NEW YORK (Reuters) - Guy Molinari, a New York Republican who stood out in a city run by Democrats as a fighter for his home borough of Staten Island, and a “larger than life figure,” died on Wednesday at 89, the Staten Island Republican Party said.
His death at a Manhattan hospital was caused by pneumonia, The New York Times reported, citing his son-in-law Bill Paxon.
“Few public servants in New York City fought with more passion for their borough than Guy Molinari,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat, said on Twitter. “His impact will forever be felt on Staten Island and across our city.”
Molinari served nine years in Congress before resigning to begin a 12-year stint as Staten Island borough president in 1990. In that role, he developed a close relationship with fellow Republican and former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, whose campaigns he advised in the 1990s.
In a city where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than six to one, the Molinari-Giuliani era saw outsize attention to Republican-leaning Staten Island.
During Molinari’s tenure, the detested Fresh Kills landfill, known as the Staten Island dump, was closed. The fare for the Staten Island Ferry, the borough’s link to Manhattan, was eliminated and one of the ferry boats now bears his name. A minor league ballpark was also built on the island.
“Guy was, simply stated, a larger-than-life figure here on the Island and throughout New York,” Staten Island Republican Chairman Brendan Lantry said in statement.
In 1988, Molinari headed the New York state presidential campaign for President George H.W. Bush, whom he had gotten to know while serving in Congress. But he parted ways with the Bush family 12 years later, backing Senator John McCain in his unsuccessful bid for the Republican presidential nomination against George W. Bush.
Gaetano Kenneth Molinari was born on Manhattan’s Lower East Side on Nov. 23, 1928, the son of an Italian immigrant father and a mother of Czechoslovakian descent.
Known as Guy, he changed his middle name as a teenager to Victor, after his godfather, because “Guy K. Molinari just didn’t roll off the tongue easily,” he said in his 2016 autobiography, “A Life of Service.”
Molinari interrupted law school to serve in the Korean War with the U.S. Marine Corps in the early 1950s.
He took his cue for a life in politics, but not for party affiliation, from his father, S. Robert Molinari, the first foreign-born citizen to serve in the New York State Assembly in 1943. The elder Molinari was elected as a Republican but then became a Democrat and lost his bid for re-election.
“My father respected my views and never had any problems with my being a Republican,” Guy Molinari said in his book.
In 1956, Molinari married Marguerite Wing, who died 10 years ago. Their only child Susan Molinari, who also became a Republican, succeeded her father in Congress, serving from 1990 until 1997, when she resigned to take a job as a television journalist.
Reporting by Peter Szekely; Editing by Scott Malone, Bill Tarrant and Susan Thomas