Bay Ridge

Gangemi brings old school-style politicking to DA race

April 3, 2017 By Paula Katinas Brooklyn Daily Eagle
John Gangemi prosecuted 2,500 cases as an assistant district attorney back in the 1960s. Eagle photos by Paula Katinas

His candidacy is being treated in political circles as a quixotic quest, but Bay Ridge lawyer John Gangemi said he is in the race for Brooklyn district attorney for real. Gangemi said he firmly believes he would make a good district attorney. “I feel like I could add something to the office,” he said.

Gangemi is 78 years old, but said he doesn’t let age slow him down. “I ride motorcycles. I have horses. I travel,” he told the Brooklyn Eagle during an interview in his Fourth Avenue law office.

Gangemi, a Democrat, said he is aware that running for DA will be an uphill battle for him.

Acting DA Eric Gonzalez, who was named acting DA by former Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson just prior to his death, is running. Two other candidates, attorney Marc Fliedner and Patricia Gatling, a former New York City human rights commissioner, have officially entered the race.

Another potential candidate is Ama Dwimoh, who serves as special counsel to Borough President Eric Adams. Bay Ridge Councilmember Vincent Gentile has also told friends he is considering running.

Despite the heavy-duty competition, Gangemi still plans to meet with Democratic district leaders to seek their support. The Democratic primary is Sept. 12. Given that Brooklyn is predominantly a Democratic borough, the primary winner will likely cruise to victory in the general election on Nov. 7.

Literally every available surface of the office where Gangemi works is covered with photos of his four children and four grandchildren.  Citations and awards he has won over the years are displayed on the walls.

Gangemi’s wife Barbara works alongside him. The Gangemis talk lovingly about their family, especially their children: Ursula, a lawyer; Frank, a lawyer; John, an investment banker; and Constance, an architect.

John and Barbara Gangemi, who met when she was 15 and he was 18, have been married for 55 years. “We’re always together,” he said.

Gangemi served as an assistant district attorney in the mid-1960s under then-Brooklyn DA Aaron E. Koota. Gangemi was a Republican at the time. “I was the only Republican in the DA’s Office,” he said.

He handled all sorts of cases including murders, race fixing at race tracks and gambling.

“I prosecuted over 2,500 criminal cases,” he said. “I have a passion for it,” he said, referring to the law.

Gangemi was born and raised in Bensonhurst and now lives in Dyker Heights

He attended P.S. 201 and St. Francis Prep. He admitted that he went to St. Francis Prep reluctantly, but came to have tremendous respect for the Franciscan Brothers who taught him. “My mother wanted me to go to a high school where the brothers would be tough but fair with me. She was right. The education I got at St. Francis Prep totally changed my behavior and my outlook on life,” he said.

After graduating from St. Francis Prep, he attended Seton Hall University. “I was pre-med, but I decided that it wasn’t for me. I didn’t want to spend my life working in a hospital,” he said. “I decided to go to law school.”

He attended New York Law School.

Gangemi got his start in politics back in the early 1960s when Republican Nelson Rockefeller was the governor of New York. He worked for Rockefeller as a legislative aide and learned a lot. “Rockefeller was a great guy. He was sharp. He knew his business. He knew how to get things done. He knew how to compromise,” Gangemi said.

In 1972, Gangemi ran for Congress as a Republican against Democrat Hugh Carey in a district that stretched from Bay Ridge to Park Slope. “I lost by the skin of my teeth,” he said. Carey would later become New York’s governor.

Gangemi also served for a term as a Republican councilman-at-large for Brooklyn during the 1970s. Councilman-at-large is a position that no longer exists. The job entailed representing an entire borough, not just a single council district. Each borough had two councilmembers-at-large. The post was eliminated in 1989.

During his term on the City Council, Gangemi said he worked hard to build a rapport with council members from Brooklyn, including Republican Angelo Arculeo, the council’s minority leader at the time.

He believes that the work the council did in those days helped build a strong foundation for modern-day Brooklyn. “Brooklyn has come a long way. We were building the foundation to what Brooklyn is today,” he said.

Gangemi ultimately decided to become a Democrat. “If you want to get things done in New York City, you have to be a Democrat,” he said.