BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | Jamie Rogers, the new chairperson of Community Board 3, deeply values the East Village and Lower East Side’s diversity and vitality, and there’s nowhere else he’d rather live. As a relative newcomer to the city, the community board has been a “rock” of support for him. In fact, he even met his wife when they were both on C.B. 3 together. Before too long, she could be representing the district in the City Council.
Now, in his new leadership role, Rogers wants to give back to the community that has already given him so much in his brief time here.
Rogers, 34, recently met with The Villager for an interview at one of his coffee shops, AVA Brew, in the ground floor of AVA DoBro, a new high-rise by Avalon on Willoughby St. in Downtown Brooklyn. He also owns two Pushcart Coffee shops in Manhattan — at W. 25th St. and Ninth Ave. in Chelsea, and at E. 21st St. and Second Ave. in Gramercy — plus a Bakery and Roastery in Bushwick.
Another Pushcart Coffee, at E. 12th St. and Third Ave., only lasted four months. Somehow, that stretch doesn’t see a lot of commuter foot traffic, Rogers learned.
“I overestimated the amount of business we were going to do there,” he said.
Rogers grew up just outside the city in Bronxville. He went to Connecticut College and Cornell Law School, then landed a job in Lower Manhattan, doing transactional law. He settled in the East Village in 2010 — it was close to work — and immediately fell in love with it.
“It was really about finding the neighborhood in Manhattan with the most diversity and complexity,” he said. “It’s a very tight-knit community, but it has this wonderful diversity and history to it. You could spend your whole life in the Community Board 3 district without venturing into the rest of the city.”
He felt the hip enclave also had a “small-town aspect,” like Bronxville, where he grew up.
But, while he loved the area, Rogers soon grew disenchanted with the law. Instead he decided to dive into the coffee shop business.
“I really wanted to do something that was contributing to the community,” he said. For him, his cafes help fulfill that role by providing community gathering spaces.
He found that he liked working in the business community.
At the same time, he quickly connected to the community on another level — through the local community board.
“Within two weeks, I got to attend my first C.B. 3 meeting,” he recalled. “It was on SPURA, in the Henry St. Settlement basketball gym. I said, ‘This is where I want to spend my time in New York City.’ There was such passion. I said, ‘This was it.’ ”
He was referring to the long-dormant Seward Park Urban Renewal Area, south of the Williamsburg Bridge, and the board’s historic push to achieve a consensus-based plan to redevelop it after decades of community gridlock.
Rogers applied to the Borough President’s Office to get appointed to the board, and made the cut in 2012.
Fast-forward four years to this June and he found himself running for board chairperson, and beating another local businessman, Enrique Cruz, by a vote of 34 to 11.
Rogers succeeds Gigi Li, who chaired the board for four years in a row. Li could not run for re-election, since the board last year adopted a four-year term limit for chairperson.
Li’s tenure helming C.B. 3 was not all smooth sailing. She came under fire two years ago from some board members who accused her of not promoting black and Latino board members for committee leadership positions. Borough President Gale Brewer’s Office subsequently investigated, and determined that while Li had not been biased, she and the board’s leadership had “failed to sufficiently emphasize the value of diversity and inclusion.”
When Chad Marlow challenged Li for chairperson two years ago, Rogers was among the board members who voted for him. Not surprisingly, Li went on to win the election, 31 to 15. Rogers’s vote was more of a “message.”
“I felt that Gigi could grow as a leader,” he said. “I felt I could help that with my vote. I do think she improved tremendously after that election.”
Asked what his own goals are as chairperson, Rogers said, “I really want to focus on leadership development on the board. We have some really cool young people on the board — Eric Diaz, Debra Jeffrys-Glass, Alan van Capelle.
“I think the biggest issue is going to be the private development along the waterfront in the Two Bridges area, and connected with that, the [storm] resiliency work. It’s going to happen really quickly. The resiliency project will wrap up by 2021.”
Rogers is also concerned about City Hall’s plans for “infill” towers on New York City Housing Authority grounds — in which new mixed market-rate / affordable high-rises would be shoehorned into public-housing complexes on currently existing parking lots or playgrounds. What happened last year with Campos Plaza, where a private developer suddenly took control of 50 percent of the complex, worries him.
“What we saw at Campos I and II was a very quick privatization to help NYCHA,” he noted. “Our NYCHA developments are relatively unprotected. That land needs to be protected for the most vulnerable in our community.”
