NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – Dan Dominguez said he was blushing as a couple of City Council members took time out of the March 18 meeting to congratulate him.
Even before Resolution 032065 was passed by unanimous vote to remove the “acting” from his title as director of planning, community and economic development, Dominguez was playing a vital part in some of the city’s biggest development projects – including the recent Health and Research Pavilion Development Plan.
Being counted on to help in the planning of a 12-story, state-of-the-art cancer hospital shows that the city has embraced his skills and vision.
And he’s embraced the city, too. This is now his home and he feels a great responsibility to look out for it.
“I get to see the development and the changes that I've had a hand in,” Dominguez said. “I get to be able to have a say in policy. I get to be heard, try to make positive change to projects that come in. I get to try to clean them up around the margins, make sure that they are bettering the city. I moved to New Brunswick back in August, so I'm in here and it's doubly important to me now to make sure I’m bettering my own community better in my own community and better.”
It’s been a circuitous route to becoming, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, one of just 40,000 or so city planners in the United States.
Dominguez abandoned his childhood dream of becoming an architect to study political science. He was wrapping up a two-year stint in the AmeriCorps initiative when a friend told him she had gotten into an urban planning program at NYU
“And I was like, ‘Urban planning, what's that?’” he said. “So, I went on to Wikipedia and I was like, ‘Wow, this really checks a lot of my boxes.’”
He ended up at the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy – that’s how he ended up in the Hub City. Eventually he answered an ad looking for someone to work a municipal community development position. His interview with former planning director Glenn Patterson went well and, suddenly, he was an employee of the City of New Brunswick.
The funny thing was, he was now rubbing elbows with the likes of Patterson and DEVCO President Chris Paladino – figures who were often topics of conversation at the Bloustein School. In fact, Patterson came to speak to his class three or four times.
“For whatever reason, I always missed it,” Dominguez said. “I actually didn't even know what he looked like until I interviewed with him.”
Helping plan development projects that will add hundreds of new residences to the city is remarkable when you consider that his parents grew up in a rural part of Spain where people lived in stacked-stone homes.
Daniel Dominguez had a fourth-grade education, and his wife, Lola, had an eighth-grade one. They were farmers who lived off the land and eventually fled the fascist Franco regime for a better life first in France, then in the United States.
Settling in Newark, Daniel found work as a handyman and Lola labored in factories. That’s when they had Daniel, who has gone on to become not only the first one in the family to graduate from college but to also earn a master’s degree.
His work in the city has already earned the praise of many, including City Council President John Anderson and Vice President Suzanne Sicora Ludwig.
“I was in the back, kind of blushing,” said Dominguez, referring to the same council meeting where Daniel Burke was hired to fill the longtime city engineer position. “I really appreciate the kind words from everybody. Mr. Patterson called in to say nice things. And, you know, everyone's been so supportive for the last year and I'm just fortunate to have gotten this opportunity.
“I tell people that I sort of stumbled into the position. It was supposed to be temporary and just make sure the lights stayed on for a few months. And I just tried really hard and I cared about the city. Things just shook out and I am here and I don't take it for granted.”