Ten New CB5 Members Dive In at May 12 Board Meeting

Dennie Beach introduces himself to his fellow CB5 members at the start of the board’s May 12 meeting. | JACKSON CHEN
Dennie Beach introduces himself to his fellow CB5 members at the start of the board’s May 12 meeting. | JACKSON CHEN

BY JACKSON CHEN | The lights were still on after hours in the library at Xavier High School on West 16th Street, with 10 people inside intently thumbing their way through thick packets of applications and other documents. But they weren’t alone, as they were soon welcomed by the rest of Midtown’s Community Board 5 as its newest recruits during a May 12 meeting.

About 15 minutes before the start of their first CB5 full board meeting, the newcomers informally introduced themselves to their fellow members. Throughout the meeting, they continued to pore over the full 29-page agenda that contained complicated community issues ranging from the appropriateness of changes on landmarks to liquor license applications and school zoning questions.

It can be easy for new members to get lost in the agenda language, but they’ve all been assigned to a mentor who can explain the ins and outs of community board functions.


“These applications are fairly complex,” said Zach Lichaa, 29, one of CB5’s recent additions. “You’re pretty sure you know exactly what they’re saying, but in the first few meetings, you want to check with someone who’s looked at them for years and years.”

Lichaa looked to his guide, CB5’s first vice chair Nicholas Athanail, for confirmation and explanation. And after his first meeting, he said he was pleased to see how professional the whole process was. With a career bringing 3-D printing into schools, combined with his interest in transportation and elderly housing and services, Lichaa said he hopes to help improve his community to match the standards of what he feels a world-class city should be.

Lichaa was one of this year’s 24 applicants for a seat on CB5, which was running at a 11-member deficit out of its 50 slots.

According to the board’s district manager, Wally Rubin, that number was large, but not unprecedented. He explained that the two main reasons for dwindling numbers are members not living or working in the area anymore or choosing to step off for personal reasons.

There’s just one vacancy left — to be filled by Borough President Gale Brewer — but Rubin said the 10 additions nearly round out the full board.

“We are thrilled with our new members,” Rubin said. “We look forward to a productive year ahead with a full fleet of board members.”


New members Jeff Purvin and Dennie Beach were taken under the mentoring wing of David Sandler, the vice chair of CB5’s Transportation and Environment Committee.

“During the meeting, if anything happened that might have surprised us,” Purvin said, “[Sandler] would whisper over little things to have us understand.”

And even before the meeting, Sandler emailed both men asking them to arrive 15 minutes earlier to accommodate for any initial questions or concerns before jumping into the agenda.

Purvin, like the nine other freshmen, applied to CB5 because he’s eager to contribute more to his neighborhood. With 26 years in the area, Purvin, 63, said he has noticed the community changing rapidly in the past 15 years and hoped to have a role in its future.

A co-owner of an online fashion design school called University of Fashion who spent most of his career working with medical devices, Purvin said the board was interested in placing him on two committees –– Budget, Education and City Services as well as Transportation and Environment. He had already attended a meeting of the Budget, Education and City Services Committee by the time of the full board meeting on May 12.

“I got an insight into just how seriously a committee dives into something,” Purvin said. “There’s an organized, thoughtful process so that the things we decide are not just random opinions.”


Besides Lichaa, Purvin, and Beach, CB5 also welcomed Renee Kinsella, Alan Yu, Michael Kenney, and Marti Speranza, who each has an April 2018 end term date — and also Aaron Ford, Stella Bernstein, and Joe Maffia, who each has an April 2017 term expiration.

Being the board’s youngest member at 16, the meeting may have seemed daunting to Bernstein, but the welcome she received soon made her feel comfortable.

“Even thought it was intimidating at first,” she said, “people treated me like an equal member of the board.

A junior of Beacon High School, her interest in politics propelled her into community affairs, and with the minimum age for membership having been lowered to 16 in 2014, she jumped at the opportunity to become a CB5 member.

“I was just thrilled that we’re finally afforded the opportunity to participate in local government,” said Bernstein, who tutors younger students and is also an intern at a marketing and communications company. “I think it’s a really great step to encourage kids to see themselves as change agents in the community.”

USE CHEN cb5 joe maffia.jpg Joe Maffia. | COURTESY: JOE MAFFIA

The board’s new members come from all walks of life. Maffia, 57, works as a partner in an accounting firm.

Maffia — whose last name elicited CB5’s chair Vikki Barbero’s quip that her maiden name was Capone — said he’d be bringing interests in quality of life, including street cleanliness, homelessness, and traffic congestion, to his new role.

Yu, 27, agreed that the need for improved street sanitation is one of the main issues facing CB5.

“With the increase in residential population coupled with the record level of tourism and foot traffic in the community,” Yu said, “there are excess sanitation needs that aren’t being met.”

Yu added that his career as an affordable housing developer in Brooklyn makes him a great candidate for CB5’s Land Use, Housing and Zoning Committee.


In addition to the new members introducing themselves at the May 12 meeting, each of the committee chairs offered crash courses in what their committee specializes in before the board moved on to the evening’s stated agenda.

Afterward, the new members said they felt comfortable in their new roles after witnessing what they considered to be an exciting, but also efficient meeting.

“It was as streamlined as it could be,” Purvin said of his first meeting. “How they designed it to make no needless time-taking, the timing of how long people can talk, it just told me they tried to bring this down to an organized, disciplined process.”