New York City’s former tech agency commissioner Jessica Tisch is the likely next head of the sanitation department, according to multiple people familiar with the matter.
Tisch, a real estate scion who’s had a technologically bumpy road in various roles around City Hall, will take over the role from current Commissioner Edward Grayson. He is retiring after 23 years with the Department of Sanitation, an agency spokesperson said.
News of Tisch as the likely top candidate for the role has been floated since Adams took office in January. New mayoral administrations historically do not change sanitation commissioners until after the snow season.
A spokesperson for the mayor declined to comment on the next commissioner. In a statement to THE CITY, Adams said Grayson “served tirelessly” at the department.
“We owe him a debt of gratitude and wish him nothing but the best as he retires,” he added.
The spokesperson for the sanitation department said Grayson planned to “continue serving New Yorkers at the department until Mayor Adams appoints a replacement.”
“Ed is a professional above all else, and he’ll be here doing the job — as he has been since he joined DSNY in 1999,” spokesperson Josh Goodman said in a statement.
A flyer announcing a retirement party to celebrate Grayson, held at Russo’s on the Bay in Howard Beach, Queens, later this month, was sent around to sanitation members this week.
Tisch, who was most recently the commissioner of the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications, declined to comment for this article.
‘Letting Somebody Very Good Get Away’
Uniformed Sanitationmen’s Association President Harry Nespoli, told THE CITY on Wednesday that he hadn’t spoken to the mayor about a new commissioner but praised Grayson, who he said did “one of the most outstanding jobs as a commissioner” over the past two years years.
“This man knew the job inside and out,” he said.
“When you can come up through the ranks like that, you know you’ve got something, and you’ve got the respect of the workforce — which is the most important thing.”
On the mayor appointing someone new, Nespoli said: “He’s letting somebody very good get away.”
Former Mayor Bill de Blasio made Grayson, commissioner at the end of 2020 following the departure of Kathryn Garcia, who resigned to protest proposed budget cuts — and run for mayor. He was raised in Ridgewood by parents who also worked for sanitation.
The role of commissioner became a bit more high profile after Garcia used her experience there to lift herself into top spot in the Democratic mayoral primary last year.
Garcia was popular in the department and widely viewed as a competent leader. In her run for mayor she early support from the unions representing workers and their supervisors, including Nespoli’s.
As commissioner, Garcia said she relied heavily on technology to monitor snowfall accumulation throughout the city and how well it was being cleared by sanitation trucks.
She is now the director of state operations under Gov. Kathy Hochul, after losing to Adams by less than 1 percentage point.
The DSNY’s projected budget is $1.9 billion for fiscal year 2022 and employs approximately 7,800 sanitation workers and 2,000 civilian staffers. There were approximately 1,200 total employees under Tisch at DoITT.
Adams has made clean streets one of his priorities as he leads the city out of the pandemic, citing it high in his economic recovery “blueprint” released last month. “The City will expand coordinated efforts to address quality of life issues by cleaning and revitalizing public spaces across the five boroughs,” the plan states.
From Tech to Trash
Tisch whose family looms large in New York real estate, was first brought into city government by former Police Commissioner Ray Kelly in 2008 after graduating with a law degree from Harvard.
She worked her way up from an intelligence analyst in the NYPD’s counterterrorism unit to being named the deputy commissioner of information technology by 2013.
In that role, she played a key role in putting body cameras on all cops, digital tablets in police cars, and distributing smart phones for all the officers.
Her tenure was not without controversy.
In 2017, the NYPD replaced its Microsoft-based phones after just two years with Apple iPhones. Tisch has long maintained that was always the plan because the NYPD’s other systems were not initially compatible with the iPhone operating system.
Some critics also blamed Tisch for the city’s years-long rollout of its updated 911 system to allow people to use texts and photos during emergencies.
In June 2020, the long-promised interim 911 texting system went live.
The de Blasio administration initially vowed to have the technology — intended to primarily serve deaf or hard of hearing people, and domestic violence victims who need to surreptitiously seek help — ready by “early 2018.”
In January of 2020, she took over the city’s tech agency, DoITT. During the pandemic, her team built the city’s online vaccination registration system. That involved consolidating hundreds of other online sites run by pharmacies and other medical providers.
After an initial slow start in part due to high demand, the DoITT website was considered a success and was eventually used by millions of people to book their vaccine appointments.
Under her leadership, DoITT also installed WiFi inside hundreds of homeless shelters that serve families and children.
She was also commissioner during a taxpayer-funded expansion of Wi-Fi and other LinkNYC services to bridge the digital divide across New York City as part of the de Blasio administration’s internet master plan.
After leaving her post at DoITT, Tisch was fined $2,000 by the city’s Conflicts of Interest Board for loaning a friend and colleague $75,000 and later supervising that friend and helping to facilitate a promotion for him while at the NYPD.