An East Sider heads for the Hudson

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Former City Council Member Dan Garodnick to helm Riverside Park Conservancy


  • After spending the last 12 years representing much of Manhattan’s East Side in the City Council, Dan Garodnick will join the Riverside Park Conservancy as the nonprofit’s president and chief executive officer. Photo: Riverside Park Conservancy

“I really felt that we needed somebody who’s a New Yorker, who understands how things work in New York.”

Lori Lennon Bassman, Board Chair, Riverside Park Conservancy

Dan Garodnick finally has a clear answer to the question he’s been asked at every turn over the last year: “What’s next?”

For twelve years, Garodnick was a civic fixture on Manhattan’s East Side, representing a City Council district stretching from the Upper East Side through Midtown to his native Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village. By the time he prepared to leave office at the end of last year, due to term limits, his imprint on the district was so thorough — with signature achievements including a rezoning of East Midtown aimed at funding transit improvements through new development and a deal to preserve affordable housing in Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village during Blackstone Group’s acquisition of the complex — that observers of the campaign to succeed him often referred to his office as “the Garodnick seat.”

Garodnick’s reputation as a skilled dealmaker and fundraiser, along with a sizable campaign war chest and political ambitions to match (he vied, unsuccessfully, to become Council Speaker and comptroller during his time in office, and has been mentioned as a potential candidate for mayor in 2021) prompted inevitable speculation about another run for public office as his final term drew to a close. All along, Garodnick kept mum about his plans. Since departing office, he told Straus News, “I’ve been enjoying some well-needed time off.”

Five months after leaving the Council, Dan Garodnick’s time off is coming to a close. His return to the public sphere won’t take him to the campaign trail, but to one of the city’s most iconic parks. Garodnick will head across town for his next act, where he will serve as president and chief executive officer of the Riverside Park Conservancy.

Joining the conservancy, Garodnick said, “was a natural fit.”

“I have spent years acting as a champion for public space, with a focus on public and private partnerships,” he said. “To be able to take that experience and bring it to one of New York’s most important public spaces was a great opportunity.”

Riverside Park Conservancy, a nonprofit that manages Riverside Park’s 400 acres on the Hudson River waterfront in partnership with the city’s Parks Department, will look to Garodnick to help grow the organization’s roughly $6 million budget, expand the conservancy’s work within the park and serve as an advocate for the park in talks with the city.

Lori Lennon Bassman, who serves as chair of the conservancy’s board of trustees, said that the board voted unanimously to appoint Garodnick following an extensive selection process that featured over 100 applicants. “I really felt that we needed somebody who’s a New Yorker, who understands how things work in New York,” she said. “Dan knows many, many people in the Parks Department, in New York City government, in philanthropy — because he’s been doing public service for the last 12 years, he has a deep understanding of how this city works.”

In recent weeks, Garodnick’s name was floated as a potential ballot entry in the fall election for New York State attorney general. Garodnick said the rumors, reported by multiple outlets, were inaccurate — he had already agreed to join Riverside Park Conservancy when former Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced his resignation May 7 after multiple women accused him of abuse. “This was already settled,” Garodnick said.

Garodnick will lead a new fundraising campaign set to launch this fall with the goal of expanding the conservancy’s zone gardener program, which assigns horticultural professionals to dedicated areas within the park’s diverse landscape in order to leverage knowledge of unique local soil and water conditions. Riverside Park Conservancy currently employs 17 zone gardeners; Bassman hopes to eventually hire as many as 60 or 65. The conservancy intends to focus on expanding service in the six-mile park’s northern half, which extends to the George Washington Bridge.

Garodnick takes over from John Herrold, who previously served as the conservancy’s president while simultaneously working for the Parks Department as Riverside Park’s administrator. Herrold will stay on as a senior advisor to the conservancy and continue in his role with the city.

The board believes that the addition of Garodnick’s managerial and fundraising skills will allow Herrold to dedicate more of his time and expertise to improving the park and its horticultural programs, Bassman explained. “John has worn two hats for many years now,” she said. “As we have increased the workload, it’s become more than a one-man job.”

“He has an encyclopedic knowledge of the park, and that’s where we want him,” she added.

Garodnick said he looks forward to working “hand in hand” with Herrold. “John knows every inch of this six-mile space and is an invaluable resource to the city,” he said. “I intend to complement his work and bring extra support to enhance the quality of the park from 59th Street all the way to 181st Street.”

Other significant projects on tap for Riverside Park Conservancy include an overhaul of the 79th Street Rotunda (“My dream is that it is going to be the Bethesda Fountain of Riverside Park and bring a lot of life to that area,” Bassman said) and the renovation of the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument, which has fallen into disrepair and is currently fenced off from public access. “It really is not in a dignified state,” Bassman said. “It represents people who served our country and lost their lives to protect our freedom, and it really bothers me that it’s not in good repair.”

Refurbishing the structure and its surroundings, including opening the inside of the monument to the public, “is certainly an aspiration of the conservancy,” Bassman said, “but it’s a hugely expensive renovation and so we will work to help the city once they decide that they’re ready to move on it.”

Bringing on Garodnick, Bassman said, is an important step for the continued growth of the conservancy, which has seen both its budget and mission expand over the last decade. She likened the board’s role to that of an auto mechanic. “I’ve had the hood up for the last several years and have just been fixing this engine,” she said. “What I wanted was then to have a race car driver who could come in and drive the car, and that’s who I feel Dan Garodnick is for us.”

“This conservancy has done a great job over the years in enhancing a spectacular park,” Garodnick said. “They are ready to take it to the next level and I hope to help them get there.”

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