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PM-03: Assemblyman Eric N. Vitaliano Papers

 Collection
Identifier: PM-03

Scope and Contents

The Eric N. Vitaliano collection is comprised of material from Vitaliano's career as a New York State Assembly politician (1983-2001). The collection includes: correspondence, reports, newsletters, press clippings, press releases, photographs and videos. There is no material relating to his family or activities outside of his political life. SUBJECT FILES account for almost half of the collection. These files reflect the activities and priorities of Assemblyman Vitaliano during his term of office. They typically include: background material; material from groups for and against assembly bills; brochures; pamphlets, reports,testimony and statements from public hearings, draft bills; bills and transcripts of Assembly debates, and incoming and outgoing correspondence (including samples of form letters). Press clippings,arranged by subject, are a substantive part of the subject files. The strengths of the Vitaliano collection lie in the issues that affected the psyche and daily lives of Staten Islanders - being the "fifth" borough and an island off New York, being a dumping ground for the state's garbage,travel on and off the island and environmentally sensitive areas such as the Freshwater Wetlands and the Greenbelt. The largest collection of papers within the subject files is the one covering the possible secession of Staten Island from the City of New York. Papers under the heading "Secession Movement" dates from around 1985 and continue until 1990. Following this (chronologically) are the papers under the heading "Charter Commission" which range from the creation of the Charter Commission for Staten Island in March 1991 until 2000. There are fewer records after 1997. After the legality of the New York City Board of Estimate was successfully challenged, the movement for secession really began to take form. Vitaliano's papers document the legal challenges, public campaigns and legislative lobbying efforts that led to the creation of the Charter Commission for Staten Island. From 1985, there are records from public hearings, minutes from citizen's groups as well as from the various Charter Commission working groups. There are also reports to the Commission by consulting groups on providing services to a new city in the areas of education, housing, finance and judiciary. Given Vitaliano's political and personal incentives to try and eliminate the odor of rubbish that hovered over the Island, it is no surprise that at the forefront of the collection are the records pertaining to the Fresh Kills landfill. Records such as the minutes of the Citizens Advisory Committee detail the grass roots efforts of dealing with residing close to the landfill and of community activism to lobby for its closure. There are also copies of the various orders of consent that were required to officially secure the closure. There is a considerable amount of correspondence from the City Department of Sanitation and the State Department of Environmental Conservation. Complementing the Fresh Kills records are those related to solid wastes. There is some overlap between these topics, but the latter also focus on the broader topic of the disposal of garbage and the crisis that New York City faced. The records also address the issue of resource recovery i.e. extracting resources from waste. Another of the collection's strong points are the records relating to the Freshwater Wetlands. An emotional issue for those who bought land that was later designated as natural reserve land by the Department of Environmental Conservation, the correspondence and petitions reflect the property owners' desire to be fairly compensated. To this end, Vitaliano shaped legislation that aimed to balance the need to protect the Staten Island freshwater wetlands with equities for property owners affected by state regulation that passed into law. There is also ephemera from various activist groups such as RIPOFF (Richmond Individual Property Owners for Fairness)and Protectors of Pine Oak Woods. There is a wealth of material that elucidates topics at the community level. When Vitaliano could not attend a local meeting he would send a representative who reported in a standard format what had happened at the meeting and attached any relevant material that often included reports, press clippings and other informational type material. This is reflected in the records of the "Community Meeting Reports." Meeting reports are also available for Community Boards 1,2 and 3 as well as "Borough Board Meetings" and reports from the "Area Policy Boards." During his nearly two decades in office Vitaliano received thousands of letters from his constituents on a myriad of subjects. The CORRESPONDENCE series consists mostly of outgoing letters although some of the incoming letters remain attached. The series has been weeded of duplicates, distribution and form letters (a sample of each form letter was retained along with the number of letters sent) as well as routine type letters. There are letter logs of the outgoing correspondence. Entries were made for: date, recipient, subject and how it was filed. The MEDIA FILES are particularly rich both in content and range and reflect a major part of Vitaliano's public relations effort. The comprehensive Press Releases and Statements, document Vitaliano's public policy positions and reactions to issues of the day. There is a run of Newsletters and Mailings generally entitled "From Assemblyman Vitaliano," "Albany Report" and "Vitaliano Reports to the People." The Press Clippings sub-series and indeed the press clippings throughout the whole collection are particularly extensive. The clippings are primarily taken from the Staten Island Advance and the Staten Island Register. Although both of these newspapers are available on microfilm, they are not indexed and the availability of clippings arranged by subject provides a valuable local history resource. There is also a set of clippings labeled "Personal" which focus on Vitaliano and his publicity machine. The collection of videocassettes has been arranged chronologically and the titles documented. Although they have not been viewed, information gleaned from the outer video indicate that the majority of video segments are from Vitaliano's appearances on the local cable television "Assembly Update." Reoccurring topics include secession, Fresh Kills, budget andschool bus safety. There are other interesting titles such as "A Day in the Life of Vitaliano" (undated), "Eric Vitaliano for Congress" (1997) and "RIPOFF Wetlands - Wetlands Dilemma on Staten Island" (undated). The CAMPAIGNS series is worthy of note for its campaign literature and coverage of Vitaliano's (unsuccessful) run for Congress in 1997 against Republican Vito Fossella. There is a set of documents called "Eric Vitaliano Research Appendices" containing seven volumes of press clippings and other publicity related documents (1988-1997), that were collated by a private consulting group. Similar material was also collated on Fossella. The regular Assembly elections from 1984-2000 are documented only by leaflets, mailings and press clippings. Vitaliano was under consideration to be the Democratic Party's candidate in the Congressional Race of 1990 and the Staten Island Borough President's Race of 1997, and there are two files of press clippings related to these races.

