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Articles by: Jerry Krase

  • Life & People

    The Meanings of Christmas Present

    Decorations for Christmas can say a lot more about people than the words they use to talk about it. Even the distinguished French sociologist Pierrre Bourdieu would agree with me as he had argued about such meaningfulness in Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. To put it less esoterically, the stuff lying and hanging around someone's home says an awful lot about them, whether they like or not. The things you own, and perhaps that own you, may also have hidden meanings that require more explanation.

    For about four decades my wife Suzanne and I have had a pre-Christmas party at our home for friends and neighbors on the Sunday before the holiday. Other than our own children, and now our grandchildren, relatives are not invited. They can come on Christmas Day, if they wish.
    As already noted, guests to our annual party get small presents from my wife who this past summer picked them up in Palermo. One of my holiday jobs is to make the gift basket sign in the language of the country we visited. Other important annual tasks are putting the star on the top of the Christmas tree while teetering on a rickety step ladder and trying not to say "Bah humbug!" or express equivalent sentiments throughout the Holiday Season despite feelings to the contrary. It has been especially hard to smile during the Senate debate on whether their fellow Americans deserve the same free health care that they enjoy at our expense.

    This is the Mission-style oak buffet in the living room. It looks expensive. I think we obtained it through the venerable urban practice of "dumpster diving" (tuffarsi del bidone della spazzatura)  Finding good stuff in the garbage is a corollary of Boudieu's theory; "when tastes change, even good things get thrown out." My father used to bring home great things when he was a janitor in a building on Sutton Place. You'd be amazed at what rich people 'discard.' Note: poor people 'thow out' things.

    This is the mantel in the combination dining room-kitchen.  There are lots of chotchkas (chotchkas) here. The exquisite Santa Claus and the trumpeting Angel were hand-made by Susan -- a very talent good friend. The antique-looking kerosene lamp I got at a tag sale. The plates on the wall are souveniers (memorie) of travels.

    This is the mantel on the mirror in the living room. Notice that  my wife has already stuffed all the Christmas stockings with small gifts she has accumulated since last Christmas. I don't get one because finding coal (carbone) in Brooklyn is difficult nowadays.

    This is the mantel in my office. I often change the order of the letters in NOEL to annoy my wife. Almost every non-working flat surface in the house, mantels, dresser tops, buffets, side tables, etc are occupied by family photographs (fotografie della famiglia). They often remind me that it is time to go on a diet (mangiare di meno e esercitarsi di piu).

    This is my piano where my much more talented friend Gerry plays songs for our Christmas party crowd. This year we had 73 more or less melodious voices singing, among other things, "The Twelve Days of Christmas." One of my other holiday jobs is leading the children's chorus of "Five Golden Rings" (Cinque Anelli Dorati)

    The tradition of sending cards was invented by the greeting card companies in the 19th century and has persisted to today despite the increasing popularity of sending e-greetings. Most of the cards we get for Christmas, or any other holiday (except for my birthday and Fathers Day) are directed toward my wife despite my name being included in the address because I, Scroogelike, am unlikley to reciprocate. This 'stylish' brick wall (muro di mattoni alla moda) was exposed by me with a hammer and wide chisel when we discovered, shortly after buying the house, that most of the plaster on the walls was falling off. 

    These are my office buddies Salvador (the black one) (Salvatore) and Rosita (the red one) (Rosinella). I wonder what Bourdieu would say about people who own cats. I'm sure he had an opinion on the subject. It's probably another middle-class affectation from which I suffer. They were given to me by my middle daughter, Karen, who named the black one after saving him and gave me the red one when she married Carlos who is allergic to cats (allergico ai gatti). I locked them in bedroom during the Christmas party to protect them from the guests. Like me, they don't like crowds. They will probably get catnip for Christmas.

  • Facts & Stories

    Italian/American Trial Styles


        So I was sitting at my usual post, table numero uno, at Dizzy’s, “A Finer Diner,” talking with my equally slow running buddy Michael The Lawyer about what constitutes justice (la giustizia) in America and I brought to his attention the recent complaints in the ever-chattering American media re: the allegedly harsh treatment of 22-year-old Seattle coed Amanda Knox, who was given a prison sentence of 26 years for murdering her 21-year-old Perugia University English-born roommate Meredith Kercher who was found half-naked in her bedroom, strangled and stabbed to death, on November 2, 2007.


        During an 11-month long trial Italian prosecutors convinced a peerless jury that Amanda masterminded the murder which featured a drug-fueled menage a quatre (quattro) sex game involving both her Italian boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito, and Rudy Guede, an Ivory Coast immigrant. Raffaele sat with his amica (girlfriend)  in court and got 26 years, but Rudy was sentenced to 30 years in an earlier “fast-track” trial. In addition to prison time, the newly star-crossed lovers were ordered to jointly pay five million euros restitution to the Kercher family, as well as trial costs. Knox also had to fork over another 40,000 euros to Patrick Lumumba, a Congolese bar owner in Perugia whom she had accused of the murder. It seems that just as in America, “some black guy did it” is a credible knee-jerk defense in Italy. Anyhow, Democrat U.S. Senator from the State of Washington, Maria Cantwell, had “serious questions about the Italian justice system and whether anti- Americanism tainted this trial.” No word yet about anti-Ivorian, anti-Congolese, or anti-Italian bias in the case.


        Another, closer to home, claim of injustice can be found at the SenatorBruno.com website that is “committed to shining a harsh public spotlight on a process that has led to the indictment of an innocent man. (and) ... an indictment has been handed up that charges the Hon. Joseph Bruno with a crime that would challenge a law professor to interpret. It’s not so much a miscarriage of justice as a perversion of prosecution.”


         Much of the ill-informed fuss about Amanda’s tribulations (tribolazioni) is due to confusion about the concepts of “speedy trial,” “equal rights,” and “reasonable doubt.” Even CNN's "Situation Room" guru Wolf Blitzer seems not to have been able to get it right. For example, pro-Amanda folks say that she was treated unfairly as a “foreigner;” that the Italian trial took much “too long;” and that reasonable doubt is a concept foreign to the Italian legal system. Americans hardly understand how their own system of justice works (or not), so to expect much in the way of appreciation for the Italian motto of "everyone is equal under the law" (la legge è uguale per tutti) as opposed to the American motto of “Justice is Blind,” would be too much to expect. With all the fuss, you would also think that Amanda had been a victim of an extraordinary rendition (consegna speciale).


    First of all, while it is true that foreigners (stranieri) are not especially welcome in Italy either in or out of court, the situation in America is not much better.


