The city’s longtime Sanitation Commissioner, Kathryn Garcia, one of Mayor de Blasio’s most dependable troubleshooters, has resigned, calling potential layoffs and the slashing of innovative programs at the department “unconscionable.”
Ms. Garcia, who has spent nearly her entire professional career within city departments, is said to be exploring a run for Mayor. Her last day at Sanitation will be Sept. 18.
In her Sept. 8 resignation letter to the Mayor, which was provided by a source within the Department of Sanitation, Ms. Garcia was highly critical of the decision not to replace more than 400 Sanit workers who left the agency and for the slashing of an electronics recycling program earlier this year to meet budget obligations.
“At a time when protecting public health is of the essence, cutting basic sanitation services is unconscionable,” she wrote.
With the department now also facing possible layoffs of 750 Sanitation Workers and more that 150 civilian workers, she couched her decision to leave her post as an ethical one.
Ms. Garcia said cutting the department’s workforce by that many would severely compromise its ability to remove snow, pick up garbage and litter and collect recyclables.
“In solidarity with hardworking DSNY employees, I cannot stand by while that happens,” she wrote the Mayor. “The budget crisis is incredibly severe, but I am disappointed to see so much of the work we have done over the last six years being walked back. If, as if often said, budgets are a statement of values, my values require me to resign in the face of these cuts, which will harm New Yorkers.”
'A Breath of Fresh Air'
Harry Nespoli, the president of the roughly 6,000-strong Uniformed Sanitationmen's Association, said Ms. Garcia’s tenure “was like a breath of fresh air.”
He said she helped turn around a department previously sometimes mired in quicksand occasioned by snowstorms and sluggish garbage pickups with her “tremendous amounts” enthusiasm and appreciation for the rank and file.
Mr. Nespoli, who has led the union for nearly 18 years, said Ms. Garcia was always available to discuss improvements at the agency, particularly regarding snow-removal operations, women’s facilities and garages, all of which she would eventually implement.
“She actually made a difference because of her energy,” he said the day following her announcement. “She gave me the chance. She weighed it all. She did a lot of research and she got back to me.”
He said Ms. Garcia’s willingness to occasionally attend early-morning roll calls and to be on hand, particularly for snow emergencies was a boost for worker morale in a department that is not seen as the most alluring.
“That was novel, and totally different,” Mr. Nespoli said. “That means something to sanitation workers. It’s not a glamorous job, but it’s an important job.”
If Ms. Garcia, 50, does make a run for Mayor, and presumably as a Democrat, she would be joining what is already shaping up to be a crowded primary field.
She resigned the same day Comptroller Scott Stringer announced his candidacy, and both City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams are expected to join a field that already consists of one other former de Blasio deputy, Loree Sutton, who directed the city’s Department of Veterans’ Services under Mr. de Blasio until last October. Aanother, Maya Wiley, the Mayor’s former top counsel and chair of the Civilian Complaint Review Board, is also expected to announce a run.
“Look, she's one of three very talented, effective leaders from my administration who have now chosen to either run for Mayor or explore a run for the mayoralty: Kathryn, Maya Wiley, Loree Sutton," Mr. de Blasio said. "I'm proud of all of them, what they achieved in this administration. Three strong women. I think that's good for New York City. So I wish her and all of them great luck.”
In February 2019, Ms. Garcia was tapped by Mr. de Blasio as Interim Chair of the New York City Housing Authority shortly after his administration reached agreement with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to address longstanding problems at NYCHA, including lead-paint exposure and broken elevators. She held that post for five months.
At DSNY, she rejiggered the city’s snow response and assembled the nation’s largest curbside organics-collection program.
Before her Sanit appointment, Ms. Garcia, a native New Yorker, had held several posts at the city’s Department of Environmental Protection during an eight-year tenure there, eventually becoming Chief Operating Officer. Prior to that, she spent 10 years as vice president of Appleseed, a nonprofit consulting firm and advocacy organization, where she specialized in economic-development strategies and urban planning.
She started her civic career as an intern the office of Sanitation Commissioner John J. Doherty, whom she would eventually replace, before becoming a policy analyst at the city’s Department of Finance.
Ms. Garcia attended Stuyvesant High School before going on to earn a bachelor’s degree in Economics and History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
We depend on the support of readers like you to help keep our publication strong and independent. Join us.