Sen. Marchi's Death Marks End of an Era for Staten Island

 

    Staten Island Advance

    Posted by rmccormi April 26, 2009

    Former GOP state Sen. John Marchi, 87, the "Father of Secession" and one of the longest-serving lawmakers in United States history, died on Saturday while vacationing with his family in Lucca, Italy.

    Sen. Marchi died of complications of pneumonia, according to his daughter Aline Balbas.

     

    Sen. Marchi was traveling with his wife, Maria Luisa, and their daughter Joan Migliori. The Marchis frequently visited Lucca, Mrs. Marchi's hometown and home to other relatives of Sen. Marchi.

    "New Yorkers have lost one of the true giants of our public life," said Mayor Michael Bloomberg. "John never backed away from a cause he thought was right. He always represented, not just the interests of the people of Staten Island, but also their courage, and their patriotism."

    Funeral arrangements have not been finalized, but Ms. Balbas said her father's body would be returned to Staten Island this week for burial.

    "To his extended family and friends, he will be remembered first as a man of faith, a loving husband and father, and a devoted friend," the Marchi family said in a statement. "We, the family of Senator Marchi, are especially proud of the fact that his actions and deeds -- both as a public servant and as a private citizen -- were always principled, ethical and tempered."

    First elected in 1956, Sen. Marchi, one of the most revered figures, political or otherwise, in Island history, was the longest-serving lawmaker in New York history when he announced his retirement in 2006.

    Though perhaps best remembered for spearheading the unsuccessful effort in the 1990s to have the Island secede from New York City, Sen. Marchi also was instrumental in saving the city from bankruptcy in the mid-1970s, and shutting the Fresh Kills landfill.

    Sen. Marchi also was a leading force in the successful development of the College of Staten Island and Snug Harbor Cultural Center, and wielded tremendous influence for several years as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

    NAMESAKE FERRYBOAT
    One of the three boats added to the Staten Island Ferry fleet in 2004 was named after Sen. Marchi in recognition of his accomplishments.

    Sen. Marchi was hailed yesterday as a gentleman legislator who exuded class and dignity, and relied on his conscience to guide his lawmaking, even if it put him at odds with his constituents and political allies.

    "John Marchi was a national, if not international, treasure who happened to reside on Staten Island," said U.S. District Judge Eric Vitaliano, a former Mid-Island assemblyman who served in the Legislature with Sen. Marchi for nearly 20 years. "He was a magnificent human being who served the people of his community in an extraordinary fashion."

    State Sen. Diane Savino (D-North Shore/Brooklyn) said that she would work with state Sen. Andrew Lanza (R-Staten Island), Sen. Marchi's successor in the Senate, to put together a tribute to Sen. Marchi and have a resolution passed in his honor in the Senate this week.

    "The man deserves that the Senate stand still and memorialize him," said Sen. Savino.

    "Sen. Marchi ... was a tireless leader and advocate for the state and the city," said Gov. David Paterson, who served with Sen. Marchi in the Senate. "He was determined to make our state a better place to live, work and raise a family, and that will be a lasting part of his legacy.

    As chairman of the Finance Committee from 1973 to 1988, Sen. Marchi helped craft the financial package that saved the city from bankruptcy in the mid-1970s.

    In 1996, Sen. Marchi was among those Island elected officials who successfully pushed a bill to close Fresh Kills.

    But Sen. Marchi is perhaps most closely associated with the secession movement.

    When the city Board of Estimate was abolished in the late 1980s, Sen. Marchi initiated a series of studies to examine the feasibility of the Island's breaking away from the city. The Senate approved Sen. Marchi's secession bill in 1995, but the legislation was opposed by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, and the bill never came to a vote in that chamber.

    The effort earned Sen. Marchi the moniker "the Father of Secession."

    WITHOUT ENEMIES
    "He was a towering figure of Staten Island politics," said former Borough President Guy Molinari. "He was a man that exuded class. ... I don't think he had any enemies. Not too many people in politics can say that."

    The defeat in the Assembly of the Sen. Marchi-backed South Richmond development plan in the 1970s was another setback for the senator. The plan called for the building of 12 new communities for 400,000 residents, and was vociferously opposed by the borough Conservative Party, among others.

    His opposition to the death penalty and abortion also drew criticism, from the left and the right, over the years.

    "He was so comfortable with himself and his principles that once he made a decision, he went with it," Kate Rooney, Sen. Marchi's former special counsel, said yesterday. "He didn't agonize."

    Sen. Marchi also put his Italian heritage and abiding Roman Catholic faith at the center of his public and private lives. In 2007, he became the first layman to receive the Cardinal John O'Connor Extraordinary Service Award.

    "Simply put, he was an institution and an example others should seek to follow," said Cardinal Edward Egan, former archbishop of New York and a personal friend of Sen. Marchi's.

    The Marchis were married for 60 years, and many who knew them often remarked on their enduring commitment to each other.

    "They were great life partners," said former GOP Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno. "He loved her, she loved him. They were really what people should aspire to in terms of a friendship, a partnership and a love affair."

    Sen. Marchi also served as a role model for generations of borough lawmakers who sought to emulate his dignified, non-partisan approach to life in the political arena.

    "He was the living embodiment that public service can be a noble profession," said City Councilman James Oddo (R-Mid-Island/Brooklyn). "He was the gold standard. We will never see the likes of him again."

    ENDORSED BY DEMS
    Sen. Marchi's stature grew to a degree that he was frequently cross-endorsed by the Democratic Party in his Senate races, and he won re-election to his seat unopposed in 2004.

    But Sen. Marchi was unable to use his Island popularity as a springboard to higher office, losing elections as the GOP candidate for mayor in 1969 and 1973, and suffering a defeat in a bid for borough president in 1961.

    Sen. Marchi retired in 2006 after being hospitalized for a bleeding esophagus, and kept a low public profile after leaving the Senate.

    His accomplishments were hailed at a day-long symposium sponsored by the College of Staten Island in 2006, and served as grand marshal of the Travis Fourth of July Parade in 2007.

    In addition to his wife and two daughters, Sen. Marchi is survived by two granddaughters, and two great-grandchildren.

    A Ward Hill resident at the time of his death, Sen. Marchi was born in Brighton Heights on May 20, 1921, and also lived in New Brighton and Silver Lake.

    Sen. Marchi attended the former PS 43 in Brighton Heights, and Our Lady of Good Counsel School, Tompkinsville.

    He was a graduate of St. Peter's Boys High School, and received a bachelor of arts degree from Manhattan College, the Bronx; a law degree from St. John's University School of Law in Queens, and a doctorate in juridical science from Brooklyn Law School.

    Sen. Marchi belonged to the U.S. Coast Guard and saw combat duty in the Atlantic, Pacific and Asiatic theaters during World War II.

    He was a lifelong parishioner of Our Lady of Good Counsel R.C. Church.

    The Harmon Home for Funerals, West Brighton, is handling the arrangements.

    -- Contributed by Tom Wrobleski