The Real Deal New York

David Greenfield

By Will Parker | October 02, 2017 01:56PM

City Council member David Greenfield represents Brooklyn’s 44th district, which spans the predominantly Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods of Midwood and Borough Park. Since 2014, he has chaired the council’s land use committee, meaning that NYC’s powerful developers need to win his approval for many of their megatowers. Most recently, Greenfield, 39, presided over the rezoning of Midtown East and was a key interlocutor in negotiations for Mayor de Blasio’s controversial Mandatory Inclusionary Zoning policy. Greenfield, a Democrat, took office after winning a 2010 special election and was reelected in 2013. Before holding office, he founded a nonpublic education advocacy group, served as chief of staff to Assemblyman Dov Hikind and did a stint as deputy director of U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman’s 2004 presidential campaign. Greenfield describes himself as a diplomat, bridging the divide between the council’s progressive wing and the real estate industry. Although it seemed that his political ambitions had outgrown the city — Greenfield raised over $300,000 for a state-level campaign account this year, with much of it coming from real estate players — he announced in July that he’s leaving the council next year and will not seek higher office. Instead, he will take over as the executive director of the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, the largest Jewish charity in New York. 

DOB: September 26, 1978
Hometown: Borough Park
Lives in: Midwood
Family: Married with three sons (3, 7 and 10)

What kind of a kid were you? I’m the youngest of four boys. I was one of those kids who always wanted to be a lawyer. I was the only kid in camp who got a daily delivery of the New York Times. It made me very popular, I would read about politics and news, and everyone would steal the sports section.

Where did you meet your wife, Dina? My brother introduced us. On our first date, I took her to a steakhouse called Le Marais in Midtown. I didn’t know what she would eat — or not eat. So, I decided to order a salad and then she ordered a steak. So now I’m looking across the table and saying, “Man, that steak looks pretty good.” So, I cajoled her to give me a little bit of steak. Fast-forward some 15 years later, she’s now a vegetarian. I always tell her I fell in love under false pretenses.

Are you a local celebrity in Brooklyn? Kids in the neighborhood collect business cards and, apparently, mine is very valuable, especially if they can get my autograph. They stop me all the time, ask for my card, and then trade them at school. I think you can get like five cards for one Greenfield, so that’s pretty cool.

What did your parents do? My father is deceased. He was an attorney and business-man who specialized in turning around failing businesses. After school I’d go to his office. People would come to him with their problems, anything from needing business or marital advice to help finding a job. He spent as much time helping other people as he did on his own business. My mother still lives in Brooklyn, a few blocks from where we grew up. She’s in her late 60s. We have a Jewish tradition of not asking our parents how old they are, so I don’t know her exact age, or I won’t admit to knowing it. She spends most days volunteering, doing things like taking people to the hospital and helping get food for people who need it before the holidays.

How did you get your start in politics? I was a corporate lawyer. I went to Georgetown Law and worked at Rosenman & Colin. When my father died at age 54, I realized that if you want to do things, you shouldn’t push them off. I reexamined my priorities and decided I wanted to save the world.

Dov Hikind recently said he’d reveal the reason there’s animosity between you two in a book. What is he talking about? No idea. Politics in this town is a funny business. People who are your enemies today are your friends tomorrow. The year before I ran for City Council, [Dov] honored me at his club dinner. The next year, when I ran he supported my opponent. I don’t take any of it personally, I view it as political posturing.

Do developers try to give you gifts? I have a very strict no-gift policy. Literally today my assistant got a call from a developer saying, “Hey, can we have your address, we want to send something over for the holidays.” I politely said, “We appreciate that, but we don’t accept any gifts.” You’ve got to follow the rules, which is under $50. But I’ve kept it simple: no gifts, not even a cup of coffee.

Who was a developer expecting to get whatever they wanted? One of the earliest projects I worked with was with TF Cornerstone in Helen Rosenthal’s district. There was a new mayor and council, and I don’t think folks understood how the politics had shifted. At one point I said, “OK, here’s what we need,” and … they said, “If that’s your position, then we may tell our client to just kill the project. And I said, “Great, I’ll be a hero to Helen Rosenthal.” They were shocked. Their thinking was, “How is it possible that you’re going to shut down a project that’s worth hundreds of millions of dollars?”

The council spent a lot of time working out a rezoning for Midtown East, to which REBNY essentially said, “Thanks but no thanks.” Did it feel like a waste of time? If everybody’s a little bit grumpy at the end, I feel like we did our job. I tend to feel that way about Midtown East. If you walk away from the project and somebody’s jumping up and down, I get a little bit nervous and I say, “Did we really cut as fair a deal as possible?”

What are the major misconceptions about NYC’s Orthodox Jewish community? People come to Borough Park and they see a lot of big houses and assume everybody’s rich. People don’t realize that the Orthodox Jewish community is one of the few communities where the very rich and very poor live side by side. So you could literally have somebody living in a $10 million mansion and have a three-story walk-up next door where some people are on Section 8.

What’s the best meal in Midwood? If you don’t keep kosher, it’s Di Fara Pizza. If you do, you go across the street to Kosher Bagel Hole, which in my opinion has the best kosher bagels in New York.

Does the extravagant wealth of the real estate industry put you off? I drive a Ford Fusion, so I certainly don’t fall in the category of people who have fancy lifestyles. Part of this business is you get to see massive displays of wealth. The fact that you own six homes and a private jet and a collection of cars, I don’t think is what should be impressive about you. It’s a great thing that you have so much money, but have you really made a difference?

Will you run for public office at some point? If you had asked me six months ago if I thought I’d be running the largest Jewish charity in New York, I’d say no. So in this business, the short answer is: you never know.

Advice for the next land use chairman? Play it straight and people will respect you.

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