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Remembering Ex-Rep. Guy Molinari: 'A Staten Islander Through and Through'

Remembering Ex-Rep. Guy Molinari: 'A Staten Islander Through and Through'
Staten Island Borough Pres. Guy V. Molinari, left, and his daughter, former Rep. Susan Molinari, R-N.Y., pictured in 1997. (AP/Marty Lederhandler)

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Sunday, 12 August 2018 08:52 PM Current | Bio | Archive

"I saw [Rudy] Giuliani at Guy Molinari's funeral about two weeks ago," New York State Conservative Party Chairman Mike Long told me on Thursday, referring to the late U.S. representative and longtime borough president of Staten Island, New York. "In fact, everyone was there — [State Assemblywoman] Nicole Malliotakis, [State Sen.] Diane Savino, and [Rep.] Dan Donovan, even though Guy didn't back him in his primary this year."

As subtle as a fishmonger at New York's famed market on Fulton Street and as feisty as the Marine sergeant he once was, Molinari had a generous share of clashes with fellow politicians after a quarter-century in public life.

But it really didn't matter in the end. Hundreds of friends, foes, family and folks in general turned out at Our Lady Queen of Peace Church for the politician who, more than anyone else, personified Staten Island.

He had a special relationship with Ronald Reagan, was a key player in Giuliani's election as mayor of New York and helped turn Staten Island into the only one of five boroughs in New York City that remains reliably Republican.

Molinari, who had battled a long illness, died on July 25 at age 89.

The son of Italian immigrants and a self-styled "street kid" from Manhattan, Gaetano Vincent Molinari graduated from Wagner College and New York Law School. He joined the U.S. Marine Corps, rose to the rank of sergeant and saw action in the Korean War.

After years of private law practice, Molinari was elected to the New York State Assembly in 1974. He immediately joined the small group of Republicans known as "F Troop" that was more conservative than most of the GOP lawmakers in Albany. Pro-life, anti-tax and tough on crime, they were noticed in a largely moderate Republican caucus.

In 1980, Molinari made one of the most critical decisions of his career: to take on Democratic U.S. Rep. John M. Murphy, who seemed invincible after 18 years in office. When I asked Molinari just what made him think he could take out a powerhouse such as Murphy, he shot back: "Because I don't lose!"

He didn't. Murphy was indicted in the ABSCAM case, in which FBI agents disguised as Arab sheiks were filmed offering bribes to Murphy and other members of Congress and the lawmakers greedily accepting them. Molinari rolled up 56 percent of the vote against Murphy (who later went to prison for 18 months).

One of only two Republican House members from New York City at the time, Molinari stayed conservative on most of the key issues. For example, he backed Reagan's historic tax and budget cuts in 1981.

But the Staten Islander voted with Democrats in funding many federal programs, notably aid to education or preserving the Legal Services Corporation. He also made it clear he disliked the weekly commute to Washington and the time away from beloved wife, Marguerite. At one point, in his first term, he hinted he might leave Congress altogether. This led Reagan to invite him to the Oval Office and on a flight aboard Air Force One — where the president almost surely implored him to stay in office.

"Reagan had a special relationship with Guy," former Rep. John Napier, R-S.C., a House classmate of Molinari's, told Newsmax, "[White House political strategist] Lee Atwater told me Reagan saw him as a possible mayor of New York."

In 1989, Molinari finally left Congress after winning the office he truly wanted: borough president of Staten Island, roughly akin to that of a major county executive. To no one's surprise, he happily oversaw the succession to his House seat by his daughter and then City Council member Susan Molinari.

"Guy used the borough presidency to get what he felt was needed for Staten Island," said Mike Long. "After years of fighting with City Hall, he got the one-way toll on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. He kept the Staten Island Ferry free."

Long also noted that Molinari's support was pivotal to fellow Republican's dramatic election to the mayoralty in 1993. Where Giuliani "was a lot more liberal in those days than he is now," Long said, "Guy was pretty conservative — pro-life, pro-traditional marriage, pro-Second Amendment. So, he gave Rudy cover with conservatives."

Molinari's record of not losing ended in 1995 when he was defeated in a bid for Staten Island district attorney. Six years later, he stepped down as borough president and resumed private law practice.

"More than anything, Guy was a Staten Islander through and through," said Mike Long, "And he was one fantastic guy."
 

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.

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"I saw [Rudy] Giuliani at Guy Molinari's funeral about two weeks ago," New York State Conservative Party Chairman Mike Long told me on Thursday, referring to the late U.S. representative and longtime borough president of Staten Island, New York. "In fact, everyone was there...
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