He’s been Brooklyn’s park czar for almost 30 years, but outgoing Commissioner Julius Spiegel says he can’t identify trees, doesn’t know plants and has never really been all that interested in parks.
“I’m not a nature guy,” said Spiegel, who announced his retirement from the Parks Department this week and will be stepping down in September. “I think of myself as a manager. I have a good eye for talent.”
Spiegel was appointed Brooklyn Borough Commissioner — the first and only person to occupy the post — 29 years ago when he was 34-years-old.
But he won’t be spending his golden years relaxing in the parks he oversaw.
“I don’t know how much I’m going to use them,” Spiegel said. “I never did — I’d see too many things that pissed me off.”
During his reign, Spiegel, who earns $146,322 a year, oversaw the slashing of park staff in Brooklyn by more than 70 percent, going from 1,000 full-time employees to fewer than 300. But Spiegel doesn’t feel too bad about it — he says staff during the Ed Koch era spent most of their time goofing off.
“Back then guys didn’t work full days,” he says. “I have fired people in my day. You don’t relish it. I don’t expect 10-hour days — just don’t give me two-hour days.”
Spiegel might have come to the Parks Department as a numbers cruncher, but today he says he absolutely “can’t stand doing that kind of stuff.”
“Now I spend most of my time lobbying politicians for money,” he says. “I go and beg for money. That’s my job.”
Spiegel says his biggest regrets include missing a chance in 1992 to move Steeplechase Pier to a site near the New York Aquarium, and putting the kibosh on a planned tennis match between and incumbent Councilwoman Priscilla Wooten and then challenger Charles Barron a decade ago.
“I was instructed to make sure it didn’t happen,” Spiegel says. “I regret that. That was an anti-democratic thing to do.”
And even though he spent close to 30 years with the Parks Department, Spiegel said he could have easily oversaw some other city agency.
“If I had been appointed someplace else I hope I would have done just as well,” he said.
As he leaves his public life behind, the Bay Ridgite, who moved here from Montreal over four decades ago, still refusues to give his opinion on such important park initiatives like Borough President Markowitz’s plan to transform Asser Levy Seaside Park into a world-class outdoor concert hall — even though he hints he doens’t like the plan.
“I still have to have lunch in this town,” Spiegel said.