Death of fmr. Assemblyman & Nassau Co. Boss Joseph Margiotta (R-NY)
- Former Assemblyman Margiotta died on 11/28/2008 in Roslyn, NY.
Joseph Margiotta, former Republican leader, dies at 81
BY RICK BRAND AND JOSEPH MALLIA | rick.brand@...;
November 29, 2008
Former Nassau Republican chairman and power broker Joseph Margiotta
died on Friday at St. Francis Hospital in Roslyn. He was 81.
Margiotta had been hospitalized since Sunday when he indicated that
he was feeling tired, said Mitchell Charchalis, his grandson.
"Joe was a true believer in the Republican Party and its principles
and will be long remembered for the central role he played in the
county's history," said Joseph Mondello, the state and Nassau GOP
chairman, who was Margiotta's hand-picked successor to run the once-
Margiotta was influential in Long Island politics for decades,
heading the county Republican empire from 1968 to 1983. Earlier, he
was a six-term state assemblyman, representing Uniondale.
In 1972, Margiotta held a giant re-election rally at Nassau Coliseum
for President Richard Nixon, whose first words to a crowd of 15,000
were, "This is the biggest and best rally, Joe Margiotta, I have ever
During his tenure, his county party produced national GOP officials
like Alfonse D'Amato and top White House staffers.
"He was a product of the old school of local politics," said Fred
Parola, a former Nassau comptroller and the current executive
director of Hempstead Industrial Development Agency. "He was close to
the people and understood that politics was a two-way street. He
served the public in hopes of getting their vote."
His political career was not without controversy. He was convicted on
Dec. 9, 1981, on federal extortion and mail-fraud charges.
In essence, a jury concluded that his patronage system, which was the
foundation of his party's power, had helped it win national prestige
and had cheated taxpayers by usurping the authority of elected
He was sentenced to 2 years in prison on Jan. 21, 1982, by a federal
judge. He walked out of the Nassau County Jail in East Meadow 14
months later, saying to reporters waiting for him at 5:53 a.m.: "I am
delighted to be home with my family and my wife. I'm sorry I can't
think of anything brilliant to say this morning."
Margiotta worked as a lawyer with longtime partner Michael Ricigliano
and devoted time to the Dante Foundation, a group that gives
scholarships to college-aged Italian Americans.
He underwent triple-bypass heart surgery in 1999, yet later remained
active, most recently attending an Aug. 12 party celebrating three-
time Nassau County executive Francis Purcell's 90th birthday.
He also attended Hofstra University. In 1991, Margiotta Hall, Hofstra
University's field house, was dedicated in his honor.
With his wife Dorothy, he was a father of two and a grandfather.
While his funeral will be private, a public memorial is planned but
has not yet been scheduled, Charchalis said.
Political kingmaker didn't mind doing hard work
BY KEITH HERBERT | keith.herbert@...
November 30, 2008
For a political kingmaker, Joseph Margiotta did a lot of work usually
done by pawns, those who knew him well said yesterday.
When it came to knocking on doors, making phone calls and getting
people to the polls on Election Day, no one worked harder than
Margiotta, the former Nassau County Republican Party chairman who
died Friday at 81.
"He had one ingredient that very few leaders had," said Francis
Purcell, who with Margiotta's backing was elected county executive in
1977. "He never asked anybody to do anything he wouldn't do himself."
With tireless work and a belief that community ties and winning
elections were inseparable, Margiotta built his party into perhaps
the most powerful GOP organization in the country.
"It was really no secret," said Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford). "He was
an incredibly hard worker. He lived and breathed politics 24/7. The
whole thing was an incredibly well-functioning organization. It was
almost like a military organization."
Margiotta, a lawyer who began his GOP career as president of the
Uniondale Republican Club in 1958, was a community organizer who made
certain that his people appeared at Knights of Columbus meetings and
became active in youth sports.
On election night, if you were a GOP leader and your vote totals were
down from previous elections, you got an icy stare when you dropped
off election results at county Republican headquarters.
Always in a jacket and tie, his hair combed perfectly, Margiotta was
respectful and even-tempered with people.
Those who simply characterized Margiotta as the "boss" of the
Republican political machine sold him short, King said.
