Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Staten Island Advance: Gene Prisco, liberal lion of Staten Island, educator, and activist for the disenfranchised, dies at 70

Excellent obit on Gene. Though I knew this was coming for the past month - and probably longer than that, I'm still having trouble breathing. Just last January we all celebrated Gene and Loretta's 70th birthday - I have some really bad video and so sorry I didn't bring the good camera -- dumb, dumb, dumb. Glad the old crew got to see him a few times since things went downhill starting in August. What could go wrong, did go wrong. We will tell the entire medical story as we know it soon. Many lessons for all of us with the main one being: if you can stay out of a hospital, do so. And I swear, when I saw Gene last Tuesday he didn't look much worse than he looks in this great photo. Astounding that Gene's mom died about a year ago with him taking extraordinary care of her. I keep smacking myself in the head over the entire story.

One of the ironies is that if Gene were well there was going to be a push for him to be the Staten Island rep on the PEP. How much fun would that have been?

If I haven't made it clear to people, Gene and Loretta were part of our hard-core activist crew from the early 70s. He was a founding member of the Coalition of NYC School Workers and of ICE -- I think it was Gene at ICE's first meeting on Oct. 30, 2003 who got up and said we had to run in the 2004 UFT elections and we all cheered in affirmation. Always funny and sharp and with brilliant insights into general politics and the UFT. 

Tom Wrobleski/Staten Island Advance By Tom Wrobleski/Staten Island Advance

November 27, 2013 at 6:28 PM, updated November 27, 2013 at 6:37 PM
Members of the political, education and activist communities are mourning the loss of Randall Manor resident Gene Prisco, shown here in 2012. 
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- Eugene (Gene) Vincent Prisco, 70, of Randall Manor, a liberal lion of Staten Island politics and a longtime educator who also aided immigrants and refugees through his work with the African Refuge organization, died of complications from surgery on Monday in the Villanova, Pa., home of his daughter and son-in-law.

Mr. Prisco, a stalwart Democrat who made runs for U.S. Congress and state Senate and also helped generations of Island students as a school guidance and substance abuse counselor, was born in Queens and raised in the Bronx.
He moved to Grymes Hill in 1967, to Sunnyside in 1971, and to Randall Manor in 1974.

Vexed that the Democrats had long endorsed GOP state Sen. John Marchi, Prisco in 1994 launched a primary against Marchi for the Democratic nomination. Marchi prevailed, but Prisco successfully aired the issue of cross-endorsements.

In 1998, Prisco ran against GOP Rep. Vito Fossella. Though Fossella won the election, Prisco was praised for raising the issues of gun control and campaign finance reform during the race.

A proud liberal known also for his larger-than-life personality and sense of humor, Mr. Prisco was a longtime member of the Staten Island Democratic Association and belonged to the party's county committee.

"Gene was one of the most passionate and articulate voices on behalf of the Democratic Party that I have ever known," said borough Democratic chairman John Gulino. "He was a man of principle, a man of vision and a man with a deep and abiding love for his family, Staten Island and the Democratic Party. With Gene's passing, we have lost a champion for the values of the Democratic Party and it is a loss we all feel deeply."

Members of the North Shore Democratic Club observed a moment of silence in Mr. Prisco's honor before their meeting on Tuesday.

Sadness at Mr. Prisco's passing crossed party lines.
"Our politics never jibed, but we always got along," said GOP Borough President-elect James Oddo. "We always appreciated each other's candor. He was very passionate about education and teaching. I'm sorry to hear of his loss."

Mr. Prisco spent 33 years in the city public school system, most of it at Morris Intermediate School, Brighton Heights, where he was a social studies teacher and guidance and substance abuse counselor. Mr. Prisco also ran a bereavement group for students at Morris.

He also taught 6th grade at PS 18, where he started a free breakfast program, and was a substance abuse and guidance counselor at numerous Island elementary schools.

