Bay Ridge

Mary Sansone, community activist and friend to mayors back to Lindsay, is dead at 101

May 16, 2018 By John Alexander Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Bestselling author Nicholas Pileggi (left), Mary Sansone and former Mayor Mike Bloomberg at Mary Sansone’s 100th birthday celebration.
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Mary Sansone, a pint-sized powerhouse social worker, founder of an Italian-American organization and a community activist who championed a wide variety of social justice causes died on Monday just one-month shy of her 102nd birthday.

The 4-foot-11 Sansone fought virtually her entire life for equal rights for women, the underprivileged, Italian Americans and people of all ethnicities. Her persistence made her a respected thorn in the side of virtually every politician in New York. Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani would stop by her house for dinner, former Mayor Mike Bloomberg gave her the key to the city, and President Barack Obama embraced her — a photo of which was proudly displayed in Sansone’s home.

Sansone said one of her greatest achievements was creating the nation’s first coalition of blacks, whites, Hispanics and Italian-Americans under then-Mayor John Lindsay, a group that ran the first pre-K programs and after-school and senior center activities.

“Brooklyn has lost a giant,” said state Sen. Marty Golden (R-Bay Ridge). “Throughout her life, Mary stood as a champion for the rights of so many, and advocated like no other for people in need.

“May she rest in peace,” Golden added. “As they say in Brooklyn, ‘She’s done good.’”

Mary Crisalli was born on June 12, 1916 in South Brooklyn, or what is now called Carroll Gardens. She was committed to her community from the outset.

In 1949, Sansone married Zachary Sansone, a lawyer from Naples, Italy. He worked the docks on the Brooklyn waterfront while she continued her career in social work.  In 1956, the couple, along with their two children, Ralph and Carmela, moved into a single-family home near New Utrecht Avenue.

In 1964, Sansone and her husband founded the Congress of Italian-American Organization, a social services group. In 1988, Sansone founded CURE, a nonprofit corporation dedicated to reducing ethnic and racial tension and conflict while promoting mutual respect and understanding among diverse groups within the community.

In 1986, after her son died at age 32 in a plane accident, she created an endowment in his memory provides scholarships to high school graduates.

At her 100th birthday celebration at the Dyker Beach Golf Club in 2016 she managed to bring together, in the same room, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Bloomberg, both of whom she counted among her dearest friends.

“Mary is genuine and always has a smile on her face and in her heart,” Bloomberg said. “She and her late husband Zachary supported me when no one else did.” He went on to explain that Sansone was known as the “meatball queen of Brooklyn,” because of her incredible Italian cooking. Bloomberg presented Sansone with a T-shirt naming her as his vice-presidential choice, had he decided to run for office.

Sansone also recalled difficulties she experienced, such as being threatened by what she described as “racketeers” like Mead Esposito and Joe Colombo. She shared the story of the time Colombo wanted to meet her and sent a car to bring her to where he was waiting.  She and her husband were wary of the invitation, but their friend, acclaimed author Nicholas Pileggi, convinced her to go.

Colombo initially wanted to do business with her, but she immediately turned him down.  He was angry, but she quickly left and took a cab back home. Regarding the mobsters and politicians who tried to squash her efforts, she proudly said, “I’m happy to say they’re all dead and I’m still here.”

She not only outlived them, but her fight for human rights continued until the end.

“Mary lived her life with one central purpose: making the city she lived in better,” de Blasio told the Brooklyn Eagle. “From her early days watching her father rally working people in Union Square, to almost a century later still playing an instrumental role in the never-ending fight for civil and human rights, Mary changed this city and by doing so she changed the lives of the people in this city. I am eternally thankful for her passion, her inspiration and her friendship.”

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