New district manager takes the reins at Community Board 9

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Dante Arnwine (right) with Community Board 9 Chair Fred Baptiste outside the board’s district office.
Mia Hilton

Crown Heights’ Community Board 9 officially has a new district manager, after six years of operating without one.

Newly hired District Manager Dante Arnwine got to work on March 22, putting in motion his plan to restore the reputation of the notoriously contentious board.

“I’m looking forward to renewing its reputation,” he told Brooklyn Paper. “It’s no secret that this community board hasn’t had a district manager in six years, so I really want people to know that there’s good leadership here, this community board is going to be active on all fronts.”

As its leader, Arnwine will be responsible for managing the board’s records, conducting business at its Nostrand Avenue district office, and scheduling its meetings, among other administrative duties. New York City’s 59 community boards act as a street-level intermediary between local residents and government agencies, and weigh in on issues like bike lanes, liquor licenses, and land-use changes.

Arnwine’s hiring was the result of a year and a half long process, spearheaded by Chair Fred Baptiste, who restarted the long-stalled search for a district manager after taking over as chair in July 2019.

“It feels great,” Baptiste said. “That’s the understatement of the year.” 

The board’s search committee reviewed 142 candidates and eventually landed on Arnwine, a Tennessee native with experience in both the City Council and the Department of Housing Preservation and Development. 

“What I think set him apart was probably his interview skills,” Baptiste said of Arnwine. “He came in thoughtful, respectful of the board, but he had ideas in terms of what he could contribute to the board.”

Previous attempts to fill the position were stymied by lawsuits from local activists and caused fractures among board members who were unable to come to a consensus on a candidate.

Arnwine says he wants to prioritize making the board more accessible and technologically savvy, which it has been forced in part to do as meetings have gone online during the pandemic.

“One of the biggest things that I mentioned in the interview process is making the board a tech-friendly board,” he said. “Right now we’re almost doing everything through Zoom, through phone calls, so I really want to figure out a way to make the community board tech-friendly for everyone.”

Arnwine also wants to make his presence as district manager more known throughout Crown Heights and Prospect Lefferts Gardens. Though he lives in Queens, he says he is looking for an apartment in the district and has been walking the streets of its neighborhoods over the course of the last few weeks to get to know its feel, its residents, and its local business owners.

“Walking around the district has been very helpful,” Arnwine said. “One thing I want to do is let people know that there is a district manager here, and my job here is to connect people who have an interest in this district to resources provided by government.”

Arnwine’s arrival is particularly timely, as the civic panel faces the biggest project to come before it in years: the 960 Franklin Avenue Rezoning, which aims to bring a multi-tower development with over 1,500 apartments to a parcel of land on Franklin Avenue adjacent to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s growhouses.

The rezoning is currently on hold due to a lawsuit over virtual hearings, but once it resumes, Arnwine says he wants to make sure community members have their voices heard.

“With this developer coming in and not asking for their input, that’s not welcoming, it’s kind of dishonest,” he said. “I think, moving forward, the community board is going to be a mouthpiece for the community.”