CityLaw Profile: Allen P. Cappelli: City Planning Commission Member

On October 17, 2019, the City Council approved a plan to replace Rikers Island.  A month earlier, Allen P. Cappelli, a member of the City Planning Commission, had voted with the 9-3 majority in favor of the application. Cappelli called Rikers Island an “absolute abomination” and in need of “shuttering.” Cappelli’s vote reflected four decades of public service.

Cappelli was born in Manhattan and raised in Staten Island. His mother was widowed and raised four children. Cappelli went to St. Peter’s High School for Boys, attended John Jay College of Criminal Justice and graduated from City College.

During college Cappelli met Staten Island Borough President Ralph Lamberti who convinced Cappelli to become a member of Staten Island’s Community Board 1 (the North Shore). It was his first job in City government.

Cappelli obtained his first paid government job during college when Manhattan Borough President Andrew Stein hired Cappelli as Stein’s liaison to Manhattan’s Community Board 3 (the Lower East Side) and Community Board 6 (Midtown East), where Cappelli worked with some of the City’s most underserved and wealthiest citizens.

When Mario Cuomo took the Governor’s office in 1983, Cuomo hired Cappelli to the state’s Office of the Ombudsman, an office Governor Cuomo created by executive order. Cappelli eventually served as Director of the Ombudsman Office from 1986 to 1988. Cappelli remembers Mario Cuomo as one of the most exciting people he’s ever met, and one of the most important male figures in his life. Cappelli stated that “Cuomo was a tireless worker, led by example, and was totally committed to public service.”

Governor Cuomo considered the study of law to be an important tool for public servants and convinced Cappelli to go to law school. Cappelli attended New York Law School at night and worked for Governor Cuomo during the day. Governor Cuomo helped Cappelli get through law school by scheduling Cappelli’s government work so he could attend class. Professor Robert Blecker’s criminal law class inspired him to pursue a career in criminal defense.

Upon graduating from law school in 1988, Cappelli continued to work for Governor Cuomo as Assistant Special Deputy Superintendent in the State Insurance Department. Governor Cuomo later appointed Cappelli to Chair of the State’s Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board. There he developed a relationship with Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer, who later asked Cappelli to become his communications director.

The Bronx, during Cappelli’s tenure in Borough President Ferrer’s office, experienced difficult criminal justice issues, including the controversial 1999 shooting of an unarmed Amadou Diallo by four New York City police officers. The Bronx also experienced major land use controversies including the threatened relocation of Yankee Stadium.

Cappelli worked on two unsuccessful political campaigns:  Fernando Ferrer’s 2001 campaign for Mayor and H. Carl McCall’s 2002 campaign for Governor. Following those two efforts, Cappelli began his career as a criminal defense attorney. As his criminal law practice grew, Cappelli lessened his political and lobbying activities. Criminal law currently makes up 80 percent of his practice.

In 2008, Governor David Patterson appointed Cappelli to the MTA board. In 2016, Mayor Bill de Blasio appointed Cappelli to the Civil Service Commission and in 2018, appointed Cappelli to the Advisory Commission on Real Estate Tax Reform. In 2019, Mayor de Blasio moved Cappelli from his position as a Civil Service Commissioner and appointed Cappelli as a member of the City Planning Commission.

A major goal for Cappelli has been the closing of Rikers Island. He was happy to see Mayor de Blasio and the City Council successfully work out measures to address community objections to borough-based jails, which will be essential to facilitate the closing of Rikers Island. As a member of the City Planning Commission, Cappelli will continue to provide oversight of the construction of borough-based jails and the closure and re-use of Rikers Island.

Cappelli enjoys his work at the City Planning Commission. “Being a City Planning Commissioner,” he said “gives an individual the opportunity to be involved in and help every neighborhood throughout the city and,” he added “to do so with incredibly smart people.”

When asked his favorite place in the City, Cappelli said he enjoys Arthur Avenue, the views from Greenpoint and Williamsburg, Sunnyside Queens and City Island. Staten Island also holds a very special place in his heart.

By: Jason Rogovich (Jason Rogovich is the CityLaw Fellow and New York Law School Graduate, Class of 2019.)


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