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New Director of Sustainability selected

Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Fiedler, WHYY-FM

By Thomas J. Walsh
For PlanPhilly

Katherine Gajewski, special assistant to Mayor Nutter’s chief of staff, Clay Armbrister, was tapped Friday as the successor to Mark Alan Hughes and the city’s new sustainability chief. Nutter introduced Gajewski at a 2 p.m. City Hall news conference.

“This is a very unique time that we all find ourselves in together,” Gajewski said. “There is political commitment behind these issues,” combined with Federal recovery money to be taken advantage of and a growing awareness among the public.

“During the [2007 mayoral] campaign, she was the staffer who coordinated many of the policy committees, including all the ones on sustainability issues,” said Christine Knapp, director of outreach for PennFutures and coordinator of The Next Great City initiative. “She clearly got a broad sense of the issues, and ultimately a lot of those policies became part of the administration that set the early stages for Greenworks.”

Hughes left his position – a groundbreaking one for Philadelphia – last month. The Penn professor spearheaded Greenworks Philadelphia, the new blueprint for the city’s environmental and “green jobs” agenda.

“I think it’s very important to have a cabinet-level position working with the administration whose responsibility is sustainability and the greening of this city,” said Gerald Furgione, director of business development for PhillyCarShare. “If the plan is indeed to make Philadelphia the greenest city in the United States over the next six years, we really do need strong leadership.”

Since Hughes announced his decision to leave, the new appointment was expected to come from within the administration, given the severe budgetary woes of the past year. Nutter said only that “a number” of other candidates had been interviewed for the job. Hughes made in excess of $145,000 in salary; Gajewski will draw a $95,000 salary, Nutter said, “minus the 5 percent pay cut” that most senior administration executives are forgoing.

Before moving into her position with Nutter, Gajewski was the coordinator the Breathe Free Philadelphia Coalition, the organization that ushered in the city’s smoking ban.

“We’ve been talking recently a lot about the public engagement piece of Greenworks,” Knapp said. “She has some really creative ideas on that. She’s been able to contribute a lot because of her previous positions, so I think it’s a natural choice for her to step up and be part of the implementation team.

“She is one of the hardest working young leaders in this administration,” said Natalia Olson de Sevyckyj, an urban planner who sits on both the City Planning Commission and the Zoning Code Commission. “She is very smart, dynamic, resourceful and I completely trust her leadership and ability to move Greenworks through the implementation process.”

During his one year on the job, Hughes said that it was his ability to move laterally across city departments that made his job feasible, as he sought to tie together all phases of government into a new way of doing things. Nutter said that would continue over Gajewski.

“That is definitely something that I do bring,” Gajewski told PlanPhilly after the press conference, adding that she was looking forward to continuing that unique role. In Hughes, she told the assembled crowd, “I know I have a very big, sockless pair of shoes to fill.”

Advisors told the Mayor he should “be looking for someone with political savvy, operational management experience, a good community leader … a team player,” Nutter said. “We found that person, and she was right across the hall.”

“I’m so proud of the Mayor’s decision on choosing her, we need the type of energy that Katherine brings to make the green economy a reality in Philadelphia,” said Olson de Sevyckyj. “I am confident she will carry through the promise of making Philadelphia the greenest and most sustainable city in the country.”

Contact the reporter at thomaswalsh1@gmail.com.

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