noted, referring to the founder of Raffettos specialty foods store on W. Houston St. in the Village.
In 1999, Benfatto went to work for the City Council Public Safety Committee headed by Queens Councilmember Sheldon Loeffler and a couple of years later became Searss chief of staff.
I told Helen last November that it was time for me to move on and that Id leave after her re-election. I left in February after she installed my successor, he recalled. Benfatto applied for the Community Board 4 job in May, was interviewed in June and was offered the job in July.
At the community boards July 26 meeting when the members unanimously ratified the job offer, board chairperson Lee Compton presented Benfatto with the keys to the office and said, You start Monday [Aug. 1].
August is a nice time to start the job, said Benfatto. Its not crazy but its still busy. I have a chance to catch up on all the issues.