NYC Comissioner Martha
Hirst Advocates Pursuing Passion
Factors in Career Choice: I
think it chose me to tell you the truth! I came to New York
in 1973, and I thought it was just going to be for my junior
year in college. I was supposed to be an exchange-type student
at NYU. And that was a turning point for me. I began to take
courses in urban studies. I lived here and loved it, and
ended up having a double major in urban studies and history.
I then went on to get a master’s degree in urban planning
and got the opportunity to go to work in the housing agency, Housing Preservation and Development (HPD). That
interested me enormously because of some of the course work
I had done in neighborhood planning and former Commissioner
Nathan Leventhal, was about the most brilliant guy I’d
ever met. I thought, ‘I don’t care what job I do,
I’ve got to work with this guy for a while.’ That’s
how it started, and I’m still here.
biggest challenge I’ve had is coming here to the Department
of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS). That’s
because it’s an octopus type of agency. We have four
or five large aspects to the agency—real estate transactions,
civil service administration, procurement—and we need
to have each of them working well with all the other agencies
and with each other. So I think that’s been my biggest
challenge and yet it’s been the most rewarding too
in that sense. When you see results like having people do
better and grow more efficient in their work and work better
as a team and accomplish some of our strategic objectives,
it’s incredibly satisfying. Also, having a full time
career and raising kids has been a big and very rewarding
challenge. Certainly, being an available parent and being
instructive and educating my children as a parent does. Luckily,
they’re great kids so it has been easier than it otherwise
Proudest Accomplishments: I
think my proudest accomplishment was spearheading the effort
for a landmark civil rights legislation, which was the gay
rights bill enacted in 1986. Mayor Koch did a great job and
we were directly and closely on it. I also spent time at
the Department of Sanitation doing long-term waste planning
and led an effort there to close the Fresh Kills Landfill.
We had a five-year timetable, and we closed it in four years.
There are also all sorts of things at DCAS. When the mayor
came into office he turned the courthouse right behind City
Hall into the headquarters for the Department of Education.
Not only that, but he wanted a school on the ground floor
so that the educators and bureaucrats and on the upper floors
would be mindful of their mission every day seeing children
come to school. I helped to design the school portion with
some architects and designers. It was really important that
it be dynamic, bright, beautiful and engaging. It gives me
great pleasure to go over there and see kids every day.
Turning point: I
think it was coming to New York. I lived in Greenwich Village
and went to NYU. I remember the first night I was here I
got up in the middle of the night and looked out the window.
I was on the 13th floor. And I saw a woman—I’ll
never forget this—riding her bicycle down the street
with her dog in the basket. It was about 3 o’clock
in the morning! And I thought, ‘this is a full time
24-7 kind of place that has loads to offer.’ New York
is a great place to be a young person and to be a student
of both urban issues and of life. The best of everybody is
Nathan Leventhal has been and continues to be a mentor, along
with Mayor Koch He was the first mayor I worked for
and his definition of public service being a noble and honorable
profession was something I took to heart. I thought he assembled
a great team and really taught us a great deal about the
way in which you serve the public. Also, the women in my
family were a huge influence. Both my grandmothers and my
mother had long careers in the nursing profession. One grandmother
was a pediatric nurse and the other worked with elderly people.
My mother was an oncology nurse. They had full time careers,
were very dedicated to their work and were very instructive
to me about the way you should lead a full and rewarding
life while making significant professional commitments.
advice would you give to young people today?
would encourage any young person with a hint of an interest
in cities or politics or government to try it. You work with
a wide variety of the most interesting people and get a chance
to really make a difference in neighborhoods and on a citywide
basis. You can see the fruits of your labors whether you’re
a budget person or a police officer or an analyst or even
a press secretary. We hope to be able to continue to attract
great young people to our work force and also encourage the
professional development I would certainly encourage people
to get into government.
heard Mayor Bloomberg give sound advice to young people.
He says that young people should follow their passion and
interest and not pay attention to what their title is going
to be. If you find someone who is great to work with who
you think you have a lot to learn from, pursue it.#