    Secondly, while in Italy Article 533 of the Criminal Code Procedure specifically refers to the "reasonable doubt," in American Law it is only standard of  practice. Historically speaking, “reasonable doubt”, is a formulation of the principle of “innocent until proven guilty” coined on the basis of a letter written by Pope Innocent III to the archdeacon and provost of of Milan in 1207. I assume it was because some priest got arrested there.


    And thirdly, “speedy trial” doesn’t refer to a quick trial but instead to the right guaranteed to defendants in criminal proceedings by the Sixth Amendment of The U.S. Constitution, intended to ensure that they are not subjected to unreasonably lengthy incarceration prior to a fair trial. Violation of the principle may be a cause for dismissal of a criminal case such as when I was arrested some years ago for a crime that not only did I not commit, but for a crime that didn’t even happen (un crimine che neppure è accaduto). The charge against me was dismissed after several months of nervously bewildered waiting, and two court appearances by me and my top-drawer attorney, at which the prosecution didn’t feel the need to show up.


         This right to what Americans would consider a “speedy trial” does not exist in Italian law and some pre-trial detentions can last as long as six years (The Patriot Act might have changed all of that). Rudy Guede’s “fast track” conviction was the result of a quick trial at which he was shown the prosecution’s case and offered a “take it or leave it” sentence. Rudy took it, despite continuing to claim innocence. Americans might see this as “plea bargaining” -- the prosecution offering (usually) a lesser charge and sentence if the defendant agrees to plead guilty and save the State the trouble and expense of a trial.


         Michael The Lawyer had just completed (and lost) a much too speedy trial for a defendant (now “convict”) whom he had as a client for ten months. Defense attorneys rely on the concept of reasonable doubt and try their best to create it in the minds of jurors. In the American, as well as in the Italian systems of justice the presumption of innocence means that the prosecution must prove the guilt of the defendant, not that the defendant must prove their innocence. The more jurors think and deliberate about a case, the more likely they are to find weaknesses in the prosecution’ presentation, so the last thing the defense wants is a jury rushing to judgment.  


         After weeks of intense preparation, Michael The Lawyer  started the trial on Monday.  On the following Friday, after an allegedly (presunto) splendid summation that ended at 4:30 P.M., he expected the case to be adjourned until the following Monday. The Judge, instead ordered the jury to go into immediate deliberations despite his objections. The guilty verdict was returned at 5:15 P.M.; just in time for the judge and jury to go home for a conscience-free weekend. As Michael The Lawyer says ”Speedy trials don’t mean speedy justice.”


         There are other important differences between U.S. and Italian criminal justice systems. Italian juries reach majority verdicts, not unanimous ones, with the defense winning in case of a 4-4 tie on the eight-member panel. In the U.S., although no longer constitutionally required, unanimous verdicts are de rigeur in most States' criminal trials.  It is interesting to note, in the poetic pursuit of justice, that non-unanimous verdicts might have saved John A. “Junior” Gotti the trouble of the four-and-still-counting trials at which jurors have been unable to reach a unanimous verdict.



  • Facts & Stories

    Bloomberg versus Berlusconi


    For many decades I have observed New York City politicians up close as well as, from a much greater distance, those of the Italian kind. During that time, La Grande Mela and La Bella Italia have shared much in the way of political corruption, fiscal crises, and intergroup conflict. The politics of both places, at least at the top of the food chain, has also shifted distinctively rightward over the decades while polarization and resentment by locality, ethnicity, and class have become more  evident.


    Today, Tuesday, November 3, 2009 I got up early and went for a run in the park with my friend Michael the Lawyer. After getting up a little sweat, we took our regular posts at Dizzy’s (A Finer Diner) where we downed a few cups of coffee and, with my other morning friends - Wayne the Accountant, and Bob the Musician we solved most of the world’s problems. It was Election Day, so later in the afternoon I will go with my wife Suzanne to our local polling place at John Jay High School and cast our ballots for our choice of candidates that are running for election. Sadly, experts predict that we will be among the fewest voters (proportionally) ever to go to the Gotham polls. The American and NYC trend in elections has been for fewer and fewer eligible voters to cast their ballots. Since a viable electoral democracy is dependent on voter participation, this is troubling. The recent trend in Italy is also downward but Italians are still far more likely to go to the polls than are Americans. One source estimates that almost 90 % of Italians turn out to vote. For this New York City election, I doubt whether even a third of eligible voters who take the trouble. People don’t exercise their right to vote for many reasons. The number one excuse I hear is the all too often well-founded belief that it “really doesn’t really matter” who is elected.


    The top prize in the New York City contest is the job of Mayor. Even though Bloomberg doesn't take his salary for the job, I will most certainly vote for the current Comptroller of the City of New York, William C. Thompson Jr. He is a "candidate of color" and is running on the Democratic and the quirky Working Families Party lines. He almost certainly will be the loser as he currently is a dozen points behind in the polls. The person most likely to win is the current incumbent - Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg - who has the backing of both the Republican and the quirky Independence Parties. Racially speaking, White voters back Bloomberg 66-24 percent and therefore I would estimate that Italian American voters, especially those in La Bella Isola di Staten (Staten Island), will give him more than three-quarters of their cast ballots. Monetarily speaking, Billionaire Bloomberg has spent almost $100 million of his own money in the race, outspending Thompson’s other peoples' money  by 14 to 1.


    Bloomberg seeks a third consecutive term even though, in 1993, New Yorkers voted to “limit all elected officials in New York City to two consecutive terms in office” by a 59-41 % margin. In 2008, Bloomberg, bull-dozed through the City Council (29-22) a new law allowing him, and them, to run for another term.  As to small “d’ democracy, at the time, a Quinnipiac poll found that 89 percent of New Yorkers felt that term limits should be decided by voters in a referendum, not the self-interested Council. The poll also found that 51 percent opposed extending the term limits for Bloomberg. In comparison, to Bloomberg's success against the will of the people, after the horrors of 9/11/2001, outgoing Republican Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s lost his appeal to remain in office a few months longer that because of the turmoil. His appeal went to Albany, which meant nowhere, as Democrats wanted him out of office.


    Giuliani’s failure and Bloomberg’s success at overcoming term limits is most ironic since the NYC Council that voted in Bloomberg's interest is almost 100% Democratic.  ‘America’s Mayor’ Giuliani has also endorsed Mike.  According to David W. Chen, in The New York Times:  “Raising the specter of a return to higher crime and greater anxiety, former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani warned on Sunday that New York could become a more dangerous city if Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg is not re-elected in November.”


