Anthony Perez ’11 is grateful to his city.
Even as a boy, he understood the value of everything New York City offered his family. Now grown with a family of his own—still living in this same city—none of that’s changed. Except today, he’s the one providing what people need.
“I was raised by a single mother who emigrated from the Dominican Republic in the early 1980s and has been a teacher’s assistant at a local elementary school for over 25 years,” Perez said. “I was born in a public hospital, grew up living in public housing and went to public schools. We couldn’t afford a car so we depended on public transportation to get around.”
“I’m indebted to the city that did so much for my family—the city that put a roof over our heads, provided my mom with a dignified career, took care of us when we got sick, helped put food on the table when money was short, and educated me from pre-school to high school,” he continued. “Public service is my way of paying that debt. I’ve dedicated my career to helping others and helping my city.”
Since graduating from Union, where he studied political science, Perez has held a number of roles with the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City, where he managed public-private partnerships and special projects. He also served as executive director of The Bronx Democratic Party and was deputy chief of staff at the New York City Council, where he was a strategic advisor to the council speaker on key legislative priorities.
In September 2022, he joined the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation as Manhattan borough commissioner.
Day to day, he leads more than 500 “parkies” in managing Manhattan’s 400-plus neighborhood parks, playgrounds, athletic fields and community gardens. He also oversees more than 120 construction projects on the island and unique programming at 13 recreation centers, 22 public pools and almost 3,000 acres of urban green space.
It’s a complex, but fulfilling, job.
“Some of the biggest challenges I deal with in my role are balancing varying uses of limited space and balancing competing priorities with limited funding. New Yorkers are passionate about their neighborhoods and parks, and they’re not shy about letting you hear what’s on their minds,” Perez said. “What’s most rewarding is getting to be part of the solution.”
“To lead negotiations among various stakeholders and to find consensus in a path forward for helping fellow New Yorkers is all part of the victory for me,” he added. “The beauty of it all is in the process of making government work for people.”
And that is more important than ever now in some ways. Consider shared space, the COVID-19 pandemic and New York—a place jammed with massive buildings, busy trains, congested traffic and 8.5 million people.
“All of this has been compounded in the aftermath of the pandemic, when New Yorkers really saw the impacts of being cramped in small apartments with almost no time outdoors,” Perez said. “People are now really starting to realize the value of investing in our outdoor public spaces and re-imagining how we fit wellness, fitness, exercise, recreation and relaxation into our lives in the Big Apple."
“It’s an exciting time to work at the city’s Parks Department, helping to take advantage of recent momentum by advocating for more investments in our green infrastructure and urban green space.”
Outside of work, Perez is involved with his community on a number of levels that strengthen his commitment to public service. He’s a board member of the NYC Economic Development Corporation and trustee at the New York Botanical Garden, among other roles.
“Public service is a 360-degree commitment and doesn’t end when I’m off the clock,” Perez said. “When we talk about equity and giving back to underserved communities, it’s deeply personal to me.
“I’m raising my daughter in the same neighborhoods where I volunteer. These parts of my life are intrinsically intertwined and impossible to separate.”
Perez began learning how inextricably linked life and service could, and arguably should, be at Union. He served as president of his class, president of his fraternity and chair of the Union Schenectady Alliance, a student group focused on improving the relationship between the College and surrounding community. He also spent two years as a student trustee.
“My time at Union had a profound effect on my path after college and set the foundation for my career. Serving in student government gave me early exposure to understanding how to leverage procedures to advance an agenda and run efficient, effective public meetings,” Perez said. “Serving as a student trustee, I met an alum who gave me an internship at the Schenectady District Attorney’s Office. Another alum gave me an internship at a startup firm.”
“These are experiences that prepared me for the real world, more so than any quick book or online course ever could.”