Volume 73, Number 40 | February 04 - 10, 2004

Wils takes job with De Niro and Tribeca Film group

By Josh Rogers

She is on so many boards focusing on Lower Manhattan that it may seem like she has always had a full-time job, but Madelyn Wils has just been hired by Robert De Niro and his film partners to become president and C.E.O. of the Tribeca Film Institute, and in February, she will start collecting her first regular paycheck in three years.

Wils, in a telephone interview, said she will retain her unpaid positions as the chairperson of Community Board 1 and as a board member of the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., the Hudson River Park Trust and the Downtown Alliance business improvement district. In a few months, she plans to decide whether or not to run for reelection as chairperson of C.B. 1.

“I’ll make a decision in April,” she said. “There are a few more initiatives I want to take care of. I do not see [being chairperson] as a lifelong thing.”

Wils is up for reelection in June and, traditionally, incumbents on Community Board 1 do not face much if any opposition. She said her new job means that she will not run for Manhattan borough president in 2005, as had been rumored recently.

“I have ruled it out for now,” she said. “It’s not in the picture.” And although she said she may someday run for an office, it won’t be in 2005. “Not that year,” she said.

Wils, who formerly ran her own television and film production company doing work with Larry King and Charlie Rose among others, said the new job is the ideal position, because it combines her extensive work trying to help Downtown recover from 9/11 with her film experience. “This job is a combination of everything I have done my entire life,” she said.

The film institute is a separate, nonprofit organization set up by the three people who founded the Tribeca Film Festival and own the Tribeca Film Center — De Niro, Jane Rosenthal and Craig Hatkoff. The institute sponsors forums on film and has programs for independent filmmakers. Wils is looking to expand the organization’s cultural activities.

“I have a book in front of me of about 50 ideas,” said Wils, 48. “Clearly Jane and Bob have access to enormous talent.”

De Niro said in a prepared statement that Wils “has shown a deep dedication to the community of Lower Manhattan and she is the perfect person to lead the Tribeca Film Institute as it continues its mission to rejuvenate Downtown.”

Assemblymember Deborah Glick, who has differed with Wils on some Hudson River Park issues, said she has had concerns about possible conflicts Wils could have serving on so many boards. She said Wils’ new Tribeca film hat is less troubling since it is a job.

“People have a right to earn a living,” Glick said in a telephone interview. “I have less of a concern with that than people serving as an unpaid member of a variety of boards that may have conflicting purposes, and [where] your decisions on one board may be impacted on anther board.”

Glick said she doesn’t think there has been an instance where Wils voted on a matter where there was a conflict, but she feels Wils has not always given enough respect to positions taken by Community Board 2 in Greenwich Village. The five-mile-long Hudson Park runs through both boards. “Statements that Madelyn has made, occasionally have raised an eyebrow because it wasn’t clear if she was speaking as a community board person or as a member of H.R.P.T. or the L.M.D.C.,” said Glick.

Carl Weisbrod, president of the Downtown Alliance, who serves with Wils on the L.M.D.C. board, said she has been appointed to other boards precisely because she is chairperson of C.B. 1 and that all her positions involve helping Lower Manhattan recover from 9/11.

“I don’t view it as a conflict. I view it as a strength,” said Weisbrod, who manages the Wall St. area’s business improvement district. “Madelyn Wils has been fabulous — a great, great advocate for the Downtown community.”

Wils who is also on the board of the conservancy for Battery Park, said she is always careful to avoid voting on matters where she has a conflict and said the film job means “just add another one to the list.”

Wils was first elected chairperson of Board 1 in 2000 when Anne Compoccia stepped down because she was under criminal investigation unrelated to her community board activities.

Wils said she will spend less time on community board matters, but that is because the problems in the Downtown neighborhoods are not as intense as they were after the Sept. 11 attack. She will also rely for help more on the board’s committee chairpersons, she said.

“The community board, two years ago, was a 24-hour job — we were in a crisis mode,” Wils said. “We are not in the same crisis mode we were.”

Her husband and children probably won’t notice much change in her schedule. “I work all day and night,” she said. “My family is used to it.”

Her husband, Steven Wils, owns a butter and milk company that was the last food wholesaler to remain in Tribeca. They live in the neighborhood with their three sons, who are 10, 15 and 18.

She said the institute job was floated to her quite some time ago, but because her mother was battling a terminal illness she put the offer on the back burner. Her mother died a few weeks ago, and Wils subsequently decided to take the job.

Her first official day on the job will be Feb. 17 but she has already begun to plan. She said she will not play a leading role in this year’s film festival in May, but she will try to insure all of the screenings are in Lower Manhattan. The Battery Park City United Artists Cineplex has closed five of its 16 screens, which will make the goal hard, Wils said. The Tribeca Film partners bought The Screening Room at the end of last year and plan to have festival screenings once again in May and have already had private director screenings in January.

As a member of the L.M.D.C., Wils has also been interested in the efforts to bring cultural institutions to the World Trade Center site.

She was happy to hear the American National Theater, called ANT, has just released a cultural building design for the Trade Center site by architect Richard Olcott of Polshek Partnership. Wils said film, theater and lots of other art forms would be a great at the W.T.C.

“It makes only sense to have several organizations team up,” she said. “It does not make any sense to have only one type of venue.”


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