Harry Nespoli had a few things he wanted to say Dec. 30 about Kathryn Garcia, the former Sanitation Commissioner to whom he had given an early endorsement for Mayor, and Howard Rubenstein, the union's longtime publicist, who died the day before at age 88.
When we asked why the Uniformed Sanitationmen's Association had so quickly given its backing to Ms. Garcia in a race that now includes more than 30 candidates, Mr. Nespoli told us she had impressed him from the time she came to Sanitation in March 2014 after serving as chief operating officer of the Department of Environmental Protection.
The previous Commissioner, John Doherty, had become more intent on not going over budget than on making sure workers and facilities were adequately taken care of, Mr. Nespoli said.
"He fought me on water," Mr. Nespoli said regarding the union's request that Sanitation Workers be supplied with drinking water while making collections. "Our furnaces in garages were breaking down," leaving employees without heat during some of the coldest days of the year.
Soon after Ms. Garcia took over, he spoke to her about those issues, and "she showed interest in workers that had to perform the duties," he said. "You could always put a band-aid on something, but she started replacing furnaces so it would be warm in garages when our workers were working in snow—she fought for it" with City Hall.
"You need a constant flow of money to do the right thing," the USA leader continued. "Garcia was that person. She kept getting us the equipment to do our best."
And, he added, "She knows government." Besides her experience at DEP, he noted that Mayor de Blasio had tapped her to help the Housing Authority and oversee a city program that delivered food to needy residents as examples of her ability to get things done.
Mr. Rubenstein was best known for his agency's work on behalf of some of the world's most-powerful people, from foreign rulers to George Steinbrenner, Rupert Murdoch and Donald Trump. But Rubenstein Associates over the years represented a number of uniformed unions, including what was then known as the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, the now-defunct Housing Police Benevolent Association, and the USA, which is his agency's longest municipal-union client.
Mr. Nespoli did not become a Sanitation Worker until a couple of months after that relationship began in February 1968, but he was familiar with its origin. A garbage strike had led to the jailing of John DeLury, the founding president of the union, and Mr. Rubenstein's offer to help, conveyed to its longtime consultant, Jack Bigel, led to him reaching out to Mr. DeLury.
"John said, 'Can you get me out of jail?' Howard told him he could," Mr. Nespoli said.
Mr. Nespoli wasn't sure how Mr. Rubenstein managed it, but added, "Howard's antennas reached out to a lot of people."
His fondest memory of Mr. Rubenstein involved the union obtaining Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday as a paid holiday in 2009. Mr. Nespoli felt a visceral connection to the slain civil-rights leader, who had been assassinated April 4, 1968 while helping striking sanitation workers in Memphis. He had made a trip to that Tennessee city to learn more about Dr. King, speaking to retired sanitation workers about the conditions that had led to their striking shortly after New York's walkout concluded.
Many other city unions had gotten Dr. King's birthday as a holiday by trading one of the others that their members had enjoyed, but Mr. Nespoli felt it was important to get it as "an extra holiday," and negotiated it with Mr. Bloomberg's Labor Commissioner, the late Jim Hanley. For union members' first celebration of it, he said, Mr. Rubenstein coordinated an elaborate celebration that got an enthusiastic reception from the union's rank and file.
"He made it more important than just having a day off," Mr. Nespoli said.
Pat Smith, who retired Dec. 24 after handling the USA account for Mr. Rubenstein, praised his boss's "unblinking commitment to ethics."
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