Quaglione’s community activism got early start
John Quaglione took his first steps on the path to becoming a civic do-gooder when he was young. He was 12 years old when he started volunteering to clean Bay Ridge parks, sweep litter from sidewalks and paint yellow lines at fire hydrants while other kids his age were playing baseball.
That community-minded spirit never left Quaglione, who later became president of the Board of Directors at Saint Anselm Catholic Academy and president of the Brooklyn Chapter of the March of Dimes.
He is hoping to parlay his community activism and his knowledge of politics into a seat on the City Council. He is the Republican candidate running against Democrat Justin Brannan in the 43rd Council District, a seat that covers Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights and includes parts of Bensonhurst and Bath Beach.
Over breakfast at the Bridgeview Diner on Third Avenue, Quaglione, 38, spoke to the Brooklyn Eagle about his past and his hopes for the future. He is currently on a leave of absence from his job as deputy chief of staff to state Sen. Marty Golden so that he can devote himself full time to his Council campaign.
When he was a student in Genesis, a program for gifted middle school students in the Brooklyn Catholic Diocese, he became involved in community improvement projects.
A girl in his class talked him into joining the BRAVO Youth Squad, a group of pre-teens and teens that operated under the auspices of the Bay Ridge Ambulance Volunteer Organization. “That’s how I first got involved in the community,” he said while enjoying oatmeal and a plate of strawberries.
The group took people’s blood pressure at health fairs, marched in parades and helped sweep away litter during community cleanups. “We were brought into all of these events,” he said.
It gave him a good feeling to see his hard work result in a beautifully clean park or a litter-free sidewalk. “That was a sense of pride,” Quaglione said.
A few years later, when Quaglione was a student at the Upper School of Adelphi Academy of Brooklyn, he worked as an intern to Republican U.S. Rep. Susan Molinari. He had gotten the job through P.S. 48 Principal Diane Picucci, who knew Eileen Long, Molinari’s Brooklyn chief of staff. Quaglione attended P.S. 48 prior to the Genesis program.
He thoroughly enjoyed his time in Molinari’s office. Under Long’s guidance, he wrote letters to government agencies on Molinari’s behalf, as well as letters to the congresswoman’s constituents.
Even though he liked working for Molinari, his mind wasn’t set on a career in politics. “I wanted to be a journalist,” he said. At Adelphi Academy, he worked on the school newspaper.
Quaglione graduated from Adelphi Academy and left Bay Ridge to head to Washington, D.C. to attend American University.
While in college, he got the opportunity to serve as an intern for U.S. Rep. Vito Fossella, the Republican who had succeeded Molinari in Congress. “Working on Capitol Hill was exciting,” he said.
One of Quaglione’s fondest memories was the time he and a few co-workers sneaked into a posh reception where the guest of honor was former senator Bob Dole, the 1996 Republican presidential nominee. He met Dole and other political luminaries, including U.S. Sen. Patrick Moynihan, a legendary figure in New York Democratic politics.
Quaglione also got the chance to work as an intern on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” where he met political superstars like John McCain. Tim Russert, the host of the show at the time, once gave Quaglione tickets to a Capitols hockey game.
“You really don’t know what these interesting experiences will mean for your life,” he said, looking back.
But his time in Washington, D.C. planted a seed. His mind was starting to move toward seeking a career in politics. He decided to major in political science.
Quaglione came back to Brooklyn during summers from college and got re-acquainted with Marty Golden. The future senator was the owner of the Bay Ridge Manor catering hall and a leader of the Fifth Avenue Board of Trade. The board had worked with the BRAVO Youth Squad on various community cleanups.
In 1997, Golden decided to run for City Council and Quaglione worked on his campaign. “We used to drive around to campaign stops in his old station wagon,” he recalled.
Golden won the Council seat and Quaglione went to work for him after he graduated from college.
Quaglione has vivid memories of the aftermath of Sept. 11 when Golden’s district office on Third Avenue became a focal point of Bay Ridge’s response to the tragedy. Hundreds of residents called with offers to donate blood. Scores of people came into the office with clothing and emergency supplies they wanted to donate to the workers at Ground Zero. And several people wandered in and started answering phones to help Golden’s busy staffers.
“I think the community wanted to find a way to help and thought our office was the best way to do it,” Quaglione said.
In 2002, Golden ran for the state Senate and won. Quaglione has remained on his staff.
Quaglione threw his hat into the ring in 2013, running against incumbent Councilmember Vincent Gentile. He lost. “It really was a David versus Goliath situation. Gentile had been around for a long time and he had tremendous name recognition,” Quaglione said.
He hopes for a better result this time around.
Quaglione predicted that Mayor Bill de Blasio, who he said is deeply unpopular in parts of the council district, isn’t likely to help Brannan.
And Quaglione isn’t worried about efforts to tie him to another unpopular political figure: President Donald Trump.
“I don’t think voters want to hear about Trump. They care about quality-of-life issues. They see litter on their sidewalks, graffiti making a comeback, cars being broken into, delivery packages being stolen off stoops. They’re getting parking tickets and they see the city spending money like it’s going out of style,” Quaglione said.
Despite the fact that politics dominates his life, Quaglione finds time for an endeavor close to his heart.
Quaglione and his wife Kerry, an assistant principal of P.S. 127, participate every year in the March for Babies walk-a-thon to raise money for the March of Dimes.
The Quagliones call their walk-a-thon group “Team Natalie” after their older daughter, Natalie Grace, who was born two months premature in 2011. The couple also has a second daughter, Olivia.
When Natalie Grace was an infant, the Quagliones had to visit her in the neonatal intensive care unit at New York Methodist Hospital, where she was kept in an incubator. The loving care their daughter received made the couple decide to give back by raising money for the March of Dimes.
Impressed by Quaglione’s fundraising prowess, the New York City Chapter of the March of Dimes asked him to head up a Brooklyn chapter.
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