Volume 76, Number 17 | September 13 - 19, 2006

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 board’s district manager after five years to become Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer’s 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 Council’s 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 Alexander’s 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 Sears’s 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 city’s proposal to buy the yards from the M.T.A. [Metropolitan Transportation Authority] on the agenda, There’s still more zoning to be done,” he said. “And we’ll 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. John’s 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 — I’m a Democrat, the black sheep of the family,” he remarked.

Benfatto’s 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 Benfatto’s boyhood.

“Angelo Raffetto’s wife, Alma Bisso, was my father’s aunt,” he noted, referring to the founder of Raffetto’s 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 Sears’s chief of staff.

“I told Helen last November that it was time for me to move on and that I’d 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 board’s 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. “It’s not crazy but it’s still busy. I have a chance to catch up on all the issues.”

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