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Brooklyn remembers longtime civic leader Celia Cacace

Insisted she lived in 'South Brooklyn,' not Carroll Gardens

March 4, 2022 Raanan Geberer
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Longtime Carroll Gardens residents are mourning Celia Cacace, a well-known neighborhood civil leader and Community Board 6 member during the 1970s, ‘80s, ‘90s and early 2000s.

Community Board 6, on Friday, confirmed her death, which was originally made public on the local “Pardon Me for Asking” blog. The blog received the news from her nephew, Michael Jaworski, who said she died on Feb. 22 after suffering from poor health.

Celia (also known as Cecilia) always referred to the neighborhood as Red Hook or South Brooklyn, not Carroll Gardens, a term reportedly coined by the late fellow civic leader and funeral home owner Buddy Scotto in the 1960s. 

She was priced out of the neighborhood in 2012-13 when her apartment on First Place was sold, the Eagle reported in January 2013. Several local organizations, including the Carroll Gardens Association, held fundraisers to help her and to “Bring Celia Back.” The New York Post gave her age as 76 at the time.

But in the end, she had to move to Wisconsin and then to Colorado to live with her son and daughter-in law, her nephew said. The website “My Racine Country,” in February 2013, reported that Cacace “is now living in Tichigan (Wisconsin) with family, ensconced in living quarters at the top of a steep flight of stairs.”

She “misses her friends at the Happy Pants Cafe, going to Caputo’s for bread, and patrolling the old familiar sidewalks, she told the Daily News at the time.  She did come back to visit the neighborhood regularly, at least for the first few years, however.

The January 2013 Eagle article, written by this author, quotes Scotto as saying that Cacace, nee Maniero, was one of those Italian Americans who refused to sell their homes and move out when others were doing so in the 1960s and ’70s.

“There came a point,” Scotto, now deceased, told the Eagle, “when the Italian poor suddenly weren’t poor anymore. Some moved to Long Island, some moved to Staten Island, those who had businesses in the area moved to Bay Ridge.” According to all accounts, Cacace was suspicious of the new people, mainly upscale professionals, or “yuppies,” who were moving into the neighborhood.

She served on Community Board 6 from 1982 to 2008. The Post reported that she wasn’t reappointed to the board that year by Borough President Marty Markowitz, allegedly because of her opposition to the Atlantic Yards/Barclays Center project.

Cacace was also a devout Catholic, and, starting in the 1960s, ran clean-up crews for the annual Feast of Our Lady of Sorrow and found work for local residents in the feast’s booths. She also helped to revive the Society of Mother Cabrini of South Brooklyn as well as that society’s own feast and procession. 

“She seemed to be at every meeting, whether it was at Public School 58, the 76th Precinct Community Council, or at Community Board 6,” Pardon Me for Asking remembered. This writer, too, recalls her being a fixture at the community board meetings.

Cacace married her husband, Joseph, in 1960, and he predeceased her in 1979. She will finally return to Brooklyn when she is buried in Green-Wood Cemetery, next to her husband and one of her two sons, Gregory, in the family plot, her nephew told the blog.

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