    Bloomberg’s behavior beckons me toward another busy Billionaire with whom he has much in common -- Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.  Besides being balding billionaires with surnames beginning with “B,” Bloomberg and Berlusconi both are, “boils and all,” also likely to win re-election. Bloomberg balloting is today but Berlusconi has some time to wait


    Both Bloomberg and Berlusconi are media bigs, but Silvio is bigger because he is the boss not only of his own but the government's broadcasting as well. In contrast to Berlusconi, Bloomberg, who recently bought BusinessWeek,  seems to have the New York City press, in his pocket. Bloomberg has been endorsed by all the major and minor dailies, weeklies, and monthlies. Even Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post has endorsed Bloomberg while Murdoch is one of the biggest thorns in Silvio’s side in Italy; not ideologically but competitively.

    Berlusconi is so bothered by the “bad news” about him that he is creating a "media task force" to stamp it out.  By chance, one of Berlusconi’s television stations broadcast some unflattering video of a judge who ruled against him in a bribery case.

    Berlusconi has also floated a balloon about reforming the Italian Constitution to allow a law granting him immunity from prosecution. Bloomberg has little need, as opposed to Berlusconi, to try to reduce the power of the independent judiciary.


    Bloomberg has also on occasion bullied journalists, but in general he has had an eight-year honeymoon with the press. Two of those who felt his wrath are friends of mine; Rafael Alequin Martinez the editor of the small city-wide The Free Press/Prensa Libre paper I used to write for, and Azi Paybara of The New York Observer.


    Whereas the anti-Berlusconi stories are found in almost everything he doesn’t control, for Bloomberg they lurk only on the edges of the media world such as "The Bloomberg Watch: Above the Rules? Above the People?" and in the stories of investigative reporters like Tom Robbins (in the Village Voice).


    On balance, Berlusconi and Bloomberg have a great deal in common based on their personal wealth and influence, but they differ significantly on their approaches to governing. Ironically, despite being media moguls, the biggest difference between them seems to be stylistic. Watching the two “performing” on the television screen it is clear that Bloomberg is boring and Berlusconi bombastic, but when you’re a big bucks billionaire, style seems not to matter much.


    Postscript Headline: "
    Big Bucks Billionaire Bloomberg Barely Beats Bill at Ballot Box"

    I felt I just had to write that. In any case, just as I predicted Bloomberg won (51%-46%), the turnout was low (about 25% of elligible voters) , and Staten Island voters overwhelmingly didn't vote for Thompson (29% for him versus 66% for Bloomberg).

    Even my daughter Kathryn has gotten into the political commentator act, being quoted on page 22 of The New York Times story "Bloomberg Wins 3rd Term as Mayor in Unexpectedly Close Race."



  • Op-Eds

    USA versus Italy: Diversity versus Mixing


    I had a pleasant visit today at my home by a young photographer who has been doing work on Italian Feasts in the US, and we got to discussing our observations of immigrant/ethnic neighborhoods in Italy and the United States. Obviously we both are very interested in what such places look like (I saw his work on line and he is much better photographer than I, by the way.). It made me think about how 'hard' statistical data can be misconstrued on both sides of the Atlantic. Then when I returned to my 'Traces' blog here at i-italy.org I was confronted by Otto Capelli's superb Op-Ed on how to interpret the first Columbus Day with a half-black president in the box. So, I decided to offer here a version of an essay I recently wrote for German readers about the reality of American diversity. Before reading this I hope you consider how close was the Obama/Biden-McCain/Palin contest in which the current President received slightly more than 40% of the white male vote.


    Even before the turn of the 21st Century and the election of Barack Hussein Obama as the 44th US President there were numerous, pronouncements about increasing American diversity. Much has been explained by the scale of immigration, yet compared to a century earlier, the current foreign-born proportion is hardly as great. More likely, extra attention to diversity is related to other factors such as the “racial” composition of the “Newest Americans,” conflicted attitudes toward diversity among all Americans, and Post-9/11 fears. America has endured a host of “anti-“movements (-Catholicism, -Semitism, -Immigration), English-Only, and multiple Racisms so it is likely that this too shall pass.


    The 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act that substituted hemispheric caps for a century of Euro-centric, national-origin quotas cleared the way for people under-represented in American immigrant history, and by 2007 one in three U.S. residents was a “minority.” Hispanics were the largest and fastest-growing group, with 45.5 million persons (15% of the population). Blacks were second, with 40.7 million (13.5 %), followed by the second fastest-growing, Asians, at 15.2 million (5%). The Census also reported that 38.1 million foreign-born residents comprised 12.6 % of the population. Then, in 2008, it predicted that by 2042, more than half of the population would be minorities with much of the increase due to immigration.


    Broad comments about national population statistics often give false impressions, so I offered my own understanding of “Diversity in America” to several scholarly Internet discussion groups:  


    Friends: I am putting together a short essay on Diversity in America and will argue, metaphorically, that from a distance (like from space) looking at national data one might assume that America is very mixed but that as one lowers the level of analysis one finds that diversity is not evenly distributed and that even "diverse" places are different from each other as to the composition of the diversity… there is great deal of social mixing among younger (20 -30 somethings); college-educated, white collar, middle and upper-middle class folks, but expect that this still is not the American norm...  


    In response, I was deluged with examples of limited diversity at local levels, as well as references to tensions between old and new groups, and among minorities themselves. Reporting in 2007 about the finer points of American diversity, David Minckler, noted that although minorities comprised more than one-third of the national population, they were not evenly distributed across the country but concentrated along the periphery of the continental United States as well as in Hawaii.  Hispanics are found in California, Texas and Florida. In New Mexico they are the largest group at 44 % of the total population. Blacks are concentrated on the East Coast and the South, as well as two Midwest Border States – Michigan and Illinois. The smallest minority group, Asians, are almost 40 percent of Hawaii’s population. Other Asian concentrations are on the West Coast, in New York, New Jersey, Texas and Illinois. California and Texas together have nearly a third of all the nation’s minority populations and in contrast, Midwestern and the extreme Northeastern states had the highest percentage of whites. As to the 37.5 million foreign-born Americans estimated by the 2006 American Community Survey, they are likely to be found in the states with large “minority” populations such as “coastal” California, New York, Texas, Florida and New Jersey, as well as Illinois in the Midwest.   


    California, Hawaii, New Mexico, and Texas are already designated as "majority-minority" states, in which minorities exceed the majority (White) population. Arizona, Georgia, Maryland, Mississippi, and New York are next in line. As the U.S. population rises from 280 million in 2000 to about 420 million in 2050, Latinos will grow from 36 to 103 million, and Asians from 11 to 33 million. Non-Latino Whites, now about 70% of the U.S. population, are expected to drop to barely more than 50% in 2050, and Blacks will increase slightly to 15%, compared with about 13% now. Whites will cease to be a majority around the mid-2050s. Writing about these changes in the The Los Angeles Times, Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, quoted demographer William Frey as saying "One America will be white, middle-class and graying, and then you'll have this new kind of globalized America coming to the fore," that he called a "racial generation gap."


