Don Capalbi
Queensborough Hill Civic Association President Don Capalbi relaxes in Manhattan. Don Capalbi

Don Capalbi spent $431.52 on boxes of imported Swiss chocolates Tuesday afternoon.

That's the life of a New York City civic leader. In between meetings in midtown, Capalbi, who heads the Queensborough Hill Civic Association in Queens, stopped off at Teuscher Chocolates of Switzerland in Rockefeller Center to do some holiday shopping.

I have to do some shopping while I'm in town, he said, explaining that it was one of the only chances he would have to buy little bow-rapped boxes of champagne truffles for all the politicos, volunteers and community leaders he meets in his hurried life.

Capalbi's schedule is perpetually maxed-out, as he also serves as a liaison for state Assemblywoman Grace Meng, runs a travel agency that specializes in trips for disabled people, and recently sold his Flushing bar, the College Green Pub, much to the chagrin of the community members--and political operatives and reporters--he entertained there for years.

Capalbi is a native New Yorker who grew up in Astoria back when it was gritty and ethnically divided. He won't disclose his age, but it's safe to say he qualifies for the discount when he stops in at the movie theater.

But he likely has very little time to catch a flick, as the civic group he heads has grown greatly in size and influence since he took the helm in 2009.

In the short time since, the group, which was effectively dead before he was enlisted to be its unpaid president, has featured one of the most impressive lineups of guest speakers of the city's civics.

From Public Advocate Bill de Blasio to U.S. Congressman Gary Ackerman, Capalbi has attracted a wide range of movers and shakers to discuss issues with the gentry, and to participate in pre-election candidate forums.

We try to bridge the gap between those who govern and those who are governed. We try to bring people together to speak one-on-one with their elected officials in a small room over a cup of coffee, he said while walking briskly between Rockefeller Center and a Grand Central -area hotel for a meeting about community grants.

It gives people the chance to sit in a room with a candidate and hear what they have to say, to judge them on their own, face-to-face.

Beyond that key forum-providing function, a civic has other roles in New York City life, Capalbi said, most importantly its ability to create a bridge between the community and government.

Someone will complain that there's a building code violation or what have you, but they don't know who to call, he explained. We have those relationships with agencies and elected officials, so we're better able to effect change.

But the public works done by civics are probably what most New Yorkers first think of, and the Queensborough Hill civic undertakes a lot of flower-planting, blood drives and other more visible efforts as well.

The group recently planted 1,100 daffodils along the fence ringing Kissena Corridor Park in Queens in cooperation with other civics, the Queens Botanical Garden, Partnership for Parks, Grow NYC, the city Parks Department, volunteer groups and other members of the community (Hence the large gift-shopping bill at Teuscher.)

The event was a culmination of all that Capalbi wants New York's civics to be.

It's really a joint collaboration. That's as important as the physical result of getting daffodils planted in the community - bringing people together in the community, he said.