City Council Election 2021: Maria Danzilo Says Her Private Sector Skills Make Her Stand Out

Maria Danzilo.

By Carol Tannenhauser

This is Maria Danzilo’s first interview, ever. A candidate for the District 6 City Council seat from the Upper West Side, Danzilo, 64, has not been in the public eye before; she spent her entire career—34 years—in the private sector, as in-house counsel to John Wiley & Sons, a technical and scientific book publisher. Before retiring four years ago, she helped shepherd the company through the Amazon invasion of the book business in the 1990s, and would like to do the same for small businesses in the neighborhood. She spoke about that issue and others in a recent phone conversation with WSR.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Maria Danzilo: I experienced the disruption of my industry by technology from day one, and how we got through it. I worked with big tech to find ways to survive and thrive. I think there’s a lot of opportunity for small businesses to be successful and to use tech to their advantage. That’s where my skills could be helpful.

I’ve been living on the Upper West Side for 40 years. I raised three children here. It’s hard to be in the neighborhood now and not see that it has been somewhat destabilized. I think the pandemic has brought a lot of it out. I feel a real calling to public service, given how many challenges we’re facing. I have very strong business/legal experience that I want to use for the benefit of the community.

West Side Rag: Everybody wants to fix the small-business crisis. What would you do specifically?

MD: I would start with the regulatory environment. I have a Master’s degree in trade regulation and I know and understand regulations: how to read them and the pros and cons. One thing I’m hearing over and over again from small businesses is that they’re drowning in regulations. I’m sure many of them are good and needed, but many might require a serious rethink. Also, how are we taxing our small businesses? Are they being overly fined, a cash cow for the city? Small businesses are a wonderful way for our immigrant communities to get a foothold in the city, either by working in or owning them. Are our tax and regulatory structures reflecting the philosophy of respect we need to help them be successful?

WSR: Playing the Devil’s advocate, is it possible that small businesses have had their day? Has the pandemic sealed it with all of us ordering everything online? Are their days numbered?

MD: I love the question! I think about the way Leonard Riggio, who owned Barnes & Noble, responded when Amazon was making huge encroachments in the book business. He said, ‘There will always be a place for the bookstore in our culture.’ He meant live, brick-and-mortar bookstores. We need brick-and-mortar stores in our neighborhood—restaurants, gyms, retail shops, services. They build a feeling of community and engagement, and provide jobs. There will be a reimagining of the kind of businesses that will thrive and be successful, but, ultimately, communities need them to bring people together.

WSR: A related issue, what about all the scaffolding that’s hurting a lot of small businesses? Take Hi-Life Bar & Grill on W. 83rd and Amsterdam, the scaffolding’s been up for seven years.

MD: I’d love to take that issue on. I’d love to dig into it, understand what’s going on with that scaffolding. I can’t wait to do the deep-dive jobs. I believe engagement with constituents is essential.

WSR: What would you have done if you were the City Council person during the whole Lucerne controversy? Are or were you aligned with either the UWS Open Hearts Initiative or WestCo?

MD: First of all, the court has ruled on The Lucerne and we have to honor the decision. Unfortunately, it turned into a very contentious and divisive issue. What I would have done is to find ways to bring the community together, not divide it. What our elected leaders did was divide the community—even use the divisiveness for political gain by grandstanding press conferences, sponsored by Open Hearts Initiative, that did nothing to address the issue. I hear the concerns of my neighbors about how things were handled by DHS and the provider: the lack of oversight, community engagement, and transparency, and I hear the concerns of the homeless and their advocates. But I refuse to believe that one side has a monopoly on compassion. We need to address homelessness, and I am not afraid to take it on directly. I am aligned with solving the problem.

WSR: Lately, you’ve been using the hashtag #savetheuws on Twitter, which has become a rallying cry for groups opposed to housing homeless men at The Lucerne, and you’re getting some positive attention from those groups. Is that intentional?

MD: I did not realize the possible implication of the hashtag. I use several different tags, and I have used this one because it reaches a large audience and I believe in the message. We do need to save the UWS, and I think the way to do that is to elect new leadership to help us move forward and bring people together to address the issues facing our neighborhood. However, I am not going to use it going forward to avoid any confusion.