    On the positive side, immigration keeps the United States growing and provides working taxpayers to fund Medicare and Social Security for, the mostly White, elderly.. On the negative side, debates have developed along racial lines in California, where those who pay property taxes for schools different racially from the pupils. The form diversity takes also differ by region, for example the West will have an even greater Mexican flavor, and the South will become more multi-ethnic as the number of Asians and Hispanics grow at more rapidly than that of Blacks.


    It is expected that relations between immigrants and native-born Americans might be strained, and that problems emerge from competition between minority and majority groups. However, Nick Corona Vaca, in The Presumed Alliance wrote that as Latino and African Americans increasingly live side by side, a "Rainbow Coalition" has not materialized. Instead “… competition over power and resources has surprisingly led to conflict. Many African Americans see the growth of Latinos as a threat to their social, economic, and political gains.” Similar tensions exist between Black consumers and immigrant Asian shopkeepers in New York, Haitians and American Blacks in Miami, as well as Mexican, Central American, and other Latino street gangs in the Southwest.


    Despite being “A Nation of Immigrants,” not everyone wants to share America with “others.” On expression of this can be found on the “American Renaissance Movement” website as to “What We Believe”: “Race is an important aspect of individual and group identity… Race and racial conflict are at the heart of the most serious challenges the Western World faces in the 21st century.” Brenda Walker writes there that


     “…The Census Bureau may look like the gold standard of government bean-counters, immersed as it is in the logic of numbers. But the agency also has a propaganda wing tucked among the spreadsheets, pimping the idea that America’s multiculturalization and its massive population growth promises a fine future for the country…


    American attitudes toward immigrant diversity are found along a continuum with three major themes, each having a culinary metaphor. At one end is Assimilationism, or “The Melting Pot” theory.  On the other extreme we find a “Salad Bowl” symbolizing Multiculturalism, In the middle is the “Stew Pot” of Cultural Pluralism. As¬similationists believe that immigrants ought to melt into, and become indistinguishable from the whole. Multiculturalists argue that distinct cultural groups ought to be preserved. Multiculturalism is linked to “Post-1965” immigration. Retention of immigrant cultures today is enhanced by communication and transportation technologies making it possible to stay connected to places of origin. However, the reality of everyday American life falls in the middle of the spectrum – in Cultural Pluralism. While Assimilationism abhors difference and Multiculturalism idolizes it, Cultural Pluralism recognizes the positive value of diversity but only in tandem with overarching “American” values.


    As was noted at the start of this essay, from a distance it might appear that the new elements thrown into the American “Melting Pot” are blending together, but up close they appear as pieces of a rapidly changing jigsaw puzzle. I frequently ride on a public bus that begins its journey in an almost totally white section of Brooklyn, New York and traverses Afro-American, Caribbean, Mexican, Pakistani, Orthodox Jewish, and Chinese neighborhoods, ending in a Russian/Ukrainian section called “Little Odessa.” As they get on and off at different stops they appear to blend but seldom speak or recognize each other.


     I like to think of American society as this bus. Since the last Great Immigration Wave of 1880-1829 to the present, America has worked despite diversity because it has been structured in such a way that in order to get what it is that you want -- prosperity, education, a decent place to live, safety and security -- you must cooperate with people with whom you are different. If there is a conflict, that bus is not going to move, something is going to happen and they’re not going to get where they want to go.


    As to the near future, I do see a potential problem in the naïve commitment to a multicultural model that elevates difference over commonality. And, it remains to be seen whether the inevitable “New Majority” will change the rules of the game. But, given the urban mixing of educated young people in the middle and upper middle class who are slated to become the leaders of our ever-changing society, I seriously doubt it.



    References


    Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, “Census Projects an America of Greater Racial Diversity by 2050,” Los Angeles Times, March 18, 2004. http://www.c3.ucla.edu/newsstand/community/census-projects-an-america-of-greater-racial-diversity-by-2050/


    American Renaissance http://www.amren.com/siteinfo/index.html


    David Minckler, “U.S. Minority Population Continues to Grow, Minorities make up 34 percent of U.S. population in 2007,” 14 May 2008. http://www.america.gov/st/diversity-english/2008/May/20080513175840zjsredna0.1815607.html


    Nick Corona Vaca, Nicolas C. Vaca, The Presumed Alliance: The Unspoken Conflict Between Latinos and Blacks and What It Means for America. HarperCollins, 2004


    Brenda Walker, “US Census Bureau Presents Diversity Propaganda As Impartial Information,” VDARE.com, September 17, 2008.


  • Memories of September 11th Past, Present, and .....

    Today is September 11, 2009. Eight Years Later and still America has not come to terms with what happened to us and what we did to others as a consequence. I have entered here some of what I wrote immediately after the attack. In addition are some of the hundreds of photos I took in my Park Slope neighborhood a few days after 9/11 and which was misinterpreted by many as simple patriotism as opposed to thoughtful commemoration of the victims and sympathy for friends and family.
     

    On the evening of 9/11, 2001 I received the following message from my niece:

    Subj: Is Everyone Safe????

    Date: 9/11/01 5:37:29 PM Eastern Daylight Time

    From: (Liz) To: (Uncle Johnny), (Uncle Jerry), (Kristen Krase), (Katherine Krase), (Aunt Maryann), (Aunt Suzanne)

    I don’t know where everyone works. Can someone please check in with me and let me know our family is all safe and accounted for. Thank you. Love Liz

    I immediately sent Liz a note and the next day I sent out my own message in the early evening to everyone in my address book and to all the professional association list services to which I subscribed. Here it is:

    Subj: Re: The View from Brooklyn, NYC 

    We live in Brooklyn but the smoke from the fires and dust from the debris coated the neighborhood and we had to close all the windows and people were wearing dust masks on the street. My family is fine but there is so much horror. I spent the day with my three daughters and two grandsons. My wife worked at one of the hospitals receiving some of the bodies and triaged patients. I and my daughters went to the local hospital to give blood but there were so many people who came to contribute their blood that we were told to come back the next day. I have asked everyone to give blood and say prayers. I will go into the college today and see if I can do something meaningful. I am worried about inter-group problems in the city and especially at the university where students had been at each other’s throats over Middle Eastern issues. Jerry
     

    The message continued: I decided to play squash today (September 12, 2001) as I usually do on Wednesday mornings and forgot that when I take the subway there is a point en route which has(d) such a wonderful view of the NYC skyline and the twin towers. As we approached the Smith and Ninth Street Station which reputedly is the world’s highest subway station I moved to the window and almost simultaneously, and in total silence, people got out of their seats and moved to one side of the car. It was the most quiet time I have ever heard on a NYC subway car. I will not take any pictures of any of this as I’ve already seen too much. (I kept this promise by not venturing to the WTC until some years later but instead focused on how ordinary people responded to the tragedy with their own powerful messages. The photo below of the approach to Smith and (th St was taken some months after 9/11)

    In response to my message I received hundreds of responses expressing various degrees of sympathy and support. I was shocked however at the number of people who added a “but” to their notes. As the time from 9/11 and distance from the World Trade Center increased I noticed how much the view of America, especially by Europeans, had radically changed since we were an Ugly but well-intentioned superpower. I naturally assumed that there would be immediate and unequivocal sympathy if not support for the U.S. from among my colleagues. There was for my family, and me but there was too often a qualifier to expressions of compassion. Academics have an annoying tendency to give some kind of informed, objective, emotionless opinion of an historical event and this one was no exception. The messages reminded me that Europeans are keenly aware of and sensitive to American foreign (and military) exploits.

