Leroy Comrie

Hitting the road

Former New York City Council members like to stay busy, whether it’s in politics, or government, or branching out into the private sector or nonprofit world. But where exactly do they go?

Michael C. Nelson tried retirement. It didn’t suit him. “My wife is five inches shorter than me. We were sitting on the couch, and I noticed she was eye level with me,” the former New York City councilman recalled in a recent interview.

Nelson had literally sunk to a new low. He’d spent too much time sitting on his couch after being term-limited out of his southern Brooklyn district in 2013. So Nelson went job hunting and picked up a part-time gig at a city-run senior center in his old district. It turned into full-time work, and Nelson was soon greeting some of his former constituents at the door and planning activities like pickleball. The former lawmaker was a city employee once again, serving as a community coordinator for the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation.

Nelson’s story, though unique, is similar to the trajectory of many of his former colleagues: They like to stay busy, whether it’s in politics, or government, or branching out into the private sector or nonprofit world.

But where exactly do they end up? City & State researched every City Council member that served in the past 16 years, from 2002 to the present, to find out what they are doing now. Excluding the current members and the 10 who just left office on Dec. 31, there were 62 former city legislators.

Of course, “former” in many cases is a misnomer. “Elected official” is the most common job category for former council members, with 19 still serving, including high-profile figures like New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, Rep. Yvette Clarke and state Sen. Simcha Felder. This group also includes City Councilman Bill Perkins, who is back representing the seat he held from 1998 to 2005.

To compile this list, City & State reached out to current and former officials and aides and conducted online searches. When a former member’s current whereabouts could not be determined, we included their last-known profession. Eight members fall into this category, including four former inmates who have stayed out of the limelight since being released from prison: Pedro Espada Jr., Larry Seabrook, Miguel Martinez and Angel Rodriguez. Ruben Wills and Daniel Halloran are currently in prison.

Of the former members who aren’t in office, many are still trying to get back in. Hiram Monserrate and Sara Gonzalez both failed to win back their old seats in the 2017 Democratic primaries, and Allan Jennings has run for a number of offices since he left the City Council in 2005. Other former members work in other government jobs, such as Peter Vallone Jr., now a Civil Court judge in Queens, or Helen Foster, now the state Division of Human Rights commissioner.

Additionally, four former council members from the past 16 years have died, including James Davis, who was shot and killed in the City Council Chambers in 2003.

For the former council members elected to other positions, the job jumping can lead to some confusion.

“From day one, people have been calling me either title, so I don’t get hung up on it,” said state Sen. Leroy Comrie, who left the council in 2013. “People call me everything from congressman to all kinds of things. I’m just happy that they recognize me.”

You can leave the council, but you can’t leave the title, agreed Jessica Lappin, who still gets called councilwoman (she served until the end of 2013) and congresswoman (a position she never held).

“It’s nice, people will still stop me in the grocery store or in the elevator to either talk about current events or ask for advice on an issue,” Lappin said. Now president of the Alliance for Downtown New York, which manages a business improvement district, Lappin admitted there was some difficulty deciding where to go after leaving the council.

Serving in the council, “you have to have some familiarly with a lot of different issues, but you’re not necessarily, unless you’re a committee chair, becoming an expert,” she said.  “You’re sort of a jack-of-all-trades, but you’re not necessarily a master of one. And so, I think you’re an interesting candidate for a lot of positions, but not necessarily an obvious candidate, often.”

One obvious post for former members is lobbying. But despite the narrative about a “revolving door,” just two members from the past 16 years are registered lobbyists: Mark Weprin and Domenic Recchia. (Though former Speaker Gifford Miller and former City Councilman Dennis Gallagher both lobbied for a time. Both now work in real estate.)

“I always had relationships,” said Recchia, who left the council at the end of 2013 and now has a law office in Gravesend, Brooklyn, an area he represented. “I always kept my relationships with the past, present and now new council members,” he said. “And we want to see the city be successful. We want to see it grow and prosper.”

Weprin, now with Greenberg Traurig, said those relationships will only take you so far when you’re lobbying a council member on a real estate project. “No one is going to do you any favors,” he said. “They may be courteous to you because they know you, but in the end, we’ve got to sell them on why it’s good for their constituents.”