WSR: What other issue is deeply important to you?

MD: Clean and safe streets. We must prioritize safety. There’s been a real uptick in crime; it is not the West Side we know and love. One thing we need for sure is our fair share of safety dollars. City Council members are in charge of the budget. We have to look at the whole issue of the police budget—how and where we’re spending money—and make sure the officers are on the street, doing the work they’re supposed to do, and that there’s proper reporting of crime and follow up—all of the things we need to address crime and quality of life.

WSR: What’s your position on the City’s decision to eliminate testing to get into Gifted & Talented programs in our schools?

MD: I think it’s a mistake. I think we should retain G & T programs as is, with certain caveats. The City feels it’s become an unfair system in terms of access, that some kids are better prepared than others for the entry test. So they’d go to a lottery system. I say, can we instead help kids be better prepared and provide more opportunity for them to get into those programs, rather than just get rid of them? We need more outreach, more communication, more enrichment, more support, more inclusion. Plus, the decision was made without any community input; it was just announced that they were abolishing them; there was no discussion. When I started seeing how we were doing things on the Upper West Side…these community board meetings…the lack of transparency and engagement with the community…this is not the way you have a good, functioning government.

WSR: Can you beat Gale Brewer?

MD: I don’t know, but let me say first, I find it completely obnoxious that anyone would think because she’s been around a long time, she should not run. To me that’s just ageist. If we looked at age as a criterion for whether you’re qualified for public office, we wouldn’t have Joe Biden. So let’s forget that argument. To me, Gale is representative of a way of government that is not working. We have so many issues, we’re spending so much money, and we’re not getting anywhere! And the idea that you should just play musical chairs with the jobs and everyone is entitled to another job when their term is up—that kind of thinking is getting us into trouble.

I have no aspirations for higher office. I want to roll up my sleeves and work on the City Council for the term, then return to the private sector. I’m not a career politician. That could give us a break from where we’ve been and allow us to look at things through a lens that might move things forward. We need to acknowledge in a real way that this is a time in history like we’ve never had before. This pandemic has brought huge problems to the city, and it’s going to take a different mindset, a different kind of leader to move us forward. I think I have the passion and skill set for it.

The Democratic primary is on June 22, 2021.

Read WSR’s interview with Gale Brewer here.

Next: David Gold.

NEWS | 28 comments | permalink
    1. Carlos says:

      Ms. Danzilo sounds like a perfect candidate. A compassionate, caring person, but also one with real world experience and values. She seems to be espousing traditional Democratic values rather than racing to the extreme left.

      Our neighborhood and our city needs more representatives like this. Thank you for entering the race!

      • Ali says:

        Yes! I think it would be great to have some fresh ideas and perspective. And someone who genuinely cares about the community. Sick of the same old, as well as the up and comers who spend their time making up stories and verbally attacking community members (cough Lind cough).

      • Thank you for your support and kind words! I love the UWS and if I am elected you can be sure I will always put the best interests of our great community first.

    2. Frank Grimes says:

      Wow, a candidate with real world, private sector experience, didnt think that existed anymore in NYC. I think the most important thing she said was that she has no aspiration for higher office. This womans’ only motivation to run seems to be to help a neighborhood she invested in and loves. That passion is clearly lacking, as I have no idea what our current rep is doing, as shes been MIA through this entire pandemic,

      These younger non-NY transplants clearly want to use the platform as a stepping stone to higher office, and GB is just a re-tread, although she does seem more progressive these days, as thats the flavor of the month.

      • Jay says:

        Frank Grimes:

        Bloomberg, lots of private sector experience, and a disaster for small business and everyone not extremely wealthy.

        As for Helen Rosenthal being “MIA”, I suggest you consult her website as to what she’s done in the last 12 months.

        • Frank Grimes says:

          Hi Jay-
          Bloomberg hasn’t been in office in 8 years, and it’s safe to say every NY’r would welcome him back with open arms at this point. He may not have been perfect, but the city ran far better then, than now. Therefore I will stick to my original point that I prefer candidates who can relate to the working class constituents they represent. I think having held a job outside of government/politics is an important quality I look for in a candidate.

