|Member of the New York City Council from the 13th District|
January 1, 2006
|Preceded by||Madeline Provenzano|
|Constituency||Bronx: Allerton, City Island, Country Club, Morris Park, Pelham Bay, Pelham Parkway, Throggs Neck, Westchester Square & Zerega|
|Born||Bronx, New York|
|Website||NYC Council: District 13|
James Vacca is a member of the New York City Council and Chair of the Transportation Committee. He represents the Bronx's 13th Council District, which includes the neighborhoods of Throgs Neck, Pelham Bay, Country Club, City Island, Westchester Square, Zerega, Morris Park, Bronx Park East, and Allerton.
Vacca was born in the Bronx in 1955 and raised in Pelham Bay. He attended New York City public schools, graduating from P.S. 71, J.H.S. 101, and Christopher Columbus High School. He holds a bachelor's degree from the State University of New York and a master's degree in Urban Studies from CUNY Queens College. He lives in Throgs Neck with his wife and daughter. Councilman Vacca is also an adjunct professor at CUNY Queens College, where he teaches courses in urban studies.
Prior public service
Prior to being elected to the City Council in 2005, Vacca served as District Manager of Bronx Community Board 10 for 26 years, serving the communities of Throgs Neck, Pelham Bay, Country Club, Waterbury-LaSalle, Westchester Square & Zerega, and Co-op City. Vacca was appointed to the position in 1980, when he was only 25 years old, becoming one of the youngest District Managers in the city's history. He had previously served as Chairman of the Board.
As District Manager, Vacca quickly developed a reputation as a relentless advocate for community residents. For numerous consecutive years under his leadership, Board 10 was ranked the cleanest and safest community board in the Bronx. Vacca also waged fights to preserve transit service, battle graffiti and other quality-of-life crimes, prevent the opening of social service programs that could have a detrimental impact on residential communities, and reduce school overcrowding through the opening of P.S./I.S. 194 in Zerega.
In the early 2000s, as housing development hit a fever pitch in Throgs Neck and surrounding communities, Vacca began personally reviewing building plans to enforce zoning and building rules. Finding numerous errors, Vacca began advocating for reform at the Department of Buildings and also led the fight for a series of successful re-zonings that ultimately reduced the size and density of permitted residential construction in every neighborhood of Board 10 outside of Co-op City, with individual re-zonings approved for City Island, Throggs Neck, Pelham Bay, Ferry Point, and Zerega/Westchester Square.
During his tenure at Board 10, Vacca was elected to Community School Board 8, serving for eight years, including two as President. He also served as President of the Northeast Bronx Senior Citizens Center, based at St. Benedict's Church in Throggs Neck, for 30 years, starting in 1975 when he was only 20 years old.
In early 2005, with Councilwoman Madeline Provenzano term-limited out of office, Vacca announced his candidacy for the 13th Council District seat. Already an established public figure in the East Bronx due to his years as District Manager, he was endorsed by Congressman Joseph Crowley, State Senator Jeffrey Klein, and Assemblyman Michael Benedetto, as well as dozens of community and civic groups, and The New York Times.
In the September 13, 2005, Democratic Party primary, he faced four opponents: former Assemblyman Stephen B. Kaufman, Joseph A. McManus, Ismael Betancourt, and Egidio Joseph Sementelli. He won with nearly 40% of the vote; Kaufman captured roughly 25%. In the general election, he defeated Philip F. Foglia, candidate of the Republican, Conservative and Independence Party lines, with 64% of the vote.
First term in the City Council (2006-2009)
Vacca entered the City Council as one of 13 freshman members and was quickly named to a slate of committees that reflected many of his campaign priorities: Education, Housing & Buildings, Aging, Standards & Ethics, General Welfare, and Cultural Affairs. Due to his years of advocacy for senior citizens, Vacca was also named Chair of the Senior Centers Subcommittee, with oversight of the 327 senior centers funded through the Department for the Aging (DFTA).
