UPPER WEST SIDE — The leadership of the Upper West Side's Community Board 7 is changing hands.
The board, which plays a role in shaping decisions affecting quality of life issues in the neighborhood, will be chaired by Elizabeth Caputo as of Nov. 1.
Caputo, 40, who has proven business acumen, political organizing skills — and a passion for dogs — has a tough act to follow, she said.
The current chairman, Mark Diller, a father, attorney and longtime neighborhood resident, has served brilliantly for the past two years, she said.
"Mark’s name is the gold standard," said Caputo, who has lived in the neighborhood for 19 years.
But it's not just living up to Diller's reputation in the community and among the 50 volunteer board members that will make her job challenging. It's also the massive time commitment and the neighborhood's expectations, which are quite high, she said.
Issues like new bike lanes, redevelopment plans for local public housing and schools, improvements to parks and updates to landmarked buildings are among the controversial issues CB7 has been faced with recently and which the board chair has to lead in navigating.
Caputo said she's ready.
"My job, whether I’m for the bike lane on Amsterdam or against it, my job is to make sure that no public member or board member walks out and says the process wasn’t fair," she said.
Her interest in public service stems back to a meaningful experience in high school, she said. An Indiana native, Caputo was involved in a mock leadership conference in the capital for girls when she was 16.
She ran for governor in the mock election and won through a strategy of knocking on the door of every conference participant to meet them and talk, she said.
That sense of never taking anyone for granted is part of what drives her vision for the community board: to become a place where every voice matters and more people are included, she said.
"I want the same 100 to 150 people coming to meetings, but I want new people to feel welcome and that their voice matters as much as people who’ve been here for a long time or run a non-profit," she said.
She'd like more people to know what the community board is and what it does and will make outreach a centerpiece of her one-year term, which could be extended up to three years.
As a new member in 2010, Caputo brought the board up to speed technologically by regularly updating its twitter handle, @CB7Manhattan, and making social media a priority.
Internet access is an issue for many in the community and she'll be looking for other ways to reach out to people, like gatherings and outreach to community centers, she said.
While she readily admits that many on the board are not just older but wiser and more experienced, she also notes that this isn't her first time managing a board or managing people and projects.
Caputo was the chairwoman of Democratic Leadership in the 21st Century, an organization whose mission was to engage more people in politics, and she's worked on several political campaigns including for Wesley Clark and Carl McCall, who served as state comptroller.
From her work in public finance, at Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs, and now at a firm called Janney Montgomery Scott, helping New York state municipalities save money, Caputo has sharpened her analytical prowess and management skills. She also holds an MBA from Harvard Business School.
Her interest in business stemmed from her frustration with "the fact that a lot of public-facing people didn’t know how budget financing works," she said.
When she presented her platform at the full board meeting in early October, Caputo said she did receive questions about her ability to handle the board role and a full-time job.
She plans to be accessible, accountable and where she's needed, but she also said she knows how to delegate.
"My style is much more about motivating the troops and organizing them to do things," she said.
Caputo said she'll focus on issues like development, education, housing and transportation in the neighborhood.
The owner of an adopted Golden Retriever Pyrenees mix named Leo, Caputo also has a soft spot for animal welfare issues and the concerns of dog owners and said she'll also be incorporating those into the board's work as well.