David Greenfield, who has been a brash voice for his Boro Park and Flatbush district these past seven years, shocked the political establishment early Monday morning with his announcement that he is not running for reelection and will leave political life next year to head one of the city’s largest Jewish social services agencies.
The powerful Democratic lawmaker, who still had four years left before term limits kicked in, told Hamodia that he got an offer from the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty to help people on a much grander scale that he could not refuse.
“I’m excited about the huge potential there,” said Greenfield, who would become the Met Council’s executive director. “The organization is in a very good place. Obviously it is a really important organization — they have a staff of nearly 200 people, they have many JCCs in literally every single borough across the community, they have a portfolio of affordable housing, they have direct services, and obviously they’re an advocacy group as well.”
Under former CEO William Rapfogel, who left the Met Council in 2014, the Orthodox community has been a focus of the group’s efforts to combat poverty. Greenfield, who replaces current CEO Alan Schoor, is certain to continue that.
“My focus is really to build on the success the Met Council already enjoys and to really take it to the next level,” he added. “But especially to focus on the needy people in our community and try to figure out how we can expand services and, more importantly, how we can help them get out of poverty.”
The group founded in 1972 is not as well-known as its local affiliated JCCs, such as the Boro Park JCC and COJO in Flatbush are. Greenfield will serve his last day in office on Dec. 31 and will begin his new position the next day.
The race to replace Greenfield, who had faced no opponent, is sure to be an intense one. Since the Democratic primary is in less than two months, the deadline to get onto the ballot is this Friday night, making it a race against time for interested candidates to put forth their names.
Greenfield, who has already gathered enough signatures for another run, likely controls who will succeed him on the Democratic ballot. He has spoken already to Brooklyn Democratic party chairman Frank Seddio, who has indicated his support.
Kalman Yeger, a member of Community Board 14 in Midwood, is thought to have the upper hand. He is currently running against the councilman in the nearby Midwood district, Chaim Deutsch. Replacing Greenfield on the ballot will end a primary that pitted two cousins and Orthodox Jews against each other.
However, several people who spoke to Hamodia expressed concern with a new councilman being forced on the district. Greenfield says he has not made up his mind yet. He is consulting with leaders and mosdos in the district and will try to reach a consensus candidate.
“I made a commitment, I will not be doing this on my own,” he said. “We have to make a decision by the end of the week; that’s the timeline.”
A meeting with leaders of several of the district’s largest mosdos was planned for Monday night, a source told Hamodia.
Other potential candidates include Simcha Eichenstein, who works in Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office, and Nachman Caller, Boro Park’s Republican district leader.
The next councilman may get on the ballot by either getting access to the Democratic primary through Greenfield’s list of signatures, run as independents or on another party line in November.
Zack Fink of NY1 tweeted that “one insider suggests” that Simcha Felder may leave his position in the state Senate to return to the Council. The rumor was debunked by a source close to the senator as “totally not true, not even a thought on it.”
Since his 2011 victory in a special election to fill Felder’s city council seat, Greenfield has emerged as a prominent voice for his district. He is chairman of the Land Use Committee, considered the second most powerful in the council, with oversight over all city lands and zoning issues. He is also a member of the budget negotiating team.
Greenfield used his power to push through community-specific issues such as an increase in afterschool vouchers, Erev Shabbos meters and yeshivah security guards, as well as broader items such as getting streets plowed after snowstorms and easing parking regulations. He has sponsored 27 pieces of legislation that were ultimately signed into law.
He counts three moments as his proudest in the legislature. When anti-Israel protesters interrupted a City Council vote on a resolution commemorating the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, his impassioned protest went viral. He also ushered through a law providing security guards for yeshivos and secured funding to renovate every one of the seven parks in his districts.
As for Greenfield, is he through with elected office?
“If you would have asked me three weeks ago, ‘Are you going to be running a nonprofit in the end of the year?’ I would have said, ‘Probably not,’ ” Greenfield said. “I have no idea what’s going to happen in the future.”