Remembering Brendan Sexton

November 29, 2023

We are already missing Brendan Sexton.

Having served as NYC Sanitation Commissioner and in various capacities in city government under five different mayors, Brendan brought a wealth of knowledge with him to the presidency of MAS between 1996-1998. Brendan knew and loved our city deeply. Beyond his well-known accomplishments as a recycling pioneer, he was an advocate for historic preservation. He continued to serve on the MAS Board for more than a decade. He was a member of the MAS’s Planning Committee until he died.

During his tenure leading MAS, he integrated his love of the arts into his work. He was a fierce advocate for including a cultural institution as part of development on the old Colliseum site at Columbus Circle. That advocacy led to the now venerable Jazz at Lincoln Center. He was also a keen proponent of redesigning the Circle itself to be much more pedestrian friendly. Those improvements were implemented and have vastly changed the dynamics of the public space at the gateway to Central Park and Lincoln Square neighborhood.

Brendan Sexton with the Statue of Liberty. Photo: Karen Dalzell.

While with MAS, he also worked on the protection and enhancement of the theater district, a redesign for Fifth Avenue, Hudson River Park, Governors Island, and a project called the Future of New York’s Past. He had so much experience as a public official that he was wonderful at helping the staff navigate the labyrinth of City agencies.

And, in a moment of perfect harmony between his previous work as Sanitation Commissioner and MAS’s mission, Brendon advocated for the transformation of the Fresh Kills landfill into a park. As one of his colleagues at the time, Ellen Ryan said he took the opportunity that the landfill closure offered, to forge strong partnerships among MAS, Sanitation, City Planning and Staten Island elected officials and raise the bar for the design and use it to create a new public asset in the heart of the borough. “It’s a project for generations, of course, but we are already reaping the rewards of his work over 20 years ago.”

Brendan was a passionate man who cared about the outcome of civic enterprises. He always brought a profound ability to listen to the perspective of others, to each project. He thought through strategies that recognized the nuanced views he gathered from others.

The Municipal Art Society extends condolences to his family, friends, and colleagues. He was as New York as they come. His wit, warmth, and twinkling smile will be missed.

(MAS Newsletters with Brendan Sexton: January/February 1996 and May/June 1996.)