Volume 80, Number 51 | May 19 - 25, 2011
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Photo by Albert Amateau

Thomas Gray.

Former de Blasio aide now steering ship at chamber

By Albert Amateau

Thomas Gray, who became executive director of the Greenwich Village-Chelsea Chamber of Commerce at the end of March, comes to his new job with a firm belief in small businesses and lots of experience in government.

He is also enthusiastic about the neighborhoods that the G.V.C.C.C. covers, including Greenwich Village, the East Village, Union Square, the Flatiron District and Chelsea.

“This area is amazing,” he said in a recent interview in Union Square, noting that the chamber district extends from Canal St. to 34th St. between the Hudson River and Third Ave.

“I went to my first Community Board 3 committee meeting two weeks ago — the board’s Economic Development Committee — about small businesses in the neighborhood. They’re very well-informed,” he said.

“A lot of people don’t realize that participating in community boards and civic associations really does matter. The political class listens, so you have to manage your message and get to the people who can help,” he said.

Gray, 30, replaced Lauren Danziger as chamber executive when she became executive director of the Meatpacking District Improvement Association.

He was born and raised in Nagley, a small town in eastern Ohio, and went to Kent State University where he joined the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve.

“One of the reasons I went to Kent State was their Coast Guard Reserve program,” he said. “I had an interest in law enforcement and the Coast Guard has a port security program that was a good fit.” Gray joined the Reserve at Kent in 2000, and spent the summers training in Sandusky on Lake Erie.

“We trained in search-and-rescue operations, drug interdiction and port protection,” he said.

After he graduated in 2003, his Coast Guard combat unit was activated during the Operation Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom campaigns. The unit went to Kuwait in the Persian Gulf, assigned to protecting shipping in the deepwater port of Kuwait City.

“We were confined to base and I spent most of the time on a gunship,” he recalled.

After active service, he moved to New York in 2005 but remained in the Coast Guard Reserve unit in Staten Island as a machinery tech third class until 2008.

A Brooklyn resident, Gray joined Bill de Blasio’s City Council staff in the summer of 2005 working on public policy. He also volunteered for Hilary Clinton’s presidential primary campaign in 2008, traveling to the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary. The following year he volunteered for Councilmember Joe Addabbo Jr.’s successful campaign for the state Senate.

When de Blasio was elected public advocate in 2009, Gray became his director of land-use policy.

“I got into small business issues during the economic downturn when I learned how important small businesses are in the economy,” Gray said.

“I got to know people from all over the city,” he said. As de Blasio’s representative at public hearings, community meetings and interagency meetings, Gray became adept in government relations with business, nonprofit and grassroots groups.

“A lot is on the line when you have a small business and you don’t have a lot of time to deal with government,” Gray said. “I will do that for the chamber and the members, and I can also help government communicate with the people.”

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