A Lower Manhattan community leader was one of a select group honored Monday evening at the annual “50 Over 50” reception, which recognizes the contributions of made by two score and ten public servants who have reached the half-century mark.
Ninfa Segarra, who stepped down last autumn as the chair of Community Board 1’s Battery Park City Committee, was among the honorees, along with former Mayor David Dinkins, former Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina (and her predecessor, Dennis Walcott), former City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, City University of New York chancellor James Milliken, and American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten.
“As a child living in public housing I had dreams,” Ms. Segarra said. “Encouraged by loving parents and giving mentors, I pushed through the obstacles of racism and sexism. I must say the opportunities given to me in public service are way beyond the dreams of that child.”
Like the other award recipients, Ms. Segarra has been a leader and advocate for decades. She grew up on the Lower East Side, the daughter of a taxi driver and a garment worker who had recently moved from Puerto Rico. She came to activism early, once laying down in a street during a protest to demand that Mayor John Lindsay rebuild Gouverneur Hospital, and later as a member of Aspira, an advocacy group for Puerto Rican and other Hispanic students. After working her way through New York Law School at night, she served on the legal team of Advocates for Children, representing disabled students, as well as those suspended by the City’s school system. In 1982, she was hired by the administration of then-Mayor Ed Koch to work in City Hall’s Office for the Handicapped. Later, after she moved to the Bronx, Mr. Koch appointed her executive director of the City’s Voter Assistance Commission, an agency that aimed to boost aid voter registration. Moving to the Bronx in the 1980s, she was soon appointed as that borough’s representative on the City’s Board of Education.
She was appointed a Deputy Mayor by Rudy Giuliani in 1993, shortly after he was elected, and given responsibility for education, health, and youth issues. A few months later, she was given a second portfolio when the Mayor reappointed her to the Board of Education, a post at which she remained until 2002, eventually rising to the presidency of that body.
In the early 2000s, Ms. Segarra moved to Lower Manhattan, renting a home in Battery Park City’s Gateway Plaza. She quickly established a reputation as natural leader and zealous advocate on a range of issues, such as affordability and tenant’s rights. This led to her appointment to Community Board 1 in 2014.
“As an activist, serving inside City Hall instead of protesting outside the building was ironic,” Ms. Segarra reflected. “This award had special significance due to the circle of fellow honorees. Additionally, in the Latino community, it was noted that I was one of three Latinos honored. It is gratifying to have your body of work in public service recognized. It encourages me to continue to work with others to improve the lives of all New Yorkers.”