          As far as your opinion on HR, you are entitled to say she’s doing an excellent job, but I think you would be in the minority. But that’s the beauty of politics, we can both be right.

          • DAVID NATOLI says:

            I for one would not welcome Bloomberg back with open arms. He was a total disaster for small business and he sold out the city to the highest bidder every time. Am awful Mayor.

    3. Bill says:

      I will absolutely vote for her

    4. Balebusta says:

      Finally a common sense person who actually wants to help all UWS’ers! Someone with the education and experience to do the job well and for whom this position is not a vanity project, but clearly born from her connection and loyalty to the neighborhood. I love her thoughtful responses and that she doesn’t just give platitudes — she wants to actually address the root problem (eg G&T program…I agree that the answer is not eliminate the program but rather to make it equitable!). I can’t wait to hear more from her.

    5. smallbear says:

      I found her response on scaffolding to be a little lacking. I would have hoped someone who has lived here for 40 years would have some more specific ideas besides saying they would like to look into it. It seems that right now landlords can build a “shed” over the sidewalk and leave it there for years, instead of fixing their buildings. Surely there could be a set limit to the number of years the scaffolding/shed can stay up? Other large cities of the world don’t have scaffolding covering entire sidewalks for years on end.

      • I just wanted to respond to the scaffolding question. There are a number of scaffolding constructions in the neighborhood that have been up for years. There needs to be limits on these projects and real enforcement of laws and regulations.

    6. Jay says:

      How’s Barnes and Noble doing?

      Didn’t John Wiley move to Hoboken, and isn’t its business model now highly dependent on online specialist journal subscriptions?

      • your_neighbor says:

        The companies you mentioned did what was necessary to keep relevant as technology and shopping styles changed? Do you think they should have kept to their old business models and gone out of business?
        It looks like Maria Danzilo, unlike the currently entrenched politicians understands that change is necessary to move forward.

    7. Andrew says:

      Maria sounds like the real deal, concerned about UWS issues and practical ways of tackling them. Her experience in the private sector is a plus these days when we get so many inexperienced people interested in a city council seat as a stepping stone to higher offices. I’ll definitely consider voting for her, thank you WestSideRag for this interview

    8. 72RSD says:

      This is the type of no-nosense, sensible candidate I’ve bee waiting for! Someone willing to call a spade a spade — we need to improve our public schools, look at onerous regulations hitting small business, clean up streets. I didn’t think rational candidates like this existed.

      Thank you WSR for profiling her, I wouldn’t have heard of her otherwise! Tempted to volunteer with her if possible.

    9. Chris says:

      The city has a spending problem not a taxing problem. Cut spending then cut taxes

    10. NotImpressed says:

      After reading the interview, I don’t have a clue as to any of her proposed solutions to the problems identified.

      • LivableCity says:

        You said it! Sounds like maybe she has some good energy and experience for “deep dives” in to one or two of the issues she cares about, but is rather vague and uninformed about a lot else. I hope she can help in specific areas – small business need the help. But a city council person has to really be on top of a broad range of issues and able to judge and delegate and resolve and move ahead on them.

    11. Rob G. says:

      Love her! It may take her some time to undo the damage that her two predecessors inflicted on the neighborhood, but she seems to have the chops to get things right. We need someone who is a pragmatist, not a panderer.

    12. Marco says:

      Wish she were running in District 7 where it seems some who are running on a platform of low income housing are actually shills for the real estate industry. Just what we need more luxury condo towers with the obligatory few “low income” apartments.

    13. Brandon says:

      It’s a little embarrassing how thin on substance Maria Danzilo’s answers were. I assume she has her heart in the right place, but why run for office as a candidate who can shake up the status quo when you have almost no real policy agenda to bring to the table?

    14. Dream On says:

      PASS. She claims she would “bring the neighborhood together” on the Lucerne issue. If she can do that we should make her special envoy to the Middle East. She has ZERO government experience. NYC is complex and takes years to figure out how to get things done. She should join the Community Board first.

    15. William Pearlman says:

      She sounds way too intelligent and rational to be a member of the NYC council.