Weprin also has a side gig lobbying former members – to attend alumni gatherings. He and Ed Wallace, a Greenberg Traurig colleague and former City Council member himself, helped start the New York City Council Alumni Association last year. The alumni association held a reception at City Hall after a November council meeting, and Weprin is planning another event this spring.

“Having term limits really creates a lack of institutional memory in City Council members,” Weprin said. “Our goal is to sort of create a dialogue with the City Council too, where you can share where ‘this has happened before, this happened in the ’80s, once before when we had a financial crisis.’ We’re a little bit of a history book and we have that in the form of former council members who served over decades.”

The question of what to do next was on the minds of a number of outgoing members in the final days of 2017. Former City Councilman Vincent Gentile was one of the members term-limited out of office on Dec. 31 after representing his Brooklyn district for 15 years. “I’m not sure what I’m doing, but I’ll stay in touch,” he said in his last speech in the Council Chambers.

Soon after, a fellow council member piped in with a sign of hope. City Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz was re-elected in 2017 for her third consecutive term, after also serving in the council from 1991 to 2001.

“I know what it’s like to be term-limited,” Koslowitz said, “but in four years, you can run again!”

Here's a rundown of the 62 former council member analyzed by City & State:

NameWhere are they now?
Ruben WillsInmate, Marcy Correctional Facility
Inez DickensAssembly
Maria Del Carmen ArroyoVice President, Acacia Network
Mark WeprinShareholder, Greenberg Traurig
Vincent IgnizioCEO, Catholic Charities
Albert VannPrincipal, Al Vann Legacy of Leadership Project
Charles BarronAssembly
Christine QuinnPresident and CEO, Win
Daniel HalloranInmate, Fairton Federal Correctional Institute
Diana ReynaPrincipal, Athena Consulting
Domenic RecchiaPrincipal, Domenic Recchia Law
Erik DilanAssembly
G. Oliver KoppellPrincipal, Koppel Law
Gale BrewerManhattan Borough President
James GennaroState DEC Deputy Commissioner for NYC Sustainability & Resiliency
James OddoStaten Island Borough President
James SandersState Senate
Jessica LappinPresident, Alliance for Downtown NY
Joel RiveraRealtor, Keller Williams and website designer
Leroy ComrieState Senate
Letitia JamesNew York City Public Advocate
Lewis FidlerSenior Advisor to Brooklyn Borough President
Michael NelsonCommunity Coordinator, New York City Parks Department
Peter Vallone, Jr.Queens Civil Court Judge
Robert JacksonState Senate Candidate, District 31
Sara GonzalezFormer City Council Candidate, 2017
Alan GersonAttorney, Gleason & Koatz
Anthony ComoPrincipal, Anthony Como Law
Bill de BlasioNew York City Mayor
David WeprinAssembly
David YasskyDean, Pace Law School
Eric GioiaManaging Director, JP Morgan (and NYU Adjunct Professor)
Helen FosterState Human Rights Commissioner
Helen SearsQueens Deputy City Clerk
John LiuProfessor, CUNY and Columbia
Kendall StewartPodiatrist in Brooklyn
Kenneth MitchellStaten Island Zoo Executive Director
Larry SeabrookFormerly in Prison (released in July 2017)
Maria BaezFormer Principal Court Analyst, New York State Court System
Melinda KatzQueens Borough President
Simcha FelderState Senate
Thomas White, Jr.Dead
Tony AvellaState Senate
Allan Jennings Jr.Former Congressional Candidate
Andrew LanzaState Senate
Dennis GallagherReal Estate Consultant
Eva MoskowitzCEO, Success Academy
Gifford MillerPrincipal, Signature Urban Properties
Hiram MonserrateFormer City Council Candidate
Joseph Addabbo Jr.State Senate
Madeline ProvenzanoDead
Margarita LopezFormer Board Member, NYCHA
Michael McMahonStaten Island District Attorney
Miguel MartinezFormerly in Prison (scheduled released in 2014)
Phillip ReedDead
Tracy BoylandFormer Outreach Coordinator, Altamount Program
Yvette ClarkeU.S. Congress
Bill PerkinsNew York City Council
Jose M. SerranoState Senate
Pedro Espada Jr.Formerly in Prison (released in October 2017)
James DavisDead
Angel RodriguezFormerly in Prison (released in 2006)