Dates

  • 1982-2001

Biographical / Historical

Eric N. Vitaliano was born in the West New Brighton section of Staten Island, New York on February 27, 1948. He attended Public School 19, St. Peter's Boys High School and went on to Fordham University, graduating with an A.B. degree, June 1968. While at college he became a member of the Bronx County Young Democrats. Vitaliano continued his education at New York University School of Law graduating with a J.D. degree, cum laude and the Order of the Coif award(National Legal Honor Society). He was a member of the Law Review, serving on the Executive Board as Research Editor and was also a member of the school's Environmental Law Council. Prior to graduation from law school, Vitaliano was employed as a law clerk for the New York City law firm Kelley, Drye, Warren, Clark, Carr and Ellis, and was a Deputy United States Marshal for the Eastern District of New York, United States Courthouse, Brooklyn, N.Y. Upon graduation, he joined the staff of U.S. District Judge Mark A. Costantino as a Law Clerk. He was admitted to the bar in 1972 and practiced law from 1972 to 1979 as an Associate at the New York law firm, Simpson Thacher and Bartlett. From 1979-81, Vitaliano was Chief of Staff for Congressman John M. Murphy, 17th District of New York, after which he was a partner in the firm Russo, Silverman and Vitaliano (1981-85). Vitaliano was first elected to the Assembly in 1982 as a Democratic representative of the 60th Assembly District part of Richmond County,Staten Island. Shortly after his election he married Helen M. Fleming of New Brighton, Staten Island on September 9, 1983. Over the next fifteen years they had four children and continued to reside on Staten Island. More conservative than many city Democrats, Vitaliano often ran with Conservative Party support. His conservatism extended to some issues that he passionately defended, especially the death penalty. For sixteen years both houses of the Legislature passed capital punishment bills and each time the proposals were vetoed by the governor. In 1995, Vitaliano was the prime sponsor of the death penalty bill and spent the longest night of his legislative career in its defense. Governor Pataki signed the bill into law and this became one of the highpoints of Vitaliano's office. He was also adamantly pro-life and had strong ties with the New York State Catholic Conference; he sponsored the partial birth abortion ban bill in 1996. From the time he was elected, one issue in particular dominated the local political scene, namely, the movement for the secession of Staten Island from New York City. In 1983, New York City's Board of Estimate (where each borough president had one vote) violated the "one man one vote" democratic principle. Staten Island, with its population of 350, 000, had only one seat on the city council, and Staten Islanders felt that they had lost their voice in city affairs. Vitaliano, along with other Staten Island politicians such as Senator John J. Marchi, Assemblywoman Elizabeth Connelly and Assemblyman Robert A. Straniere actively promoted secession. The years 1991-93 were particularly active for Vitaliano. As a member of the Charter Commission for Staten Island, he coordinated public meetings in a bid to build up a popular movement, helped to draft the Charter and campaigned in support of secession in the two special referendums for Island residents (1989 and 1993). The movement gained considerable momentum, but in 1994 it was ultimately blocked when Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver stated he would not permit the secession bill to move forward without a "home rule" message from the New York City Council. Vitaliano and Robert A. Straniere, sued Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver over his home rule decision, but the courts ruled in favor of the Speaker. This effectively ended the secession movement. As a second generation Staten Islander, Vitaliano was acutely aware of the emotionally charged issues facing his fellow residents. One flashpoint was the Fresh Kills Landfill which began operating in 1948. He crusaded vociferously for its closure and was instrumental in lobbying for the order of consent from the Department of Environmental Conservation that was required to begin the closure process. In 1996, he shaped the bill whose successful passage of legislation eventually enabled the landfill to close in 2001. Waste itself was a major issue for Vitaliano, who was the senior New York City member of the Legislative Commission on Solid Waste Management and served as Vice-Chairman of the Joint Legislative Commission on Toxic Substances and Hazardous Wastes. Inextricably linked to the issue of waste and its management was that of resource recovery and recycling. To this end, he was a co-sponsor of the returnable beverage container law. He also served on the Interstate Sanitation Committee and was a member of the Clean Ocean and Shore Trust (COAST). Vitaliano also sponsored legislation addressing freshwater wetlands and transportation. In the former, he was sympathetic to his constituents who were caught in an environmental crossfire due to the Department of Environmental Conservation's remapping of areas to be designated as wetlands (1986), and petitioned that they should receive fair and just compensation for their properties that they had purchased in good faith. Transportation was another persistent issue. Mindful of his constituents,Vitaliano was constantly lobbying to ensure satisfactory express bus service from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority from the Island to New York City. The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, also under the authority of the MTA, provided Vitaliano with a constant battle to get the one-way toll into state law. The law was eventually enacted on the federal level. Committee for nine years, during which time he received his first major committee responsibility, as chairman in 1992. At a time when Governor Mario Cuomo was making election reform a high priority, one of Vitaliano's aims was to make it easier for New Yorkers to participate in the electoral process. In the same year that he was made chairman his legislation that increased voter registration opportunities and facilitated ballot access passed into law. He later became chair of the Subcommittee on Interstate Cooperation and the Subcommittee on Court Operations, and was a member of the Assembly Task Force on the Constitutional Convention. Vitaliano was also a president of the Conference of ItalianAmerican State Legislators. In January 1994, Vitaliano was appointed Chairman of the Standing Committee on Governmental Employees, a position that he retained until 1999. His chairmanship led to another highpoint when he sponsored a package that was passed into law that included pension supplements and enhanced retirement benefits for New York State's civil service retirees. In 1997, after fourteen years in the State Assembly, Vitaliano decided to run for Congress. A climax of his campaign was the day President Bill Clinton came to Staten Island in support of his candidacy. His attempt was unsuccessful and he lost to his Republican opponent, Vito Fossella. As an active member of the local community he was involved in numerous communal organizations including Citizens Against Bus Exhaust; Knights of Columbus; the Cardinal's Archdiocesan Appeal, and The Italian Club of Staten Island. Some of his notable community awards were: Friend of Education, Susan E. Wagner High School, Staten Island,1983; Legislator of the Year, NYS Court Clerks Association, 1987; Man of the Year, The Italian Club of Staten Island, 1991; Outstanding Citizen, The American Legion, Richmond County, New York, 1994; and the New York State Catholic Conference Public Policy Award, 1998. Vitaliano believed that he would ultimately return to his law career. From 1999 to 2002, he was counsel to the Staten Island law firm, Behrins Behrins P.C. A major influence on his decision to leave the Legislature centered around redistricting for the 2002 elections, which would have drastically changed his electoral district boundaries. Upon election as a judge of the Civil Court in Richmond County in 2001, Vitaliano resigned from Assembly.