    16. chuck d says:

      This candidate IS the status quo…

      “I think we should retain G & T programs as is” (pro-apartheid)

      “I’d love to dig into it, understand what’s going on…” (study something forever )

      We need to address homelessness, and I am not afraid to take it on directly. I am aligned with solving the problem. (zero solutions)

      “I think about the way Leonard Riggio, who owned Barnes & Noble, responded…” (will turn to her 0.01%er friend who destroyed small businesses to advice on how to save small businesses)

      • JSW says:

        Chuck D- The G & T programs are not without problems, but your hyperbolic “pro-apartheid” comment hardly contributes to the conversation. I don’t know what the answer is – more affirmative action in these programs, kill them altogether, replace them with charter schools (with more affirmative action)? – but again, very complex problem that should be addressed without causing bigger ones (which is the likely outcome of your approach).

        Studying a problem is the only way to work toward a solution. Sometimes when one digs into a problem one discovers there are few/no good solutions, and so inertia wins. That is often not the worst outcome. This is likely a liberal/progressive dividing line – liberalism seeks to create opportunity, progressivism seeks to create outcomes. This emphasis on outcome always demands action, even if the careful study you disparage shows that action will almost certainly make matters worse.

        Homelessness is a national and cultural problem. It won’t be solved by New York City, or Seattle, Portland, Stockton – or any one of the localities who disproportionately are paying a price for it. That does not mean New York City can be without a plan to deal with it – it just means that New York City CANNOT solve it. I agree, this was a disappointing choice of words, “aligned with solving the problem,” but likely for different reasons from your objection.

        Barnes & noble did not destroy small business – technology destroyed and is destroying small business every day. We all bear responsibility for that (since consumers fuel the fire), and for figuring out how to create an economy based on more than simply what’s convenient.

        I thought this candidate interview was more honest about the problems facing the neighborhood and the city than most.

        • Chuck D says:

          “Studying a problem is the only way to work toward a solution.”

          We’ve been studying G&T, homelessness, and scaffolding for decades. Instead we study it. And study it. And study it. If we can’t even openly and honestly look at the issues as they are, we get no where. With G&T, we can’t even admit that the issue is segregation. She won’t even say the word.

          Same with scaffolding. It’s a $7 billion industry despite the fact that that A) drones could inspect the facade in a fraction of the time and for less cost and B) scaffolding kills more people than loose facades do. You think any of that is going to change? No. Not going to happen. No matter how much energy she wastes “digging in” on the subject. Why? Because it’s not an honest investigation. She will not, cannot, solve that problem.

          Barnes & Noble indeed did killed every small bookstore they could and largely succeeded… then failed to read the writing on the wall about the internet. Her reflexive answer to look at what a billionaire did as a solution is a huge red flag for me. All of the worst of Bloomberg’s impulses are in that answer.

          • JSW says:

            Again, G&T is problematic, and results in de facto segregation, but it is not apartheid. Eliminating it will not solve a broken education system that nonetheless spends vastly more money per student than any other urban school system in the nation – for considerably worse results.

            Homelessness is several different problems lumped together. A smaller piece of it is people/families falling temporarily into the safety net. This piece is the only one that is “solvable”. The permanently homeless and the mentally ill present problems for which there is no good solution (certainly no local one), if there is any solution at all, so it gets “studied” a lot.

            You do seem to have lots of helpful knowledge about the scaffolding issue, but to the candidate’s point (and yours too / scaffolding more dangerous than facades) some of the problem may be over-regulation which requires the scaffolding. I would be interested in your thoughts on that.

            Barnes & Noble didn’t kill small book sellers, the consumer did. It turned out that people wanted discounted books in an emporium more than they wanted the corner book shop. Add to that the cost of renting a storefront (also because of personal preference – people wanting to be in NYC) – the only way to make money in the business was to go big (our national economy favors the large over the small, with some significant benefits and more significant problems). Technology has accelerated the same problem: today we have stores facing high cost and and consumer preference for shopping the web. Is that Jeff Bezos’ fault? If it wasn’t him (or Leonard Riggio), someone else would have given the people what they wanted. Should we do something about it? Yes, but the path forward regulating technology’s influence over us all will be excruciatingly difficult.

    17. UWSer says:

      I will be voting for you!