The board of the Battery Park City Authority (BPCA) has a new vice chair: neighborhood resident Martha Gallo. At the February 26 meeting of the Authority’s board, chairman George Tsunis announced, “I am proud to offer resolution of the appointment of a vice chair, Martha Gallo.”
In a reference to the previous vice chair, Mr. Tsunis continued, “I want to thank Don Capoccia,” who will continue as a BPCA board member, “for doing this for so many years, and I’m sure that Don has already filled Martha in on the first goal being to keep me out of trouble. And that’s a full-time job. But I have met very, very few people with the combination of intelligence, integrity and work ethic of Martha Gallo. And I think I speak for all of us saying it’s an absolute privilege to call you a colleague.”
Ms. Gallo’s has served twice on the BPCA board. Her current tenure began in June, 2018, when Governor Andrew Cuomo reappointed her, after a new law passed the State legislature in 2017, requiring that two seats on the seven-member panel be occupied by people who reside within the community. Previously, she served on the Authority’s board from 2012 through 2017 (also appointed by Mr. Cuomo).
Ms. Gallo, an insurance and banking executive, has for several years chaired subcommittees of the BPCA board, such as the Audit and Finance panels. She has also been a persistent advocate for resiliency measures in Battery Park City. At a November, 2015 board meeting, she said, “the number-one topic on my mind is a major study that the BPCA board has funded, to look at the infrastructure of the neighborhood and resiliency. The City has left us out of every funding discussion of the Big U,” a planned network of flood walls around Lower Manhattan that would (theoretically) hold back future storm waters. “So somehow,” Ms. Gallo added, “we’re going to get some room from the agreement we have to turn over our excess revenues to help with affordable housing, to do this work.” This was a reference to the agreement under which the BPCA remits its excess revenue to the City, which has promised to use these funds for affordable housing elsewhere in the five boroughs. (Historically, the City has more often ignored the affordable housing pledge and used this money, which has amounted to multiple billions of dollars in recent decades, for whatever purpose it saw fit.)
Ms. Gallo has also pushed — sometimes overtly, and in some cases quietly — for a more robust and transparent dialog between the Authority and the community it governs. Among the results were the quarterly “Open Community Meetings,” which began in December, 2015, and at which Authority board members and senior staff answer questions from residents.
She has additionally exhibited striking independence as a BPCA board member, sometimes voicing public disagreement with Authority policy, and occasionally casting dissenting votes at BPCA board meetings. One such instance occurred in October, 2013, when the board was reviewing the annual budget for the Battery Park City Parks Conservancy. Ms. Gallo voted against the allocation, to protest the fact that employees of the Parks Conservancy had (at that point) been working without a raise for more than five years. (That situation was later remedied, in part as a result of Ms. Gallo’s intervention.) In another instance of bucking BPCA policy she questioned why the Authority was involved in funding the West Thames pedestrian bridge, which is now under construction — but has gone millions and dollars over budget and years behind schedule.
Last October, at a BPCA board meeting that focused on resiliency measures, she said, “one of my biggest concerns is the interagency coordination and the complexity that we’re working with here. Because we know we’re six years after Superstorm Sandy. Every time I say that, I want to choke. And I would just encourage us to act alone where we can, to take some shorter-term steps towards a more comprehensive plan.”
Returning to the example of the West Thames bridge (which is being constructed as part of an interagency partnership between the Authority, the City’s Economic Development Corporation, and the State’s Department of Transportation), she observed, “if this is any example of what we get when we have interagency coordination, then we can’t be that optimistic about our resiliency program. And I think we need to learn from that and just take it to a different level.”
Reflecting on the issue of community engagement, she reflected that, “I don’t want to use the community as an excuse for slowing this down. I think the community issues have been about us getting it sort of ass backwards. Doing work and then telling them, ‘ta da! — this is what we’ve decided to do.’ And I think the team has done an extraordinary job lately of changing that process around and so we can accelerate some of that. The community are not experts in many of these things. And I think we’re going to need to, yes, build their trust. But we’re going to have to move this sucker along.”
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