The NYCHA complexes constituted one of three “subdistricts” that the Chinatown Working Group had been focusing on, along with protecting the Two Bridges area and the Chinatown core. C.W.G. put forward a rezoning proposal for Chinatown and the Lower East Side last year, but the City Planning Department called it “not feasible at this time.” Meanwhile, the Two Bridges area has become Downtown’s ground zero for the new breed of “supertall” towers. In a change of course, the de Blasio administration has now said it’s more open to hearing about the sorely needed rezoning proposals.
“The Department of City Planning will do an environmental impact study on the Two Bridges area to understand how these developments will impact everything,” Rogers noted.
On Rivington House, Rogers said, it’s another issue on which C.B. 3 has “spoken loudly and clearly. We want the facility to be a nursing home, as it was supposed to be.”
Similarly, the board is on record that the old P.S. 64, on E. Ninth St., formerly home to the CHARAS / El Bohio Cultural and Community Center — now vacant going on 16 years — should be returned as a community center.
Regarding the Essex Crossing project on the SPURA site, Rogers said, C.B. 3 will continue to monitor the development to ensure that promised community facilities are provided.
Last November, in some other major board news, Rogers married District Leader Carlina Rivera, who was then also on the community board. Rivera, 32, has since left C.B. 3 after becoming a legislative aide to Councilmember Rosie Mendez.
In addition to being C.B. 3 chairperson, Rogers is president of Coalition for a Democratic Alternative, the East Village’s leading political organization. Mendez will be term-limited out of office at the end of next year, and CoDA has already endorsed Rivera in next year’s September Democratic primary election.
“The first time we ever laid eyes on each other was in 2011 at the SPURA meeting,” Rogers recalled of Rivera. “I remember hearing her speak at the meeting. I also spoke. I said, ‘I love the neighborhood, everyone is so passionate.’ ”
Later he watched the coverage of the meeting on the TV news: “NY 1 showed me speaking — but cut to Carlina speaking.”
Not long after that, Rivera was elected the board’s secretary, and Rogers elected assistant secretary, after he volunteered for the position when no one else wanted it.
“She was like my boss,” he recalled.
Rogers was very busy with his new business — he had a small bakery and coffee shop at E. Broadway and Clinton St.
“I was working extremely hard,” he said. “After the community board, I’d go bake croissants for work.”
One night after a board event, they had a beer together at Forgtmenot. That led to dinner another night at Lil’ Frankie’s.
“After that date,” Rogers recalled, “I said, ‘I have to go bake croissants.’ She said, ‘I can help.’ ”
And as the croissants rose…so their love grew… .
As Councilmember Mendez said, it actually may be the first time two C.B. 3 members fell in love and got married.
“Carlina said it’s like the Rihanna song ‘Love in a Hopeless Place,’” Rogers quipped.
“It is no secret that I am married to someone who is going to run for City Council,” he said. “I’m very proud of it.”
At the same time, he added, “I’m very aware of the optics of that.”
He plans to run for re-election next year as C.B. 3 chairperson, and serve through June 2018. But, as of now, he doesn’t see himself seeking a third term — anticipating Rivera wins election to the Council.
“I do not think it’s a conflict of interest, but I think that it’s a consolidation of power,” he said, explaining why he wouldn’t want to lead the board if his wife succeeds Mendez in the City Council.
Also, being chairperson of the all-volunteer board simply is a lot of work.
“It’s a very demanding position that doesn’t have any financial compensation,” he noted.
Asked if he had political ambitions of his own, Rogers said, in fact, he did a few years ago. There had been rumors Daniel Squadron wanted to be Parks Department commissioner under Mayor de Blasio, and Rogers briefly considered running for his state Senate seat.
“At one point, I was interested in it,” he said. “I had no political experience. That was 2013, I was very naive.
“Right now, I don’t have any intention of running for elected office,” he said, adding, “Having one elected official in the house would be enough.”
For the meantime, he is committed to doing the best job he can leading C.B. 3.
“I’m going to be the best darn community board chairperson I can be,” he said. “For me, the board, it’s been my rock in this community. And it’s how I met the woman I love. The community board has been surprisingly good to me. I want to make sure I’m doing my part to give back, if I can.”
On another personal note, Rogers is an avid cyclist. So you might just see him zipping around the hood.
“I bike everywhere,” he said. “It’s way more reliable and enjoyable than the subway or bus. After college, I biked across the country from California to Florida, and have been hooked ever since.”