A tireless defender of the Battery Park City community is stepping away from the ramparts. Ninfa Segarra, who has served for 18 months as the chair of the Battery Park City Committee of Community Board 1 (CB1), has resigned as a result of what she describes as, “the need to focus on personal priorities.” At Monday’s meeting of the Battery Park City Committee, CB1 chair Anthony Notaro explained that Ms. Segarra, “has a very demanding full-time job, and has also recently been appointed a deacon at her church, which will also require a lot of her time.”
Ms. Segarra, a former Deputy Mayor in the administration of Rudy Giuliani, also served as the City’s last president of the Board of Education (overseeing the transition to mayoral control of the school system in 2002) and was a high-level appointee in the administration of Mayor Ed Koch. She additionally served as a vice president of the City University of New York and as executive director of the New York City Police Museum. Ms. Segarra moved to Battery Park City in 2002, from her native Bronx, where she had been a political leader and grassroots community organizer for decades.
During her tenure on CB1, Ms. Segarra brought an amalgam of policy expertise and a willingness to engage in political combat to an arena that quickly became a forum for demanding accountability from the Battery Park City Authority (BPCA), the State agency that functions as the de facto (but unelected) government of the 92 acres of landfill between West Street and the Hudson River.
Throughout 2016, she led the charge to block a BPCA plan to redesign South End Avenue, which originally included the option of filling in the arcades along the fronts of four large apartment buildings to create new retail space. The BPCA subsequently backed away from the controversial possibility of filling in these arcades.
Ms. Segarra also led a series of public discussions that raised questions about another BPCA plan, this one to redesign Wagner Park to harden the facility against flood waters from future extreme weather events. The most controversial aspects of this plan — including the design of a large new building that would house a restaurant more than double the size of the current eatery — have been significantly scaled back, in an apparent concession to the concerns she highlighted.
On these issues, and almost every question that came before her committee, Ms. Segarra pressed the BPCA for greater transparency, along with higher-level (and earlier) participation from the community in Authority decisions.
She was also a relentless advocate for resident representation on the board of the Authority, a panel that currently includes no one who actually lives in the community, in spite of the fact that the BPCA routinely makes decisions affecting the lives of residents.
In recent weeks, she played a pivotal role in behind-the-scenes negotiations over a State Senate bill that will require Governor Cuomo (who controls the BPCA, by appointing its board) to designate at least two residents to the Authority’s board. After several years of abortive attempts, the amended bill (drafted, in part, with guidance from Ms. Segarra) was unanimously passed by the State Senate, and now awaits the governor’s signature.
CB1 chair Anthony Notaro said, “Ninfa exemplifies the best of community board members, especially as a committee chair. She was deliberate and thorough in her preparation for the issues facing us. She engaged all of her committee and members of the public who came to the monthly meetings. Being able to listen and then formulate positions were her hallmark. She will be missed but leaves us better than when we started.”
Robin Forst, Ms. Segarra’s neighbor in Gateway Plaza, who also serves as a public member of CB1 (and is a former vice president of the BPCA), said, “Ninfa’s resignation will be a great loss for the residents of Battery Park City. During her tenure as chair, the Committee was faced with numerous complex and controversial proposals. As a community, we were the beneficiaries of both her leadership and her granular understanding of the issues. With her very strong commitment to community inclusion, she created an environment of open dialogue and debate.”
Tammy Meltzer, co-chair of CB1’s Battery Park City Committee (who will take over as Acting Chair after Ms. Segarra’s departure), said, “Ninfa has been amazing an amazing role model. She is a proven leader in business and shared her experience, knowledge and ability to get to the heart of a matter with many of us. Thankfully, her strong passion for community service drove her work to improve life not only in Battery Park City, but in all of New York City. Personally, I am grateful to have worked with her on the community board and thankful she is not only a pillar of the community but a friend.”
Ms. Segarra said, “I have been fortunate to serve at the highest level of City government. But I understand that ‘street-level’ organizing is the heart and soul of our democracy. Therefore, it has been an extraordinary honor to serve on the Community Board during this time of transition for our community, and I am very grateful to Battery Park City Committee members for their support during my tenure. We have jointly addressed issues that could substantially change the character of our community. The give-and-take by our neighbors on these issues has influenced the outcomes. And I am confident that the leadership of our community board will continue to protect the best elements of our small town.”