Mr. Prisco retired in 1999, but served as a teaching mentor at the College of Staten Island and Pace University.

Mr. Prisco belonged to the Community School Board for five years, and was a United Federation of Teachers delegate.

He also belonged to the Staten Island Alliance for Responsible Education , the Independent Community of Educators, the Coalition of New York City School Workers, the Staten Island Teacher's Action Committee, and Communities United for Respect and Trust.

Mr. Prisco was a member of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence.
Mr. Prisco earned a bachelor's degree in history from Iona College. He received a master's degree in Asian Studies from St. John's University, Queens, and an All But Dissertation degree in Asian and Russian Studies from New York University.

Mr. Prisco was chairman of the board of directors of the African Refuge organization, which runs an after-school center in Clifton and numerous other programs.

Mr. Prisco's family said it was that work he was most proud of. He was honored by the group in May as part of the African Refuge's 10th anniversary celebration.

The Rev. Judy Brown, executive director of African Refuge, said Mr. Prisco was "an inspiration in my life."
"He was a source of hope for many communities here on Staten Island," she said. "Gene had a unique personality full of warmth and humor, was genuinely concerned about disenfranchised people, and worked for justice and equality for all humankind. African Refuge and many other organizations on Staten Island will greatly miss him."

Mr. Prisco was vice president Neighborhood Housing Services and worked tirelessly on behalf of group clients right up until the time of his death.

Mr. Prisco had a rich and fulfilling family life.

Mr. Prisco and his wife of 47 years, the former Loretta Gallo, also a public school teacher, were an inseparable pair.

"Ours was an almost 50-year love affair," she said. "We did everything as a team, from working together to advocacy to haircut appointments."

Mr. Prisco was a pioneer when in 1975 he took child-care leave in order to stay home and care for his daughter, Gabrielle Horowitz-Prisco.

Daughter Francesca Molinari remembered Mr. Prisco as a hands-on father at a time when many dads were typically less demonstrative.

He doted on his granddaughter, Isabelle Molinari, and the two frequently visited the Staten Island Zoo, West Brighton, to see the porcupines. They also enjoyed visiting The Corner Book Store in Manhattan.

Mr. Prisco loved to read, and would often quip that his two favorite things were naps and novels.

An exceptional cook, Mr. Prisco was known for his Italian dishes.

He had a deep love and encyclopedia knowledge of jazz music, and was a film buff, enjoying foreign films in particular. He regularly attended the Montreal Film Festival.

World travelers, the Priscos took many trips aboard old-school ocean liners with the Cunard Cruise Line.
Toward the end of his life, with friends and family gathered at his bedside, Mr. Prisco said, "What I have come to see is that at the core, it is about love; it is the most important thing. It is the only thing. Without love, there is nothing."

Mr. Prisco was also close to his children's spouses, Steven Molinari and Re Horowitz-Prisco.

In addition to his wife, Loretta; his daughters, Gabrielle and Francesca, and his granddaughter, Mr. Prisco is survived by a brother, Peter Prisco.

Funeral arrangements, which are pending, are being handled by the Harmon Home for Funerals in West Brighton.


  1. This news is so shocking, it feels a part of the community has just dropped out. The few words I write here are only to say that even if we rarely cross paths these days, the magnitude of your loss effects me very deeply.
    Julie W.

  2. I didn't know about his love of jazz. Josh just put on Jazz Soul of Oscar Peterson right now and we are dedicating it to Gene. I'm so sad to hear the news. Much love to the Prisco family.

    1. Gene was a massive jazz expert -- when I put rock on he cringed. When I was over there last week I asked if he had been listening to jazz and the fact he hadn't was a dire sign. His situation was just too difficult. When we can tell the full medical story the series of bad luck events that took him from "you'll be out and about in a week" to death's door a basically 6-8 weeks will just make this very sad story even worse. I'll pass on your note to Loretta.


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