Today there was another rally organized by Staten Islanders advocating on behalf of small businesses that have been shuttered by the COVID-19 New York State PAUSE, enacted by Governor Cuomo.
While the rally drew a large crowd to Jefferson Plaza in Annadale, reporters and photographers from the big media outlets were visibly absent. No trucks with satellite dishes. No reporters standing with professional camera crews. Nothing.
That’s how they responded to the Staten Island small business crisis: Attend the first rally and write a token piece that tells very little, and promise to come to the second, and flake at the last minute. How should you respond? Perhaps cancelling your subscriptions or stop tuning in would be most appropriate; do what you feel is right, of course.
Although the event was slated to begin at 5:30 PM, the announcer, Joe Caldarera, Sr., informed the crowd that things would kick off with a slight delay, as media representatives apparently had said they would be there.
Matt Zocco, of HiNRG Sound Productions, provided the sound equipment and DJed, playing some tunes before and after the event was underway. As the Queen track “Another One Bites the Dust” played, it was difficult not to think of both the victims of COVID-19 who have passed, as well as the small businesses that would not be coming back.
The event emcee was Anthony Fazzia, whose family owns a yellow school bus company called Jofaz Transportation in Red Hook, Brooklyn, a local small business that’s been around for over forty years.
Phil DeMeo and Joe Emmanuele planned and arranged use of the venue for the event. The sky was crystal blue and there was a pleasant Spring breeze blowing. But all was not well under this idyllic American sky.
The Jefferson Plaza parking area, a neatly paved lot for the various stores in the brown brick and tan stucco strip mall, including Miss Caroline’s Dance Elite, Shades of Color Hair Salon, Romeo’s Pizzeria and Restaurant, Il Songo Italian Restaurant, Ocean Sushi, and Mangia! Healthy Kitchen, was where about 200 people had gathered. All remain closed.
Across the street, a truck had parked with a gigantic Re-elect TRUMP 2020 banner on a fifteen foot pole. American flags were everywhere; on the backs of people’s jackets, on poles, on bandannas. Some drove, others walked, still others came on bikes.
The people who had gathered to support the re-opening were men and women of all ages, some with children. Many Islanders held handmade signs expressing their feelings and thoughts about the extended COVID-19 shutdown and its effects on small business.
The event had been announced on social media and by word of mouth in the various neighborhoods of the island.
NYPD Community Affairs and other officers were there, as is the case at any pre-planned public gathering, but largely stood to the side the entire time. No one was bothered by their presence, and no one bothered them by forcing them to break up noncompliance with social distancing orders.
The speakers were, in order, Joe Caldarera, running for U.S. Congress on the Republican ticket, Steve Margarella, owner of Port Richmond small business Margarella Asphalt and Concrete, Christine Salica, Staten Island family and community advocate, and Lenny Giordano, owner of the local restaurant, Mona Lisa Pizzeria. Marco Kepi was also present in the crowd, but did not speak at the podium.
Each speaker had their own angle on the debacle of statewide closures, adding their own perspectives gleaned from their unique circumstances and life situation.
The crowd was lively but respectful, shouting out playfully in response to the various speeches. While this was as serious matter, everyone remained friendly toward one another and positive. There was a serious, yet relaxed mood.
While politics were mentioned at times, the issues touched upon radiated farther than what goes on in the halls of our state and national legislature. The event was conceived as a platform for Joe Caldarera, and so of course politics did get some mention. And, of course, owing to the fact that it’s our city and state officials demanding a protracted shutdown of small business.
Joe Caldarera spoke slowly and carefully, trying to get the message out that, “Staten Island is ready to open up. I was warned not to come here tonight…by some political consultants and other people in politics on Staten Island, they said, ‘Don’t come here. It’s too dangerous, write an op-ed, we’ll post a virtual town hall, that’ll get the point across’ Businesses are shuttered…Small business on Staten Island is dying. I HAVE to be here!”
Steve Margarella had this to say, “A man would do this [come out to the rally]…wouldn’t pawn it off to a surrogate…I’ve seen what’s gone on in New York City and New York State, and I’m looking at the shutdowns…New York in particular…and…things do not add up…what we’re living through is the worst gross management of any epidemic in the history of the United States. and it’s in the hands of…Cuomo…the companies that survive are going to be taxed out of existence…”
“…There’s one thing we all have in common is we’re all acutely aware of how badly we are being treated. You know,we’re not the criminals…and for you to go out to work and try to feed your family, you will become a criminal. They put people out of jail, but they’ll fine you or lock you up.”
The crowd responded with, “Lock up the criminals, not the Americans!” “Not in my country!” “Hypocrisy!” “Enough with the mind games!” “Whatever the f*** is going on?!”
Christine Salica next took to the stage with high energy:
“We’re all here for the same reason…freedom! I’m out of work and I’m going to be out of work for a while, thanks to our governor! I’m one of the pioneers on Staten Island going back and forth [advocating for changes in state laws]…we saw them chipping away at our freedom…I would have anxiety…these people who seem very uneducated are making laws for us…”
“Do you feel that our Bill of Rights is essential? Do you feel we should go back to work? Guess what guys, the Governor and the mayor are receiving their paycheck. We’re not. Time for a revolution…I won’t allow the government to chip away at the Constitution, chip away at our Rights…the media is feeding you and me propaganda..the people are afraid to leave their homes…the sheep….we pioneered this…we saw it coming…”
Finally, Lenny Giordano, owner of Mona Lisa pizzeria, took to the podium:
“Sometimes I don’t want to say nothing, because I’m so upset because I see what’s going on…they took our faith and our freedom..it’s OK to go to the park, but it’s not OK to the church…open your eyes when you go home. Literally open your eyes….we have to stick together.”
Steve Margarella closed the event with advocating the idea of business owners flouting the law en masse as a demonstration of civil disobedience and protesting against a government edict that violates our guaranteed rights:
“Open up your doors! The only way we’re going to force change is to put their backs to the wall! Do not back down! Open your doors and stand up! Take your cameras out and take pictures when they [law enforcement officers] come!”
There are, in fact many Islanders of Italian and Sicilian ancestry. People from other areas of the metro area sometimes even call the island Staten Italy, poking fun while noting our high prevalence of Italian-Americans.
Italian people whose parents and grandparents immigrated from Italy in the twentieth century have been raised to despise Mussolini, and fascism, and so it’s no wonder that Italian-Americans play heavily in the opposition to the restrictive laws. Raised since childhood to value the Flag and American Freedom, and to resist tyranny, it’s no wonder the fly in the ointment of, ironically, Italian-American political leaders, is this demographic group.