Guy V. Molinari, a lawyer who entered public service in midlife, made an outsized impact on Staten Island life and politics.
His family moved to Staten Island soon after his birth in 1928. After graduating from New Dorp High School in 1945, he enrolled at Wagner College.
“My father was adamant that his sons would go to college,” Molinari wrote. “As an Italian immigrant, he believed that the key to success in America was obtaining a college education.”
After graduating from Wagner in 1949, he enrolled at New York Law School, earning his J.D. in 1951 — but, with war raging in Korea, Molinari enlisted in the Marines. It would be another two years before he took the bar exam.
Two decades passed. Molinari married, fathered a daughter, built a successful real estate law practice, and began dabbling in Republican party politics. He served as campaign chairman three times for other candidates, but an argument with a longtime Republican state assemblyman pushed him to declare his own candidacy for office in 1974; he was 46 years old. Running as an insurgent against his own party’s standard bearer, Molinari put together a grassroots campaign that gave him the first of 10 straight electoral victories, winning three terms in the Assembly, five Congressional races, and three stints as Staten Island borough president. The only race he lost was for Richmond County district attorney.
One of his first major achievements came in 1981, when he was a freshman congressman. The new Reagan administration was closing Public Health Service hospitals across the country, including the one on Staten Island. Molinari helped steer legislation through the House facilitating the hospital’s sale to the Sisters of Charity of New York, which kept the facility open, renaming it Bayley Seton Hospital.
Almost from the first day of his political career, Molinari wanted to close the massive New York City landfill on Staten Island’s west shore, but lacked the political clout until fellow Republicans captured both the state governor’s mansion and the New York City mayor’s office. With Gov. George Pataki and Mayor Rudolph Giuliani in power, however, Borough President Guy Molinari was able to emcee the ceremony closing the Fresh Kills dump on March 22, 2001 — nine months before being term-limited out of office.
“That date can be described as one of the greatest days of my political career, if not the greatest,” Molinari said.
After leaving office, Molinari presided over a Republican club on Staten Island that played a crucial role in local politics, making it possible for a party outnumbered 3:2 by Democrats to exert disproportionate influence in local, state and national affairs.
It’s no wonder, then, that even a Democratic Party icon like Chuck Schumer would acknowledge the legendary politician’s importance when speaking at the 2004 dedication of the Staten Island ferry boat named for the former assemblyman, congressman, and borough president: “If ever there was a Mr. Staten Island, it is Guy Molinari.”