After growing up in a racially mixed Bronx neighborhood, serving in the U.S. Army, then working as a subway motorman and union organizer, Dennis Boyd was uniquely prepared for board service at the Concourse Village co-op. His passion for photography has been an unexpected bonus.
It was Christmas season in 2005. Mike Bloomberg, a billionaire and no fan of labor unions, was the mayor of New York City. Dennis Boyd, a Bronx native, subway motorman and proud union member, found himself at the bargaining table during contract talks between the city and the union representing its public transit workers. It was, Boyd recalls, a dogfight.
That dogfight proved to be ideal preparation for Boyd’s service on the co-op board at Concourse Village in the Bronx, which he joined last year when shareholders let him know they needed a fighter who was willing to help find a new management company and attack serious infrastructure problems at their affordable Mitchell-Lama complex.
“Those were extremely bitter, extremely heated negotiations,” Boyd says of the 2005 contract talks. “Pensions were a big issue, and we were dealing with Bloomberg, who was anti-union. We had prepared the membership for a strike.”
It came five days before Christmas, when more than 33,000 subway and bus workers, including Boyd, walked off the job. Bloomberg called the strikers “thugs.” Their walkout lasted 60 hours, when a favorable tentative agreement led them to return to work while negotiators hammered out a final contract. The union appeared to be the victors. Under the tentative agreement, The New York Times reported, “the (Metropolitan Transportation Authority) would significantly scale back or even abandon its insistence on less-generous pensions for future workers.”
All these years later, that settlement still brings a smile to Boyd’s face, which is rimmed now with a cottony beard. “We ended up getting what we wanted, plus a little bit more,” he says, adding that his union duties included ensuring worker safety, teaching, organizing and explaining benefits to the rank and file. “That strike taught me that if you’re willing to fight for what you want, you’ll get it.”
In the Melting Pot
For the past year, Boyd, now 67 and retired, has been applying that philosophy to his service on the co-op board at Concourse Village, six 25-story towers perched on a platform over the New York Central rail yards in the Bronx. “A lot of people were unhappy with the management company,” says Boyd, a burly man with a gravelly voice and a big laugh. “I was aware of the pros and cons of what was going on with our infrastructure. Every time you turned around, something was breaking down. The way I look at life, if there’s a problem, fix it.”
So Boyd ran and got elected, and his approach to board service sprang from his personal history. His father, an operating-room nurse’s aide, and his mother, a telephone operator, moved their growing family into the newly built Bronxdale Houses in the mid-1950s, when Boyd was an infant. He remembers the sprawling housing project, tucked into the elbow of the Bruckner Expressway and the Bronx River Parkway, as a fascinating place to grow up. In the ’50s, he recalls, “the Bronxdale Houses were the quintessential melting pot. You had every race, every nationality. It was a good education in dealing with race relations. I had fun – lots of friends in a peaceful neighborhood.” In 2010 the houses were renamed after a famous former resident, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
After studying electronics at Samuel Gompers High School, Boyd enlisted in the Army and got stationed in Aschaffenburg, Germany, as a mechanic. After his discharge, he returned to New York City and worked in Ohrbach’s flagship department store at Union Square while also driving cabs and taking courses in his true passion, photography. In 1984, he was hired as a subway conductor (the person who opens and closes the doors) and two years later was promoted to motorman (the person who drives the train). His interest in photography grew, and it, too, would come into play in his role as a co-op board member at Concourse Village.
The coronavirus pandemic hit shortly after Boyd was elected to the board, and he jumped at the chance to take photographs of the property so the board could put together a virtual tour as it vetted potential management companies. Boyd, who has lived in the co-op since 1976 and knows every inch of property, set about taking hundreds of photographs that vividly illustrated the condition of the physical plant, from the bowels of the boiler rooms to the parking lots to the rooftops. The pictures became part of a Request for Proposals that was sent to management companies, and an ensuing Zoom meeting with candidates proved to be a major time and money saver. After winnowing the field down to three finalists, the board conducted in-person interviews and ended up hiring Prestige Management.
Learning the Ropes
New challenges await, and after completing a learning curve, Boyd says he is ready to meet them. “In my first year on the board, there was a lot I had to learn, especially about money management and how you pick contractors. There’s a lot of work involved, doing research, staying on top of things. Now our infrastructure has to be addressed. We need to do mandatory facade work, and the platform the buildings stand on has to be rebuilt. It was rebuilt once before, and it’ll have to be done again one day. We’re going to have to tackle our 18 elevators soon.”
Boyd’s first marriage ended in divorce. He met his second wife, Cassandra Ashby, while they were serving on the Parent Teacher Association at the school their children attended. They had one child together. Ashby died shortly after Boyd retired from his subway job in 2015, a blow he describes as “devastating.”
“Serving on the board gives me something creative to do,” Boyd says. “When our next annual meeting rolls around, I’ll run again if people want me to. If they re-elect me, fine. If they don’t” – a shrug, a gravelly laugh – “I’ll just go back to taking pictures.”