This summer Community Board 11 will do something it has never done before: look for a new district manager.
Howard Feuer, 56, is leaving the post after more than 30 years on the job. The Bensonhurst product of Lafayette High School and Long Island University is the longest-serving district manager in the history of New York City. He’s been a municipal employee for even longer than that.
Community Board 11 Chairperson Bill Guarinello told members last week that a selection committee will “follow the letter of the law” in reviewing applications to fill the vacancy created by Feuer’s exit and should have a pick come September.
Community boards were totally new things back in January 1977 when a 25-year-old Feuer decided to leave his job at Brooklyn Borough Hall. Mayor Edward I. Koch was just rising to power and actress Julie Newmar was doing TV spots for Korvettes on Bay Parkway.
“My mother was totally against it,” Feuer told the Bay News this week. ‘Why are you doing this?’ she said. ‘How long do you think this job is going to last?’”
But young Feuer felt that the city was just getting too big and that making government more local was an idea whose time had come.
“There was no place to go if the shopkeeper on your corner was putting his garbage out wrong,” Feuer said. “There was no place for a public hearing on zoning or variances.”
Even though their decisions are strictly advisory, Feuer believes that over the last 30 years community boards have empowered neighborhood people.
“Our decisions are looked at,” he insisted. “When a board votes against something it’s a red flag about the project. Who would have done that before?”
One of the things the outgoing DM is most proud is a Community Board 11 resolution passed a number of years ago attaching incentives and penalties to construction projects done on behalf of the city.
“That ended up being a pilot program in Bensonhurst and later became a standard,” the retiring district manger said.
Throughout his career Feuer has worked very closely with a variety of different elected officials, but he says he never thought about running for public office himself.
“I never had that inkling,” he explained. “I don’t need to stand on a subway platform to say hello to people who don’t want to see me anyway. I always just did my job.”
For Howard Feuer, being Community Board 11’s district manager was enough.
“Being district manager is a great opportunity,” he said. “It’s not like a regular job. Every day is different. It makes waking up in the morning a little bit more exciting.”
By Feuer’s count Community Board 11 has had six or seven different people serve as chair during his long tenure as the district manager – and they all let him do his thing.
“I was able to push items on the agenda,” he said. “They let me run with this job and I never looked for another one. I was never bored.”
According to Feuer, he never had any intention of actually retiring, but after a series of personal setbacks including a back operation last year that did go as successfully as he would have liked, and the recent death of his brother, he decided to step away.
The longtime resident of Contello Towers now lives with his wife Gail on Long Island. Gail Feuer – who serves as principal of P.S. 215 on Avenue S – is also set to retire from her post.
Brooklyn is certainly a lot different place than when Feuer first became district manager 30 years ago.
“I think it’s a safer place,” he said. “Bensonhurst has evolved. It really has changed but it’s still a place where people want to live. The housing stock is still good with the rezoning against overdevelopment. Contextual zoning now reflects what’s there. It could have been a disaster.”
Although he wasn’t always successful at it, Feuer said that as district manager he tried to “fly under the radar.”
“I know that I’ve been guilty,” he said. “I have rubbed people the wrong way, but it was always based on my concern for the community. I fought with people but it was based on my feeling that the community was somehow being shortchanged, and that was mistake.”
Whoever ultimately succeeds him, Feuer says that the next DM will have to be able to work with agencies and high level officials in a diplomatic way. In other words – “know when to hold ‘em and to fold ‘em.”
“Be yourself,” he advised. “Take it slow and easy. Try not to make enemies. Build alliances. You get things done based on your relationship with people.”
Although he’s retiring, Feuer promises to make himself available to the next district manager.
“I’ll always be there for the next manager,” he said. “It’s so much a part of my life. It’s almost who I am.”
Feuer will officially bid adieu in September when Community Board 11 reconvenes after the summer break.
“I’m 56 years old,” Feuer said. “There will be life for me after Community Board 11. I’m not fading off into sunset. It’ll just be another part of my life.”
Guarinello acknowledged that “Howie’s been the one and only,” but promised a “seamless” transition.