    The images which follow were taken as I walked around my neighborhood in the days immediately after 9/11. They show the ways that ordinary people responded.
     
     

  • Op-Eds

    Explaining American Politics: Sonia, Jeff (and Silvio): Judicial Temperament (Temperamentos judiciales de Sonia, Jeff (y Silvio)



    In America millions of people are sitting around the television and watching the U.S. Senate confirmation hearings the way they watched the recent Major League Baseball All Star Game. Even metaphorically it is difficult to explain to Italians why high-level American politicians and the low-level American public are so concerned about who is and who isn’t a Federal Judge. For example, John Hooper for The Guardian  last May wrote:

    “ Silvio Berlusconi was tonight under withering fire from opposition leaders in Italy after a court declared that he had bribed his lawyer, David Mills, so that he could avoid conviction on corruption charges and hang on to ‘huge profits made from the conclusion of illicit corporate and financial operations’ The judges were giving the reasoning behind their decision in February to sentence Mills, husband of the British Olympics minister, Tessa Jowell, to four and half years in jail for taking a bribe. Mills was found guilty of accepting a $600,000 (£387,000) bribe in a case in which he had been indicted alongside his former client, who was alleged to have paid the cash. But since Berlusconi furnished himself with immunity from prosecution after returning to power last year, the court was unable to reach any conclusion with respect to him.”  

    While I was watching the excruciatingly partisan Senate Judiciary hearings on the nomination of supremely qualified, but “otherwise Latina,” Sonia Maria Sotomayor to be seated on the highest court of our land, I increasing felt an urge to throttle someone (tenía el impulso de estrangular alguien; Ho ritenuto uno stimolo a strozzare qualcuno ) just as I had felt a couple of evenings ago while watching my grandson (mi nieto; mio nipote) Spencer and his team valiantly playing, and losing, a championship baseball game against the umpire. (Hence the baseball reference.)

    Umpires, like judges, are supposed to exhibit “Judicial Temperament” -- something which the American Bar Association defined it as "compassion, decisiveness, open-mindedness, sensitivity, courtesy, patience, freedom from bias and commitment to equal justice."  In other words the ump ought to be “impartial,” and not to take a side in a game, but the teams that are the focus of their judgments, especially the losing team, know otherwise.

    The most intemperate of the Senate umpires, seems to be Jeff Sessions who represents the State of Alabama, which among other things, ranks 45 amongst 50 states in education, and, therefore (por lo tanto; quindi), ignorance. As to Session’s  State of Mind concerning persons who might have some color (un cierto color; certo colore), according to the Equal Justice Initiative website: “Although black people in Alabama constitute 27% of the total population, none of the 19 appellate court judges and only one of the 42 elected District Attorneys in Alabama is black. Nearly 63% of the Alabama prison population is black. The State of Alabama disenfranchises more of its citizens as a result of criminal convictions than any other state in the country.” (http://www.eji.org/eji/deathpenalty/racialbias) Jeff also has an ax to grind after having been justifiably rejected (rechazado justificable; rifiutato in conformità della legge) some twenty-odd years ago for a seat on the Federal Bench for racial bias having, among other things bigoted, called the NAACP (The National Association for the Advancement of “Those” People) “un-American” and “Communist-inspired.”

    On the other hand, Sonia’s Judicial Temperament is questioned because in 2001, she, while a Federal Appeals Court Judge, gave the Judge Mario G. Olmos Memorial Lecture at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law in which she declared that the ethnicity and sex of a judge “may and will make a difference in our judging.” And, “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life,…” 

    There are 19 members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Eleven (including two women) are from the current majority Democratic Party, and 8 (including no women) are from the minority Republican Party. Thankfully the majority of the biased umpires on Sonia’s case are also on her team. (Unfortunately for my grandson Spencer that was not the case.) Frankly speaking, had Sonia Maria Sotomayor, even tongue in cheek, said “I would hope that a wise White man with the richness of his experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a Latina woman who hasn’t lived that life,…” the vote would probably be unanimous, with Senators Dianne Feinstein and Amy Klobuchar, of course, biting their tongues  (mordiendo sus lengüetas; mordendo le loro linguette).

    I assume that in Italy, Silvio probably didn’t watch the Senate hearings, being more interested in young Latinas (giovane Latinas) then in wise ones (Latinas saggie).

  • Op-Eds

    Boys Will Be Boys. (I ragazzi saranno ragazzi)


    As I have often said; the difference between American and Italian politics  is that, unfortunately (purtroppo), there is no difference in that on both sides of the Atlantic the trivial is deemed importance and the important is trivialized. But the reason for the apparent electoral sex appeal of Silvio Berlusconi to many similarly endowed, ungracefully aging, surgically and/or chemically enhanced, round-faced, bald Italian voters who are the Italian versions I assume (presuppongo) of  Karl Rove, Glen Beck, Lou Dobbs,  Bill O’Reilly, and Rush Limbaugh is obvious. As to why female Italians might vote for Silvio, I refer to The Harvard Lampoon's centerfold of Henry Kissinger who was declared in a parody of  Cosmopolitan magazine as "the world's sexiest man."  To paraphrase Kissinger, wealth and  power are the ultimate (gli ultimi) aphrodisiacs.


    Sex as an issue in the highest reaches of American political office have as its lowest points US Senator and 1996 Republican Party Presidential candidate Bob Dole starring in Viagra (Viagra) commercials while, I assume (presuppongo), musing about his erectile disfunction, and goody two shoes President Jimmy Carter confessing to mental adultery. More manly post-JFK Belusconiesque US politicians have been, in alphabetical order, John Edwards, Rudy Giuliani, Newt Gingrich, Gary Hart, John McCain, David Paterson, Eliot Spitzer and of course Bill Clinton.  The most recent American Silvio wannabe is South Carolina Governor, and no longer potential Republican Presidential candidate, Mark Sanford who, it is alleged, travelled to Argentina for horizontal Spanish lessons (lezioni spagnole orizzontali) on the public's money.


