BY ANGELA BARBUTI
In 1983, Kevin Crocilla became a letter carrier on the Lower East Side. As a 21-year-old from Brooklyn, it was a bit of a culture shock. “Back then, that zone went from Houston Street on the East Side, all the way up to Grammercy Park South,” he explained. “We had the Bowery, we had the Hells Angels on East Third Street. And then on another day, I might be working up in Grammercy Park with the doorman buildings and the richest of the rich people.”
That job was just the beginning of a lifelong career with the postal service. After 33 years of experience, and enduring storms like Hurricane Irene and Sandy and the countless events in Manhattan that make the process of delivering mail challenging, he was recognized for his commitment and sworn in as the new postmaster of the city of New York.
His role includes overseeing 4,138 employees, 68 post offices and the 1,000 trucks that travel through the city. Crocilla credits his dedicated staff for their efforts, acknowledging them whenever he can. “One of the things I try to do in my new role is get out to visit as many offices as I can during the week. I take a few minutes and talk to all the clerks, custodians, carriers and people truly appreciate it,” he said.
How did your job as a letter carrier come about? I never really knew back then that I was going to make a career out of the post office. I had a job on Wall Street; I worked in an investment bank right out of high school. The job came up and my uncle, who was actually a postmaster, he’s deceased now, called me and said, “You should put in for that job. It’s a good job with good benefits.” It was that whole civil service-minded mentality from that generation. At the time, I had a job. But I was like, “It doesn’t hurt to put in.” So I actually took the test and was on the list for a couple of years. And when I got called, the salary was decent, the benefits were great. I said, “Let me try this.” Still being a young person, there was not a lot of risk there. No family yet, no kids. I became a letter carrier and actually enjoyed it. I did that for a few years and it’s actually a great job. You get to be out and meet the customers; you get your exercise. Rain, sleet and snow, you know the whole motto.
Your first route was on the Lower East Side. What was that like?Yeah, I actually started in Cooper Station. I’ve actually done my whole career here in Manhattan, all 33 years. As a new carrier they actually expose you to a lot of different things. Some days you’re driving a truck, some days you’re collecting mail out of the blue boxes, and other days you’re delivery mail, obviously, which is our primary function as a carrier. They kind of bounce you around; you work a lot of different hours. What I remember, being a kid from Brooklyn, was that, although I worked down on Wall Street, it was a little bit of a culture shock. Back in 1983, if you know the Lower East Side, it wasn’t what it is today. It’s become a lot more gentrified and built up. The memories I have were that the people, whether they were rich or poor, were all great.
You worked through some weather emergencies. What are your memories of those events?Unfortunately, I have a lot of memories of those events, in particular, Hurricane Irene and Hurricane Sandy, which were the biggies. And then of course, we had a few snowstorms over the years. But with the hurricane events, the post office, like every other agency whether it’s city, state or federal, has emergency plans in place for such events. But, as you know, some of those storms and hurricanes were 100-year storms, so they actually became learning experiences for us. There were a lot of things we did right and obviously things we could have done better. Our biggest challenge during that time was actually getting our employees to work here in Manhattan. Besides the New York City transit system going down, at certain points, we also had issues with the gas shortages. When you don’t have the people here to do the work, it really become challenge. How do you get the mail delivered? What a lot of people don’t realize is that a lot of our customers rely on the mail for medicine, sustenance checks, things that they really need to live. So what we do in those events is definitely prioritize and get our people together and do what we need to do to get our mail delivered to those customers. There are a lot of people who obviously can live without the mail for a day or two and it’s not as big of an impact. But when you take a step back, it’s a very important thing that we do.
What does your job as postmaster entail? I’m in charge of all the post offices in Manhattan. That includes the finance stations, the carriers, the clerks and all the mail handlers. I have about 4,100 subordinate employees who are under my jurisdiction. I do have six direct report area managers who help me manage all of Manhattan. I have over 100 managers above them. Day-to-day, it’s to collect, process, transport and deliver the mail. But as you would imagine, there’s a lot of moving parts with that. Our challenge here in Manhattan is all the big events that happen. Besides all those snowstorms that we just talked about, we have dignitaries from all over the world who are here on any given day. Things like the marathon, the UN General Assembly, the pope coming to town, the president. Every time something like that happens, behind the scenes there’s a lot of planning and coordination in order for us to get our vehicles out of these areas. Because, as you know, sometimes they’ll just close down streets. Two years ago we had the Super Bowl [festivities] on Broadway and they shut down 10 blocks. Having to transport mail all over the city – I’m happy to say we do a good job and react when we need to react and get the job done each day.
People think that we don’t need post offices as much because of the internet. How do you argue against that and how do you stay current?What actually is happening is letter and flat mail is decreasing and it has been over the years. But our parcel volume has been increasing at a tremendous rate. So there’s been a shift in the mail: less letters, more parcels. And what we’re doing to stay relevant is we’ve been investing money over the years into scanning technology. We’ve upgraded all the carrier scanners because what our customers tell us is that they want that visibility. They want to track that package from the time it ships to the time it gets to their mail receptacle or their front door. Over the last few years we’ve been doing that to stay current in the market.
What is one initiative you are working on now? One of the things I’m taking on very aggressively is working on some of our retail lobbies. Sometimes you talk to customers and the image of the post office is long lines. I think we’re doing a better job than we were, but we definitely got some work to do in some of our spots. My challenge now and what I’ve been working is trying to improve that customer experience in the lobby. And one of the ways we’re doing that is we did get some new scanners for our retail clerks where we can actually have a clerk in the lobby. We can’t do money orders or passports or things of that nature, but we can do simple transactions with a debit or credit card like buying a roll of stamps or a prepaid priority envelope. The idea is that we can take customers as soon as they walk in the door and try to keep them off that line.