STATEN ISLAND, NY Midway through his dedication ceremony Saturday at Monsignor Farrell High School, Borough President Vito Fossella received a phone call.
It better be President Trump, joked attorney Louis Gelormino, a friend and former classmate Farrell of Fossella, who was speaking at the time.
And, in fact, former President Donald Trump was online, much to the delight of several hundred people, including Fossella’s wife and children, sitting in the school gymnasium.
You’re going to do a great job, and you’ll do it better than anyone, Trump said, because the call was made on the speakerphone system.
You have a lot of fans in Staten Island, a beaming Fossella answered the cheers.
People of Staten Island, you can’t have better people to represent, Trump told Fossella. I’ll see you soon in Staten Island.
WE DESERVE BETTER
Later, in a 25-minute speech, Fossella, an Oakwood School alumnus, pledged to lead Staten Island on the path to a brighter future, saying the city’s policies in recent years had once again made it the forgotten district.
I felt a community we love and call home, Staten Island, was heading in the wrong direction, Fossella said, explaining his reasons for running for borough president last year. Crime is on the rise, quality of life is plummeting, small businesses are suffering, and city and state leaders are failing. We, Staten Island, were the lifeboat attached to the Titanic New York City. We were ruled by people who not only didn’t understand us, but also didn’t care about us.
We deserve better. We deserve more, Fossella said. We deserve a voice and someone who will listen.
Without outlining specific policies, Fossella said he would work to make schools safer, ease the burden on businesses hit by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and government regulations, and seek out technology opportunities. and innovative.
We have to press the reset button. Put people first and bring back common sense, Fossella said. I have news for you: the government works for the people and not the other way around. Somehow this little understanding got derailed along the way. Well, today we say: Get that train back on track.
NEW ARTS SCHOOL PLANNED
One way to achieve this goal is to address inequality in arts education in the borough, he said.
The city administers 19 high schools for the arts, but none on Staten Island, Fossella said.
He said plans are underway to bring an arts high school to Staten Island, which will be located on the grounds of the Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden in Livingston.
Alice Diamond, the wife of late Staten Island Advance publisher Richard Diamond, and Democratic North Shore adviser Kamillah Hanks, were instrumental in those efforts, which he said, have the approval of the Snug Harbor Board of Directors and borough elected officials.
No timeline has been set for bringing the school to Snug Harbor.
On another front, the massive scourge that was once Fresh Kills’ dumping ground is slowly but surely turning into Freshkills Park. Later this year, a park inside Freshkills will be open to the public, Fossella said.
It’s emblematic of the miracles that can happen when Staten Islanders work together and our city and state colleagues work with us, he said.
SAFE NEIGHBORHOODS A PRIORITY
On the issue of public safety, Fossella said he strongly supports law enforcement.
He cited a wave of violence in the city in recent weeks in which a police officer was killed in Harlem on Friday night and several others were shot and wounded, including Detective Dominick Libretti in New Springville on Thursday.
We want safe neighborhoods, safe streets, safe schools, safe parks and safe subways, Fossella said. We know that the best way to do this is to allow the police to do their job, receive our support and keep the bad guys off our streets. In short, we said, we rule the streets, not the thugs.
And while those remarks drew applause, the loudest cheers were reserved for the Librettis family, whom Fossella asked to stand up and be recognized.
In a sense, the inauguration was a political loophole for Fossella, a Republican.
The former South Shore city councilman became a congressman for the borough, but declined to run for re-election in 2008 amid controversy.
But after more than a decade without public office, he returned to the mix for the election of borough presidents last year. He is the 16th person to hold this position.
Vito only wants what you want, said Paul Gabos, his friend and former classmate at Farrell and the University of Pennsylvania. If you want to make a difference, start here. You start now. Staten Island is no longer the forgotten borough.
A vocal opponent of mask mandates, Fossella said earlier this week that mask-wearing should be made entirely optional.
During a spike in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations last month, Governor Kathy Hochul announced on New Year’s Eve that the statewide mask mandate, which requires New Yorkers to use face coverings in public places, will be extended until at least January 29.
Fossella reiterated his point to the public, the vast majority of whom were not wearing face coverings.
Now is the time to get rid of mask mandates for everyone, especially our children, Fossella said to applause.
Later, after the 80-minute ceremony, Lou Tobacco, president of Farrells, said the school was following all COVID-19 mandates, including mask-wearing, during class hours and after-school activities; however, the inauguration was not a school function.
The Fossella team, he said, rented the gymnasium for their own use.
He added that Farrell did everything he could to stay open to students during the pandemic and never had to close his own rights.
We only closed when instructed to do so, he said.
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