    Another thing about Berlusconi's antics that makes American politicians envious is the rock star attention he gets in the press such as this story about a night in Silvio's "harem" from The Sunday Times: "Former escort girl tells of dinner party at Italian premier's home, where he showed off to female guests then took her to bed" Ironically it was the night of Obama’s historic victory when Silvio "threw a candlelite dinner party for three beautiful women at Palazzo Grazioli, his luxurious residence in Rome" where 42 year old former actress, and "escort," (l'escorta) Patrizia D’Addario, was asked "to stay the night. " Patrizia claims she taped the exchange. “Go and wait for me in the big bed,” the 72-year-old billionaire is said to have told her. He was going to have a shower and change into a bathrobe."
    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/europe/article6544035.ece


    According to D’Addario, Silvio was expected at "an election night rally organised by the Italy-USA Foundation," but he (obviously) stayed at home (a casa) to celebrate his own conquests.


    America's rock star is Barack Obama but compared to Silvio, he is relatively dull (so far at least.) As to nasty vices, the closet thing to adultery I can come up with for him is that he still smokes.  Which reminds me of an old joke that was often told by my wife’s relatives. It seems that some neighbors were talking about a daughter of ill-repute. The only part of the joke that I can remember is  " è abbastanza che non fumi."  At least she doesn't smoke (Literally: It's enough that she doesn't smoke.) So according to traditional Italian-American values Obama ranks lower than Silvio and explains Staten Island's (la bella isola) vote for John McCain in the Presidential election last November while Silvio was partying in Rome.


    In any case, while I started writing this, Berlusconi’s antics got page 6 in The New York Times as even the Vatican (il Vaticano) was now upset and Obama's nasty habit got only page 12.www.nytimes.com/2009/06/24/us/politics/24smoke.html


    Both sinners shared the interest of a column by Maureen Dowd on “Vice and Spice” (Vizio e Spezia) http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/24/opinion/24dowd.html


  • Remembering D-Day, Italian American Style


    Memorial Day weekend came early this year. Ever since they changed things to create more 3-day weekends so they can sell more things, the dates of holidays make little historical sense. The "real" Memorial Day of May 30th was established in Washington, D.C., on May 5, 1868 by John A. Logan, Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic who ordered that: "The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land. In this observance no form or ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit….." The federal law that change Memorial Day from its traditional May 30 date to the last Monday in May took effect at the federal level in 1971. The last Monday in May this year (2009) was the unmemorable May 25th. 

     
    Veterans Day is another confusing holiday to honor military veterans. It is usually observed on November 11, but if it occurs on a Sunday then the following Monday is designated, and if it occurs on Saturday then either Saturday or Friday can be designated. Evidently the holiday was first proposed in 1953, by an Emporia, Kansas shoe store owner named Al King who wanted  to expand Armistice Day beyond the celebration of World War I  veterans (and then to sell more shoes to them). President Dwight Eisenhower signed it into law on May 26, 1954 and Congress amended it on November 8, 1954, replacing "Armistice" with "Veterans" (and then probably left DC for their usual extended Christmas vacation). Since I am anti-war "Vietnam Era" veteran, on both Memorial Day and Veterans Day I celebrate it, and incidentally annoy my wife, by asking, at any store that displays the flag, for a "Veteran's Discount." Since I never get a discount, it is clear to me that people have little respect for veterans but like having the day off at our expense.


     This year the confusing "day off" for Memorial Day has been further confounded by French President Nicolas Sarkozy who, according to Charles Bremmer writing in The Times upset the  "...British with Obama D-Day visit." Evidently Nicolas had used some suave pressure to get Barack to drop by at "... the Normandy beaches on June 6 to commemorate the D-Day landings of 1944 and celebrate Franco-American ties." Then les crepes hit the fan as the Brits, Canucks, Polaks as well as myriad other wartime allies felt insulted because they were left out. Even though Sarkozy didn't want to share the Obama glow-light with them, he relented and invited his allies, however he forgot "the" Queen whom, from what I understand, was not amused. In any case, Uncle Frank Sabia and Uncle Joe Carbonaro were inexplicably left off the VIP invite list, but neither of them can make it to the commemoration anyway. Uncle Joe passed a way a few years ago and Uncle Frank prefers to stay at home with his wife Evelyn in Glen Cove on Long Island in a house attached to the one that Uncle Joe and Aunt Ann had lived in. Evelyn and Ann were sisters and Frank and Joe were neighboring brothers-in-law.

    On Memorial Day this year, my wife and I spent part of the afternoon watching a video our daughter Kathryn took at Frank and Evelyn's house five years ago. Kathryn had wanted to capture her last two living  uncles on my wife's side telling war stories, as well as spend some time with her aunts. Uncle Joe was his usual silent self, so it was Frank who got the starring role in the video. Uncle Frank's war story began when he got married, in his US Army uniform, to Evelyn at St. Blaise (Italian) RC Church in the Italian section of Flatbush, Brooklyn that people then called "Pig Town." It was September 18, 1943 and Uncle Frank said that three days later he went to England for training. On the tape, Aunt Evelyn said something inaudible (ineffable) about their honeymoon. Then the conversation got more interesting as Kathryn asked about D-Day. 

     

    Army Assault Forces Normandy 6-7, June, 1944

    Uncharacteristically, Uncle Joe answered first and said he was on Normandy's Omaha Beach to which Uncle Joe countered, you were only there "D+3. I landed D+1. On D Day, I was  sitting out in Channel while the First Infantry Division went in first." Uncle Frank manned a 155 Howitzer and the "big guns needed emplacements first." During Operation Overlord, Frank was a member of the 186th Field Artillery Battalion that was part of V Corps and also assigned to the 101st Airborne. 

    According to US Army historians: "Omaha Beach (and therefore Uncles Frank and Joe were) was crucial because it "... linked the U.S. and British beaches. It was a critical link between the Contentin peninsula and the flat plain in front of Caen. Omaha was also the most restricted and heavily defended beach, and for this reason at least one veteran U.S. Division (lst) was tasked to land there. The terrain was difficult. Omaha Beach was unlike any of the other assault beaches in Normandy. "

    Uncle Frank proudly, and gratefully, noted that his unit didn’t lose any men on the beach that day. He added, in order for the Allied Forces to proceed across France they also needed the big guns to clear out German troops who were entrenched behind hedge groves.  With the 186th, he continued on across Europe all the way to Czechoslovakia, taking time along the way to participate in the Battle of the Bulge, as well as the Remagen Bridge and Ruhr Dams operations. It was the Battle of Bulge that brought Uncles Frank and Joe together as they never would have imagined, or wanted. It seems that Joe's infantry unit was one of those which pushed too far forward and was shelled by Frank's unit.  Frank and Joe like to joke about that. (I guess it doesn't make sense to complain at this late date.) Like most veterans I know who saw combat, Frank and Joe seldom talked about the experience without prompting and when they did they made it clear that they don't consider themselves heroes in any way. It was something they felt they had to do for their families; a lot like going to work and shoveling snow; and coming home for dinner, or coming inside for a cup of something hot. Below are the families Uncles Frank and Joe came home to as they were celebrating D+336.

