Anyone who knows Julie Menin knows that she’s got a lot on her plate. They also know that she’s one to finish the job — and then launch into the next, with equal passion and ease. “If you want to get something done, give it to a busy woman,” she said.
The lawyer and mother of four — Menin has three teens and a soon-to-be four-year-old — started the year off in a new role: serving the Upper East Side as District 5’s council member, backed by a historic majority-women City Council. Already, she’s tackled the job with unrelenting determination, from successfully unveiling new green space and advocating for street safety to championing universal childcare. She’s making her mark in the district that’s home to both her family’s past and its future.
“Local politics really matters,” Menin said. “To me, that’s where you see the most tangible results of your efforts, it’s a visceral feeling.”
Before being elected to represent District 5, Menin served as the 2020 New York City census director, guiding the process through the pandemic. She’s fought for small businesses as the commissioner of the Department of Consumer Affairs and for gender equity as the commissioner of Media and Entertainment, and, for seven years, chaired Downtown’s Community Board 1.
But she traces her dedication to community engagement all the way back to her days as a small business owner, running Vine, a restaurant and catering venture. When the 9/11 terrorist attacks destroyed her business, shattering windows and covering the restaurant in light grey ash, Menin responded by forming Wall Street Rising, a not-for-profit dedicated to rebuilding Downtown in the wake of catastrophic damage to locals’ homes and livelihoods. It was her first time starting an organization of that kind; eventually, it grew to boast over 30,000 members.
Now, Menin serves as chair of the council’s Committee on Small Business, working to bolster small businesses citywide — in tandem with her laser focus on improving her district on the Upper East Side. The Upper East Side holds special significance for Menin, whose late mother and grandmother survived the Holocaust before fleeing their home in Hungary with nothing, and in the middle of the night. Eventually, they found their footing in a rent-controlled apartment in Yorkville.
Menin recalls being taught to ride a bike by her grandmother, who rode almost daily, weather permitting, through Central Park until the age of 91. In March, Menin held her inauguration at 92Y, where her grandmother rediscovered a sense of community after leaving her home. “My grandmother really believed in civic participation, she really believed in it,” Menin said.
“I wish they were here,” she added, thinking of both her mother and grandmother. “I think they’d be incredibly proud.”
Menin’s accomplishments thus far are many. In only a few months, she’s announced the allocation of $120,000 to increase litter basket pickup to four times each weekday and launched a new composting site in collaboration with Grow NYC and Asphalt Green. She’s met with DOT Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez to survey dangerous intersections in the district; called attention to grocery app company Gopuff for hazardous delivery claims and practices; and unveiled a newly-refurbished green space, Lexington Houses Community Garden, with the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation.
Still in the works is a push for “more transparency and equity around hospital prices” via a resolution that backs state-level efforts, a mission to increase childcare options (and fight for universal childcare) and much more. “I love public service; I love, quite frankly, policy,” Menin said. “I love coming up with ideas to try to help solve people’s problems and then effectuating those ideas and making them realizable.”
Also on Menin’s horizon is running for reelection, she said, as she inches closer to the end of her current two-year term (halved, compared to the usual four-year duration, by the upcoming redistricting process following the results of the most recent census). The first time around, her youngest child pitched in, referring to her mother’s campaigning as “camping.”
On Menin’s daughter’s political wish list: free ice cream, every day of the year. Possibly the only win Menin can’t deliver (regretfully).
“Local politics really matters. To me, that’s where you see the most tangible results of your efforts, it’s a visceral feeling.” Council Member Julie Menin