Sacking a Saint

Giuliani Team Blows a Chance to Protect a Real Catholic Legacy

Giuliani, too, has yet to make a public comment about the project or the cottage, turning the issue over to Raab at Town Hall meetings. In addition to the support Discala has had from his top allies on the island, the mayor has had a personal reason to acquiesce to it. Perry and Nick Criscitelli, two Manhattan restaurateurs so close to the mayor they cater his Yankee celebrations at City Hall, invested $800,000 in the project and, according to Discala, were friends of his father's.

Raab—who says she was "moved to tears" during her 1997 visit to Day's cottage and was committed to saving it—was vague about any City Hall interest in the Day issue. "I can't answer that question," she told the Voice. "I don't know if they asked about it." Raab acknowledges that she and her staff met with the Fossella engineering firm about the project. The Criscitelli interest in it was disclosed on documents submitted to the city as far back as 1999, and the mayor's association with the Criscitellis has been widely reported in the Voice, the Post, and on television.

Perry Criscitelli—one of whose restaurants, Da Nico, was actively aided by City Hall in a 1999 expansion of its outdoor café—denied that he or any member of his family had made any inquiries about the project with city officials. But Fletcher Vredenburgh, who works in the mayor's office on the island, told local activists that a member of the Criscitelli family approached him at the San Gennaro festival in Little Italy and asked about it, identifying herself as a personal friend of the mayor's.

Neither Vredenburgh nor the mayor's press office responded to Voice calls about City Hall's involvement with the project or contacts with the Criscitellis. But previous news stories have established that the administration was even willing to spend $70,000 in housing agency funds to build "fire egress" access for Da Nico's backyard café, which abutted a city-owned building. The city also leased the backyard to the Mulberry Street restaurant on very favorable terms, and internal memos obtained by the Voice revealed that one housing official referred to it as "a City Hall thing"—so important that the housing commissioner included it in his monthly report to the deputy mayor for operations. Da Nico is the mayor's favorite Little Italy eatery, and he's dined there with everyone from John McCain to Judi Nathan.

On February 21—two weeks after the demolition—Perry Criscitelli bought a home on Nicolisi Drive, the luxury waterfront street adjacent to the Discala development. His son Nick had bought a vacant lot across the street a couple of months earlier. Perry Criscitelli, who says he and his son once planned to build homes on the two Spanish Camp parcels they'd bought earlier, told the Voice that they had escape clauses in their contracts and that they've withdrawn from the project. Title records put their combined purchase price on Nicolisi at $7.6 million, but Criscitelli laughed at the figure as way too high (he did get a $1.5 million mortgage). Major renovations are occurring at the house he bought, and a new home is going up on the site across the street that his son purchased.

Criscitelli appears to be the perfect barometer of the Giuliani administration's attitude about the project. He made a very expensive decision to bail out just as landmarks finally calendared it, buildings hit Discala with a ton of violations, the Department of Investigations joined the Murphy probe, and the City Planning Commission began a skeptical review of the belatedly filed Discala application for land use permits. His wife, Annette, sat in Da Nico a few weeks ago and said she wouldn't blame the administration if it tried to stop the project now.

If the Criscitellis knew when to get out, they might also have known, when they got in a couple of years ago, just how willing the administration was to smile on John Discala's dream project, even at a historic public cost.

Research assistance: David Blanks, Robbie Chaplick, Douglas Gillison, Jesse Goldstein, Anna Lemond, Laurence Pantin, Mark Rendeiro, Theodore Ross

Related article:

Wayne Barrett's reports on John Discala’s wiseguy friends.

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