    V-E Day May 8, 1945  (D+336)

     

  • Life & People

    Turning Back the Tide: It's Already Too Late Silvio



    Reporting for The New York Times from Rome last week, Elisbetta Povoledo wrote: "The Italian government said Thursday that the return of 227 migrants to Libya before they could land in Italy should be adopted as the new model for dealing with illegal immigration and be extended to the rest of Europe." Commenting on these and related anti-immigrant moves in I-Italy George De Stefano wrote "Not only has Premier Silvio Berlusconi wholeheartedly endorsed the leghista send ‘em back policy; he aligned himself ideologically with the Lega when he recently declared that Italy will not become a multiethnic country."
    He might have also noted that the Italian Right's comically frantic attempts to turn back the clock to a time when non-Italians hadn't polluted (or blessed) Italy's shores is guaranteed to fail (as are face-lifts, liposuction, and hair transplants).
     
    Like it or not, Italy is already the multi-ethnic and multi-cultural nation that Silvio and his occasional sidekick (accolito) Umberto Bossi both abhor. On the other hand, Italy does have every right, and indeed every obligation, to combat illegal immigration and to also demand that the other members of the European Union contribute to the effort. Equally responsible for the human disasters that take place daily, are the North African countries from which so many of the tired and the poor are cast adrift on hardly sea-worthy craft after having paid hefty prices for their perilous voyage. Unfortunately, the Italian Right seems more comfortable with attacking diversity rather than the problems of migrants before and after they get to the promised land of Italy on their way, they dream, to economically sunnier shores.
     
    As in the United States, scapegoating immigrants and foreigners in general for the mess created by indigenous politicians is a common diversion. When was the last time an African street merchant was caught bribing a government official so he could dump megatons of industrial waste in Campania? How many Egyptian pizza makers (pizzaioli) are selling derivatives on the Milan stock exhange? 
     
    Beginning with the first Africans, who walked to Italy via the Pleistocene land bridge some tens of thousands of years ago, to those who swam ashore just a few minutes ago, Italy (and Italians) have been fashioned and re-fashioned by a motley (variopinto) crew of folks from the south, east, north, and west. I am a proud product of that mongrelization. Last week when I spoke at a memorial service for an old friend and colleague, Rocco Caporale, I noted that he was one of the few people I knew who didn't ask this light-skinned, blue-eyed, six foot, at one time dirty-blond, with "Krase" as a last name why he was interested in things Italian.
     
    And, as to those things Italian, a few weeks ago I made a pilgrimage to visit the land of my mother's people - Sicily - more specifically the hill town of Marineo near Palermo and adjacent to the Plain of the Albanians (Piana degli Albanesi) . There I visited the castle that my grandfather Girolamo Cangelosi told my mother he lived in, and spent a drizzly afternoon walking around, inflicting my terrible Italian language on men in the streets and women in the shops. The castle is now a museum that celebrates the historical contributions of the many groups that settled in the area and left their imprint on the landscape and the people. I also visited the church, St. Ciro's, where my great grandparents (bisnonni) were married, and the nearby town cemetery richly decorated with variants of the names Cangelosi and Trentacosti.
     
     
    This gentleman was kind enough to tell me about his five brothers who migrated to New York
    (At least I think he told me that).
     
     
    Il Cimitero, presso a Marineo.
     
    Wherever we went in Sicily, we found signs of foreigners (stranieri) past and present; -- in the people, in the food, in the architecture, in the language, and the culture. I saw nothing that reminded me of the reactionary intolerance that appears too often on the stage of Italian national and international politics and which threatens the sophisticated, cultured, and cosmopolitan image that Italy has struggled so hard to create. Mafiosi and Fascisti are equal enemies of the people and "no al pizzo" and "no al razismo" should be said within the same breath.
    Greek Ruins in Selinunte
     
    Byzantine Chapel, in Palermo
     
    La Kalsa, Medieval Saracen ( Saraceno mediavale) settlement in Palermo

  • Life & People

    John Marchi, an Italian American Class Act


    Staten Island born and raised, John J. Marchi, died last Saturday, April 25th, 2009 while visiting his family's ancestral hometown of Lucca, Italy. He was 87 and his life is a great example of how places mold people. Lucca is surrounded by imposing walls built to defend itself against an "old enemy" (Florence), and Staten Island is essentially surrounded by a moat that separates it from its historical nemesis "New York City." Win or lose, John Marchi only defended things he felt were worth the effort.

    As a New York State Senator for 50 years (1956 to 2006) Marchi fought in Albany (and at New York City Hall or Washington DC) for the interests of Staten Islanders such as the preservation and expansion of Richmond County's (Staten Island's) cultural and educational institutions. One of his greatest gifts to his fellow Islanders was the creation of the College of Staten Island as part of The City University of New York. Another of his battles fought and won was the closing of the Fresh Kills Landfill that at one time was the largest in the world. For half a century it was a major repository for New York City's garbage, and Islander resentment. Taking his cue from the people of Lucca, he was a also a fierce defender, and promoter, of the best of Italian culture. There was not a worthy Italian or Italian American cultural project that didn't have John Marchi's imprimatur on it.
     
    Some (too) many years ago I was invited with a small group of other "young" Italian American (in my case half Sicilian American) activists to meet with Senator Marchi at his home in Staten Island. I assumed it would not be a meeting of the minds, as he held more or less "conservative" positions on most issues and I was off the scale in the opposite direction. He opposed abortion and supported American involvement in the Vietnam War. I supported a woman's right to choose and participated in more than one antiwar demonstration that he regarded as strikes "against America.”
     
    As I recall, the meeting was the most cordial I had ever had with someone with whom I had so little in common. However, what we shared was large enough to cover all bases -- our common concern for the welfare of the Italian American population of New York City. I saw him off and on over the decades and always felt compelled to go over to him and re-introduce myself; "Senator Marchi, we have met before. My name is Jerry Krase." And he would always politely say "I know. How are you Jerry?" and act as though we were good friends. For the last two years our ever briefer encounters were at the Wagner College DaVinci  Society Scholarship Dinners at the Staten Island Garden Inn. There I would ask his daughter Joan to re-introduce me to her dad and he, of course, would renew our old acquaintance.
     