Extent

67.5 Linear Feet

Language of Materials

English

Abstract

Assemblyman Eric N. Vitaliano was first elected to the Assembly in 1982. In January 1994, he was appointed Chairman of the Standing Committee on Governmental Employees. During his tenure, Vitaliano served as chair of the Subcommittee on Interstate Cooperation and the Subcommittee on Court Operations. Vitaliano also served as Vice-Chairman of the Joint Legislative Commission on Toxic Substances and Hazardous Wastes and was the senior New York City member of the Legislative Commission on Solid Waste Management. Vitaliano left the Assembly in 2001 upon being elected a judge of the civil court in Richmond County. The collection includes correspondence, reports, newsletters, news clippings, press releases, photographs, videos and memorabilia.

Arrangement

The Assemblyman Eric N. Vitaliano Papers are divided into eight series and several subseries:

SUBJECT FILES CONSTITUENT CORRESPONDENCE LEGISLATIVE FILES -Legislative Correspondence -Bills -Voting and Attendance Records MEDIA FILES -Press Releases and Statements -Newsletters and Mailings -Speeches -Press Clippings -Video Cassettes PERSONAL FILES -Appointment Books, Guest Books and Schedules -Invitations Accepted -Biographical Files CAMPAIGNS PHOTOGRAPHS MAPS REALIA

Related Materials

The large quantity of reports published by the state government and consulting firms about Staten Island have been catalogued as book material and can be searched for in the Library's online catalog. The reports provide history, technical details and insights into the issues at hand such as the Staten Island Expressway, mass transport and the oneway toll for the Verrazano Bridge. Pamphlets, brochures and booklets with historical information on Staten Island organizations and institutions were catalogued with the Special Collection's local history collection. Of special significance are the Freshwater Wetlands Appeals Board Decisions, 1985-98, for their information on the environment and environmental law within a Staten Island context.
Language of description
English
Script of description
Latin

Repository Details

Part of the CSI Archives & Special Collections Repository

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