The Real Deal New York

Here’s what you need to know about NYC’s new planning commish, Marisa Lago

Carl Weisbrod plans to step down at the end of the month
By Kathryn Brenzel | January 05, 2017 01:52PM

Carl Weisbrod (credit: Getty) and Marisa Lago

Marisa Lago began her career in government with the City Planning Commission. Now, more than 30 years later, she’s returning as the organization’s top official.

Mayor Bill de Blasio appointed Lago as director of the Department of City Planning and chair of the City Planning Commission on Wednesday, following news that Carl Weisbrod plans to step down from the positions at the end of the month. Lago currently serves as the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Assistant Secretary for International Markets and Development, a position President Barack Obama nominated her for in 2009.

The Brooklyn native is taking over the reins of city planning just as the city embarks on one of its most anticipated rezoning efforts, that of Midtown East. The plans are expected to add up to 6.5 million square feet of additional office space in the neighborhood. According to de Blasio’s office, she is also charged with expanding the city’s affordable housing efforts.

“It’s a great honor to come home to the city I love and be given the chance to make it ever stronger and more equitable,” Lago said in a statement. “Change is the one constant in New York, and it is never easy.”

In the past two decades, Lago has worked for city, state and federal government, and even had a five year stint in investment banking. Much of her career has centered around development issues in major cities, as well as complex financial transactions.

After graduating from Harvard Law School in 1982, Lagos worked for then-City Planning Commission Chair Herb Sturz. She then worked as general counsel for the city’s Economic Development Corp., joining Weisbrod TRData LogoTINY, who was president at the time.

She went on to work for Boston’s economic development agency in the mid- to late- ’90s. After that, she headed international affairs for the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, leaving in 2001. For the next five years, she was the global head of compliance for Citigroup’s corporate and investment bank.

In 2008, Gov. David Paterson nominated her as president and chief executive of the state’s Empire State Development Corporation. At the time, the New York Times noted that the agency was embroiled in a longstanding rivalry between upstate and city interests. Lago stepped down the following year, telling the Times that she’d received other job offers, though rumors circulated that tensions with with the organization’s chairman may have influenced her decision.

Lago, the daughter of Spanish immigrants, has repeatedly spoken about her desire to better the lives of disadvantaged city dwellers and create a more equitable city. Though her position on zoning and city planning are not yet clear, her philosophy seems to jive with the mayor’s affordable housing initiative.  “A large part of what has guided my career is that there are folks who come here from other countries and there are people living in the United States from all different economic circumstances, and we can do something to help them,” she said during a speech at Cooper Union in 2008. “I have a real passion for what I do.”

Weisbrod’s retirement comes just as the city’s plans to rezone Midtown East seem to be gaining traction. He announced Tuesday that the latest rezoning plans had started the lengthy land-use review process.

“This is a bittersweet moment. Carl helped to build our administration and has been part of its bedrock,” de Blasio said in a statement on Wednesday. “Marisa comes to our administration with unmatched experience building neighborhoods and planning for the future. She worked side-by-side with Carl helping spur the city’s revitalization twenty-five years ago, and has a record of bringing communities together.”