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The “Risk” That Paid Off

Let’s be clear from the start: management at Cadman Towers, a 421-unit two-building co-op in Brooklyn Heights, didn’t want any profile of its superintendent to be too positive. The issue, according to property manager Mary Egrie of Tudor Realty, was that a story about Julio Davila, the super at Cadman Towers, would alert other buildings to his talents.

He’d be lured away.

Egrie was, of course, joking. But not much. “We don’t want to lose him,” she says, protectively.

That loyalty, though, is mutual. Davila, 42, has never worked at any other building. He joined Cadman Towers’ staff in 1999 and spent eight years as a doorman. He put in another two years as a handyman to learn more about the building and has held the top position for the past six years.

The iconic Brooklyn buildings that overlook Cadman Plaza opened their doors in 1971 and are, alongside Co-Op City in The Bronx, a flagship of New York State’s Mitchell-Lama program that provides affordable cooperative ownership and rentals to middle-income residents.

Cadman Towers defines community – its shared spaces host holiday parties, birthday celebrations for residents and staff, as well as art exhibitions and poetry readings. Many residents are almost-lifers. Staff, too. Board president Toba Potosky has lived at Cadman Towers for 30 years. Davila’s assistant superintendent, Paul Tornabene, has been with the building for 40 years.

Yet, with all that stability, Davila claims the building’s approximately 600 residents took a risk hiring him. A great doorman and a competent handyman might not necessarily graduate into an amazing super. “They took a chance,” admits Davila. “The fact I didn’t have any experience running any building to [having to] run 421 units for my first superintendent job, I would say is a bit of a risk. Knock on wood, over six years later we seem to be doing okay.”

Of course, there are two sides to every modest story. According to Potosky, Davila’s qualities were recognized early on. During a routine inspection of the building, Potosky and a property manager came across Davila emerging from an elevator wearing rubber kitchen gloves. Davila explained that a shareholder had complained that the compactor room needed cleaning. Davila – working as the doorman at the time – hadn’t called maintenance. He’d spent his break cleaning the room himself.

The Cadman Towers board, in cooperation with Local 32 BJ SEU, subsequently created an apprenticeship program and encouraged Davila to obtain superintendent certifications. When the co-op needed to appoint a new super, Davila stepped up. “We said it was a big step but he took the job and we have had no regrets,” says Potosky. “Not one, ever.”

Davila admits taking the job was daunting. He says his inspiration was his brother-in-law, Joe Meneses, coincidentally a long-time super at Cadman Towers. Meneses died from cancer several years before Davila inherited the role but, as a kind of legacy, the new super keeps a faded Polaroid of his brother-in-law on the wall.

“The job was a lot more than what I thought I would be able to handle,” says Davila, who supervises 18 permanent staff members as well as a private security company. “I have a really good support staff. Not one person can do this job on their own.”

Davila believes the secret to efficiently running a building is clear communication between management, staff, and shareholders. The ability to relate to each person’s point of view is important. “Personality plays one of the most important roles in having to deal with very important issues,” he says. “You have to have that certain type of personality to be able to deal with a broad range of problems and people. I had a little bit of an advantage because I was working at the door and built close relationships with many of the shareholders. I really consider the shareholders here as part of my family. Sometimes people have bad days and, no matter what you do or say, it is not necessarily going to satisfy what they want at that particular time,” he adds. “I try to listen and try [my] best not to make it personal. Never, ever, make it personal. Sometimes what they need is somebody to listen to them and say, ‘It is going to be okay.’”

It wasn’t always so cozy at Cadman Towers. Relationships fractured in 2003 when the then-board attempted to redesignate the super and his assistant (Meneses and Tornabene) as management rather than staff. The initiative split shareholders, prompted union protests at the building’s front door, and inspired the New York Daily News to dig into events. A new board worked to repair the damage. The union now uses the Cadman Towers community room for events and workshops and its boiler room for union training sessions. “I said [at the time] that we have a whole new regime here and we want to work with you,” recalls Potosky. “Ever since then it has been fantastic.” Davila, who lives in the building with his wife, emphasizes the family atmosphere that permeates much of the building.

Davila was born in Puerto Rico but moved to New York City as a young child. He says he and his wife – Manhattan transplants – love Brooklyn Heights. “We came to [Cadman Towers] from East Harlem and it is night and day. It is such a safe, clean, beautiful neighborhood that we always try to take advantage of it. My brother is in the air force and brings my nephew down and we enjoy the park. It is just wonderful.”

The ability to get things done runs in Davila’s family. His brother – 11 months younger and also called Julio – is stationed at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst where he runs medical logistics. “I need the support of my wife and my brother,” says Davila, the super. “My wife understands when I have to get up in the [middle of the] night and turn on the light and go. I really love what I do. The lesson I learned from [assistant superintendent] Paul was that you have to love the entire building as if it was your home. That is the way you are going to make it work and run. You have to pay attention to everything.”

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