The city's welfare system saw the end of an era last week as its czar, Jason Turner, commissioner of the Human Resource Administration for the last four years, was replaced by Verna Eggleston, an advocate for gay teens. Mayor Mike Bloomberg's newly appointed welfare commish comes direct from the billionaire's campaign, for which she worked as a consultant after taking leave as executive director of the Hetrick-Martin Institute, a social service group for gay youth.
While the mayor's choice was a surprise, and Eggleston a virtual unknown in the world of welfare, most child welfare advocates familiar with her work praised her, though at times with caution.
Before joining Hetrick-Martin, which bills itself as the world's largest nonprofit agency for gay youth, serving about 7,800 kids a year, Eggleston, a Republican, was deputy commissioner in the Koch and Dinkins administrations, supervising city foster homes for the Child Welfare Administration from about 1988 to 1992.
She “promotes self-help, self-sufficiency and personal responsibility, but always with compassion, empathy and an unusual level of sensitivity to the insensitivities of large bureaucratic organizations,” said her close friend and former CWA colleague Paul Jensen, now executive director of Graham Wyndham, a child welfare agency.
She has also worked with the National Center on Institutions and Alternatives and supervised the city's homeless family shelter programs.
There are some observers who question her level of management experience–Hetrick-Martin is a $3 million operation compared to HRA's $5 billion–but critics of the Giuliani administration's style of helping the poor are quick to note it could have been worse: Bloomberg insiders say both Turner and outgoing Deputy Commissioner Mark Hoover lobbied for the job.
As many of Mark Green's staffers pack up their desks, incoming Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum has brought in former City Councilmember Guillermo Linares as her deputy advocate for community assistance. Term limits forced Linares to step down from the Council on January 1. Also in Gotbaum's frantically rearranged office, Peter Williams has stepped in as deputy advocate for research after spending several years as director of housing and community development at the National Urban League. And among the folks Gotbaum has pulled from the New-York Historical Society, where she served as executive director and then president for seven years, is Edward Norris, her new chief of staff. Norris was chief of operations at the museum. Press Secretary Stewart Desmond settles into his desk in the Municipal Building after leaving his post as director of public affairs and programs at the historical society.
Not every face at the advocate's office will be new, though. Elizabeth Blaney, who led constituent services under Mark Green, will stay in that job.
After six years at the Abyssinian Development Corporation, and a brief stint last month as a candidate for commissioner of the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, Darren Walker will leave the Harlem-based affordable housing developer in early February for a post at the Rockefeller Foundation. As director of the Working Communities division, he will oversee investments made to revitalize poor urban communities, reform public education, increase employment rates and help civil rights groups. “It's what I've been doing at Abyssinian, on a national level,” said Walker. He replaces Julia Lopez, who was recently promoted to vice president at the foundation.
Abyssinian plans to split Walker's post in two but has yet to make any final job offers.
Last week, Bonnie Brower began her new gig as executive director of City Project, the progressive budget watchdog group. Brower, known to veteran city activists as the feisty former head of the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development, recently returned from Miami, where she lived for nearly a decade. There, she consulted for AIDS, housing and other nonprofits and wrote for travel guides.
Brower was one of the founders of the Housing Justice Campaign, which in the late 1980s sued to stop the Koch administration from implementing an ambitious housing development plan; the campaign contended that the so-called 10-year plan was discriminatory because it created apartments for middle-class households at the expense of badly needed new homes for people with moderate and low incomes. “I'm back to the world I love, which is advocacy,” said Brower from her new office. “It's not going to be easy.” City Project's departing executive director, Lynne Weikart, has been appointed a full-time tenured professor at Baruch College, where she has been teaching at the School for Public Affairs.