It was Margiotta's muscular Republican organization that attracted
Richard Nixon to Long Island in 1968 and again in 1972 as president.
Ronald Reagan also visited twice, in 1979 and again the 1980s, King
"He was the best organizer I have ever seen," King said of Margiotta.
A conviction on mail fraud and extortion charges sent Margiotta to
prison in the early 1980s and robbed him of his chairmanship of the
Nassau County GOP.
A federal jury found that Margiotta had used a scheme in which fees
from insurance brokers were used to enrich his political allies, and
by extension the Nassau County Republican Party.
Margiotta's political proteges, including former Sen. Alfonse
D'Amato, followed the path Margiotta had cleared to political power.
"He put party first," said D'Amato. "That's what got him into
D'Amato said Margiotta was constantly on the lookout for new talent,
young people who could be brought into the party to be future
"He rewarded people who worked hard," D'Amato said. "He was always
looking for the best and the brightest to make the party better. He
based it on ability. Anybody who talks about him objectively will
tell you that."
Margiotta preached being responsive to constituents as a key to
winning elections, said state Sen. Kemp Hannon (R-Garden City).
"It was always his belief that how you did things was person-to-
person," Hannon said.
Sol Wachtler, whom Margiotta helped elect to the state Court of
Appeals in 1972, said Margiotta's strength was his commitment to
building the party through strong candidates.
"He was not a narrow partisan," Wachtler said. "When the Republican
Party could have taken every judgeship in Nassau County, he said, 'I
don't want the Republican Party to oppose judges who have served and
served well.' As a result, Nassau County had a very strong judiciary.
"He always felt that the way to win elections was, firstly, to run
good candidates, and secondly, by having organization at the
grassroots level. People felt that they were getting good, solid
governance," Wachtler said. "That's changed, and the last vestige
will be interred with Joe Margiotta."
Staff writer Andrew Strickler contributed to this story.
Former chief justice of the state Court of Appeals, professor of
constitutional law, Touro Law Center
Having served as North Hempstead supervisor and as state Supreme
Court judge, Sol Wachtler was already a prominent figure in the local
Republican Party when he ran in 1972 for a seat on the New York State
Court of Appeals, the state's highest court. Wachtler credits
Margiotta's local organization, as well as his strong personal ties
in Albany, with his win. "Joe just had a great organization. His
strength was a statewide strength," said Wachtler. "I beat my
opponent handily . . . and I did it out of the large, large plurality
I took out of Nassau County."
Former U.S. senator from New York
In 1980, Margiotta plucked D'Amato, then presiding supervisor in Town
of Hempstead, to run for U.S. Senate as a Republican. "He went out of
his way to produce the best he could find and bring them into the
party," D"Amato said. D'Amato went on the defeat Democrat Elizabeth
Holtzman and Liberal Party candidate Jacob Javitz.
In the early 1970s, King was a young lawyer who Margiotta recommended
for a job in the Nassau County attorney's office. With Margiotta's
support, King went on to run for Hempstead Town Board and Nassau
County comptroller, setting the state for a run for a successful run
for Congress in 1992. "I would have no political career at all," King
said. "I would never have had the money to run for councilman. I
would never have had the money to run for comptroller."
Former Nassau County executive
In 1977, Purcell, then Hempstead presiding supervisor, wins
Margiotta's support to run for Nassau County executive. Margiotta
supported Purcell over incumbent Ralph Caso. "He backed me for county
executive in a very difficult primary," Purcell said. "He was very
instrumental in my career."
Compiled by Keith Herbert and Andrew Strickler
A low point: Serving 14 months in jail
November 30, 2008
Joseph Margiotta was convicted in 1981 on charges of extortion and
mail fraud in connection with a scheme in which municipal insurance
fees were split at Margiotta's direction.
Margiotta was accused of ordering the county's insurance broker to
dole out $678,000 in commissions to party faithful who did not work
for the fees that they received. Federal prosecutors also contended
that Margiotta implicitly threatened to drop the county's insurance
broker, Richard A. Williams, if he did not cooperate.
Margiotta, who maintained that his actions were part of a decades-old
statewide practice of patronage, served 14 months in jail.