Tackling overdevelopment and education issues
In his first months in office, Vacca focused legislatively on what was still the dominant issue in his East Bronx district: overdevelopment. Working with the newly formed Council Task Force on the Operations and Improvement of the Department of Buildings (DOB), he helped produce a report that recommended numerous legislative proposals to reform the DOB and empower low-density communities in New York City to battle development they considered out of scale with existing character. His work with the Task Force led to Vacca's first two legislative accomplishments: the passage of Local Law 3 and Local Law 4 of 2007, which stripped self-certification privileges from any architect or engineer who is placed on probation by the State Board of Regents, or who through negligence or malice submits self-certified plans that contain false information or demonstrate a lack of knowledge of applicable zoning laws.
In 2007, Vacca was also named co-chair of the Council's Working Group on School Governance and Mayoral Control, established to guide the Council recommendations upon the expiration of mayoral control in 2009. After months of informal meetings with educators, union leaders, Administration officials, advocates, and parents, the Working Group issued its report in June 2009. Recommendations included granting the Council greater oversight of the Department of Education, expanding the power of the Independent Budget Office to analyze DOE data, and strengthening the role of community superintendents and parental governance structures. Some of the recommendations were incorporated into the State Legislature's ultimate re-authorization of mayoral control in August 2009.
Leading the fight to save senior centers
Vacca's role as Chair of the Senior Centers Subcommittee rose in prominence in 2008, when DFTA announced a senior center reorganization plan that threatened to shutter up to 85 neighborhood centers to pave the way for larger regional centers. Responding to an outcry from advocates for the elderly, as well as seniors who frequented centers located in sparsely populated neighborhoods, Vacca announced his opposition to the reorganization and led the Council's fight to demand that no neighborhood centers would close as a result of the plan. Vacca instead advocated for DFTA to work individually with struggling centers to improve programming and transportation services to attract more seniors. After a months-long campaign that included letter-writing drives at senior centers throughout the city, and after Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn joined Vacca in his fight, DFTA announced in December 2008 that it would abandon its plan.
As Senior Centers Chair, Vacca also passed the Healthy Aging Initiative in June 2007, which provided $1.35 million to establish wellness programs at 51 centers across the city. Also in 2007, he authored a report titled “Emergency Preparedness at Senior Centers” that offers recommendations for improving the capacity of centers to serve the elderly in the event of a catastrophe. Vacca also used his position as Senior Centers Chair to enact his third piece of legislation: Local Law 43 of 2008, which required DFTA to train senior center staff and other employees in how to detect and report signs of elder abuse, and required the posting of signs in all senior centers informing seniors on how to report elder abuse.
Leading the fight to save firehouses
The final chapter of Vacca's first term began when the New York City Fire Department announced in December 2008 that budget cuts would necessitate the nighttime closure of four fire companies, include Ladder Company 53 on City Island in Vacca's district. Vacca immediately began organizing a grassroots campaign to oppose the cuts, citing safety issues on City Island, a remote community where the next-nearest ladder company would take nearly 10 minutes to reach the Island. In February 2009, Speaker Quinn elevated Vacca to Chair of the Fire and Criminal Justice Services Committee, from which he led the fight to keep open not only the four companies originally slated for nighttime closure (which had since been slated for permanent closure), but also an additional 12 companies yet to be identified, which were also scheduled to close permanently as of July 1, 2009. In a last-minute budget deal negotiated by Speaker Quinn and Vacca, the Council restored $17 million to the city budget for the express purpose of keeping all 16 fire companies open. The fight further cemented Vacca's reputation in the Council as a fierce advocate both for his district and for vital citywide services threatened by cuts.
In 2009, Vacca ran for re-election under the Democratic and Republican lines, after being cross-endorsed by the Bronx Republican Party. Facing a little-known challenger running on the Conservative Party line, Vacca was easily re-elected to a second term, winning 92.8% of the vote. His term expires on December 31, 2013.
- Bronx Times-Reporter "Vacca captures major lines" October 28, 2009
|New York City Council, 13th District