By Paula Katinas
Editor’s Note: In response to the firestorm created by the Oxygen Network’s new “reality” series “Brooklyn 11223,” which depicts women cursing, drinking and fighting in Bay Ridge and other Brooklyn neighborhoods, the Brooklyn Eagle is proud to present this feature profiling the “real” women of Bay Ridge and their accomplishments.
Bay Ridge — Josephine Beckmann, the district manager of Community Board 10, began working for the board in 2003, but was very familiar with the board and its work even before she started her job.
Beckmann was a civic leader in Dyker Heights, where she and her husband John, a police lieutenant, live, and had dealings with the local community board when she and her neighbors sought its help in solving quality-of-life issues on their block.
“I was the president of my block association. We also formed United Neighbors of Fort Hamilton Parkway and worked with the board and with the 68th Precinct on issues. There were cyber cafes, these dark clubs where kids would go and stay all day, playing hooky from school. There were drugs on the corner. We turned to the board for help,” Beckmann said.
She met Stephen Harrison, who was the Board 10 chairman at the time and is still a board member.
“I also met people like Dino Lamia, who drove down my block, introduced himself, and asked what the board could do to help. I was so impressed with the level of commitment by board members to the community,” she recalled. “I attended board meetings and spoke about our issues. Our block met with the police captain.”
Working together with the board and with the precinct, Beckmann and her neighbors solved their quality-of-life problems.
A couple of years later, when Beckmann became the district manager of the community board and it became her job to help residents solve similar problems, she felt prepared for the task.
Board 10 represents the residents of Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights. The board’s job is to serve as a mini-City Hall for local residents, helping them with issues ranging from pothole repairs to zoning disputes. The board also serves as a voice for residents with city government to ensure that the community gets its fair share of city services, such as sanitation collections.
In addition to its 50 volunteer members, the board hires a salaried district manager and a small staff.
This interview with the Bay Ridge Eagle took place in Beckmann’s office, 8119 Fifth Ave., at which photos of her husband and two daughters adorn the shelves of the cabinet behind her desk.
In a way, Beckmann had been preparing for this role all of her life.
Born Josephine Columbo, she grew up in Carroll Gardens and is a product of Catholic schools, having gone to Sacred Heart and Saint Stephen’s Parochial School and Our Lady of Perpetual Help High School, where she was valedictorian at her graduation in 1986. She delivered an address at her graduation ceremony.
“It was the 100th anniversary of the Statue of Liberty. My speech was about women and liberty and how we had to strive to achieve our goals,” she recalled.
Her mother died when she was 4 years old. Her father, Rosario Columbo, raised her. Columbo was very active in civic life in Carroll Gardens and taught Josephine to do the same.
“We were always at the precinct council meetings,” she said, referring to the 76th Precinct, which covers Carroll Gardens. “My father was a member of the American Legion. He always cherished his right to vote and he would encourage everyone in the community to vote. I guess it rubbed off on me.”
The Columbos were active in their church. Rosario was a member of the Holy Name Society. His daughter sang in the church’s folk group at masses. The family organized coat drives for those less fortunate.
While still in high school, she worked part-time for Stephen DiBrienza, who was the city councilman for a district that included Carroll Gardens and Park Slope. She had done some volunteer work on his election campaign. When the campaign was over, DiBrienza offered her a job interview.
“I remember that I went to the interview in my OLPH school uniform,” she recalled with a laugh.
She worked for DiBrienza in high school and all through college. She loved working for the idealistic councilman.
“He would always tell the staff, ‘Our job is to make government work for the people.’ I respected that and I agreed with it,” she said.
Following her high school graduation, Josephine attended Saint Francis College, majoring in political science. Working for DiBrienza and all those years of watching her father’s voter participation drives had encouraged her course of study.
“I grew up watching my father encourage people to vote. It made me interested in politics,” she said.
Rosario Columbo died a few years ago.
Josephine continued to work for DiBrienza after college. She worked in the councilman’s City Hall office.
“Steve was the chairman of the waterfront committee, the land use committee, and a committee on maritime uses. I developed a love of land use issues,” she said.
She also worked on constituent issues. She met her husband John Beckmann when they worked together to help residents of a block with a quality-of-life issue. John Beckmann was a police sergeant at the time.
The Beckmanns married and settled in Dyker Heights. Josephine moved from DiBrienza’s City Hall office to his Brooklyn district office. The Beckmanns have two daughters: Jayne, a sophomore at Bucknell University; and Anne Marie, a senior at Bishop Kearney High School.
In 2003, Josephine Beckmann learned of a job opening at Community Board 10. The district manager had left and the board was looking for a new one. She impressed the board members and got the job.