    John Marchi's gentlemanliness must be something his family brought over to Staten Island from Italy as charm and sophistication is hardly something that easily follows the words "Staten Island" today. In contrast to the dangerous currents that run under the Verrazano Bridge and the pollution lurking under the Goethals, Bayonne, and Outerbridge Crossing bridges, the imposing wall surrounding Lucca is hardly a fearsome barrier. It is actually a lovely elevated park; perfect for lovers. Contained within these walls is a delightful maze of small and even smaller streets leading to people and piazzas of various sizes and characters all of which have something pleasantly "special" to offer. Getting lost in Lucca can be exhilarating. Getting lost in Staten Island can give you a headache. Staten Island has a long way to go before it meets the Marchi standard, but if it ever gets there, he will have deserved most of the credit.
     
    I have cut and pasted here a piece of a book, The Staten Island Italian American Experience (www.wagner.edu/institutional_advancement/book) that I wrote for the DaVinci Society of Wagner College. Some notes about him can be found in the chapter entitled “The Rise of Italian Politicians and Voters”.  
     
    Despite the success of many, the persistence of anti-Italian bias in the city politics was clearly demonstrated in the mayoral election of 1969. In the following excerpt from Nathan Glazer and Daniel P. Moynihan’s near classic study of New York City ethnic politics they expound of such prejudice at an incredibly high, academic, level: “Significantly, by the way of illustration, he (Michael Lerner) cited a world-famous Yale professor of government who, at dinner, “on the day an Italian American announced his candidacy for Mayor of New York,” remarked that “If Italians aren’t actually an inferior race, they do the best imitation of one I’ve seen.” It was also said of Mario Procaccino that he was so sure of being elected that he had ordered new linoleum for Gracie Mansion. No one said much of anything about John Marchi, the Republican and Conservative candidate whose Tuscan aristocratic style was surely the equal of Linday’s WASP patrician manner, and who conducted perhaps the most thoughtful campaign of the three. Procaccino was made out the clod, and was beaten.” (Beyond the Melting Pot, 1970: lxxiii-xiv)
     
    In the same text, Glazer and Moynihan’s, few, yet prescient comments about stable Italian neighborhoods and politics clearly establish Staten Island as the future for Italo-American New Yorkers. “The North Bronx Italian sections developed (as did similar areas in Queens) when Italians went to the end of the subway lines and beyond, seeking cheap land on which to build houses and raise vegetables and goats. The sections are still heavily Italians, and helped elect Representative Paul Fino from the Bronx. Staten Island, which was also attractive to Italians forty years ago because it offered a semi rural life, remains heavily Italians. It was the first borough to have an Italian borough president.” (187) What Glazer and Moynihan had no inkling of was the between 1934 and 2006 Italian Americans held the position of Staten Island Borough President for more than three-quarters of the time representing the Conservative, Democrat, and Republican Parties. The following list is impressive:  Joseph A. Palma 1934-45, Albert V. Maniscalco 1955-65, , Anthony R. Gaeta 1977-84, Ralph J. Lamberti 1984-89, Guy V. Molinari 1990-2001, and James P. Molinaro 2002- present.
     
    It is true that Italian Americans from New York City have been successful at many levels of politics. In addition to those already mentioned the additional short list would include Governor Mario V. Cuomo, Vice Presidential Candidate Geraldine Ferraro, New York City Comptroller Mario Procaccino, New York State Senator John Calandra, New York State Supreme Court Justices Anthony Travia, Michael Pesci, and even County Leaders such as one-time Brooklyn “Boss” Meade Esposito. It is in Staten Island however that Italian Americans have shown real political muscle. In the year 2006 Italian Americans held the vast majority of the available elective positions for the borough, again representing all major parties:
     
    • United States Congressional Representative, Republican Vito Fosella
    • Staten Island Borough President, Conservative/Republican James Molinaro
    • New York State Assemblyman, Republican Vincent Ignizio
    • New York State Senate Senators, Republican John Marchi, and Democrats Diane Savino and Vincent Gentile
    • New York City Councilmen, Republicans James Oddo and Andrew Lanza
    • Other Staten Island Italian Americans serve in the elective and appointive judicial systems such as Thomas P. Aliotta, Justice of the New York State Supreme Court, and Eric Vitaliano, United States District Judge for the Eastern District of New York.
     
    For some, like the Molinaris, politics is almost the family business. It began with Italian-born Democratic Party Assemblyman S. Robert Molinari of New Dorp who served briefly in the New York State Assembly (1943-44). His son, Guy Victor Molinari also served in the New York State Assembly, but as a Republican from 1975 to 80 when he ran for an won the post of United States Representative and where he served until 1990. At that point he became Borough President of Staten Island and remained in that capacity until 2001. His position in congress was assumed in 1990 by his daughter Susan Molinari, also a Republican, who was re-elected for four consecutive terms before retiring from office in 1997 to pursue a career as a television hournalist.
     
    Because of their almost legendary status, some of Staten Island’s political icons such as John Marchi and Vito J. Titone, require more than passing notice. Senator John J. Marchi has served in the New York State Senate since 1957 and is recognized as the longest serving legislator--at all levels--in America. Marchi was born in Staten Island, attended local schools. In addition to his undergraduate and law degrees he was awarded the degree of Doctor of Laws from Wagner College. He has been a leader in Italian and Italian American affairs for which, in 1968, he received the highest award Italy bestows on a non-resident: Commander of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Italy. Then in 1992 he was given the Filippo Mazzei Award for public service and strengthening relations between the United States and Italy. In 1969 and 1973, he was the candidate of the Republican Party for the Office of Mayor of the City of New York. When the New York City Charter revisions reduced the power of boroughs he led the movement for Staten Island’s secession from New York City.
     
    It is this activity that has enshrined him New York’s political pantheon. As Bill Kaufman wrote: 
    “Staten Island's 400,000 citizens had one last, best hope: independence. In 1993, led by the "George Washington of Staten Island," the scholarly Republican-Conservative State Senator John Marchi, islanders voted two-to-one for freedom. (The Times editorial page rebuked the secessionists for their "passions.") State Assembly Democrats, however, insisted that the secession request had to come from the entire city, not just Staten Island. Meanwhile, Republicans, having just elected Rudy Giuliani thanks to the votes of Staten Islanders, were not all that eager to cut loose the island and its GOP voters, either. The free Staten Island movement drifted into limbo.” (www.taemag.com/issues/issueID.143/toc.asp)
     
     In my opinion, John Marchi was among the best brightest and he deserves a place alongside New York City's other unblemished political heroes such as Firello LaGuardia and Mario Cuomo. I'm sure he would agree but would hardly make the claim himself. I offer my deepest sympathies, and gratitude, to his family and his two hometowns.

     

     

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