Retiring Park boss admits: ‘I don’t like parks’

The Brooklyn Paper
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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.

Updated 10:37 am, April 28, 2010
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Reasonable discourse

Grammarian from Canarsie says:
"Could have easily oversaw?" Did you overlook "overseen?"
April 28, 2010, 8:38 am
Anon from Brookyn Heights says:
This helps explain why we have apartments inside Brooklyn Bridge Park. It would have been nice to have a Parks Commissioner in Brooklyn who really cared about parks and understood the recreational needs of the borough. Can't rely on the fool Markowitz for that stuff. Who else is there? The billionaire Bloomberg? Jeeze.
April 28, 2010, 9:14 am
Sheila from plg says:
Brooklyn, there is a reason why you have an inferiority complex.
April 28, 2010, 9:24 am
tee gee from sunset park says:
julie is the best evidence that there should be "term limits" even for appointees - a decade or so on a job and then serve another 5 or so as an unpaid commissioner emeritus (if you have something to contribute from your experience).

julie doesn't see it, but he was like those early park workers - not putting in a full day.

to admit he lacked passion is what should someday be put on his tombstone.
April 28, 2010, 10:25 am
Pacholo from Red Hook says:
He was always out of touch in Brooklyn.
April 28, 2010, 3:08 pm
b from carroll gardens says:
Anybody watch Parks and Recreation? This dude is Ron Swanson!
April 30, 2010, 10:38 pm
John from Prospect Heights says:
Outgoing Commissioner Julius Spiegel -

Outgoing President Tupper Thomas -

Prospect Park may never recover from the years of neglect under these two.
May 1, 2010, 11:22 am
Michele from Kensington says:
Go and good riddance. Toss all past/current Park Administrators out and replace them with intelligent people who love nature, are keenly aware of environmental issues and are determined to preserve Prospect Park as Olmsted and Vaux intended-- as a place of natural beauty and Brooklyn's most precious asset.
May 9, 2010, 1:45 pm

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