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Staten Island Borough President James Molinaro and Mayor Michael Bloomberg may make an odd political couple, but ever since both men won their first ever elections on the same day four years ago there's been no keeping them apart. Molinaro, 74, is the potbellied, pro-death-penalty, anti-abortion, capital-C conservative (he led the island's Conservative Party for 25 years), presiding over a largely white and middle-income borough. Bloomberg, 63, is the treadmill-slim liberal-Democrat-turned-Republican who proudly touts his abortion-rights endorsements along with his opposition to capital punishment, a gay-marriage supporter who decided this fall that even John Roberts was too conservative to sit on the Supreme Court.
They're an odd match for other reasons as well: Bloomberg has successfully projected a super-clean image, arguing persuasively that he's too rich to be bought and that talent, not patronage, determines the makeup of his administration. That's not exactly a portrait of "Jimmy"as Bloomberg affectionately calls his pal. During his first term in office Molinaro has openly defended mob-tied figures charged with looting his own borough. He's acknowledged real estate deals he had with an alleged wiseguy and even wrote a letter to a judge urging leniency for a pair of convicted mob associates.
And that's only what's already been reported. Real estate records show that the borough president owns property in Florida with a close friend and key fundraiser, a builder named Salvatore Calcagno, who is currently under indictment for federal tax fraud. Three years ago, evidence in a Brooklyn mob trial revealed that Calcagno had been caught in an organized-crime probe talking business in a Staten Island restaurant with a captain in the Gambino crime family. But despite that bright-red warning signal, Molinaro has held on to his 50 percent share in a condominium apartmentvalued at $600,000that he jointly owns with the contractor on Florida's Gulf Coast. Last year, records show, the borough president also scored a hefty six-figure profit from the sale of a residential property on Staten Island's south shore that he purchased from a Calcagno-tied company.
Calcagno has pled not guilty to the tax counts, but prosecutors in Brooklyn federal court have stated that they intend to bring additional charges against him. Law enforcement sources say those charges are likely to reflect the results of an investigation that found that Calcagno laundered millions of dollars in bogus checks made out to subcontractors.
Calcagno's attorney dismissed the money-laundering allegations as a "hallucination," and said the property deals between his client and the borough president were legitimate. Molinaro refused to answer any questions about his relationship with Calcagnoor anything else. "He's not going to comment," said Paige Stuhlman, a press aide.
Whatever shadows surround Molinaro, they don't appear to have bothered Bloomberg in the slightest. Nary a week goes by that Mayor Mike can't be found nuzzling at Molinaro's side, praising the man who is his political polar opposite. The goal here isn't hard to fathom: Bloomberg wants to make sure that the borough president's constituents never forget that he represents the thin line between them and the multi-culti Democrats. As Molinaro ally Congressman Vito Fossella bluntly put it last month in unmistakably race-shaded terms, a Bloomberg loss in November would put the island "right back in the antagonistic Dinkins years."
Even as his poll numbers soar across the city, Bloomberg has never lost sight of the 4-1 landslide he received from the city's smallest and most Republican borough in the last electionvotes that put him over the top then, and that he's hoping will do so again this time around. This year, Molinaro and Bloomberg cut ribbons for a new $20 million park and recreation area on the south shore and a 42-acre, $100 million shopping center built on once forested, city-owned property (land that preservationists had hoped to retain as public open space). And they've bent over backward to create photo ops. In May, Molinaro, a longtime smoker whose Conservative Party platform calls for overturning Bloomberg's restaurant smoking ban, posed for pictures with the mayor as they passed out free nicotine patches at a Staten Island hospital.
In February, when Molinaro kicked off his re-election campaign, Bloomberg was right there beside him. Molinaro is "the most honest and trustworthy person I have ever met," the mayor told the crowd. "Jimmy Molinaro has always stood with me, and I will always stand with him. Nobody should ever make a mistake about that."
The sterling character reference represented more than standard back- scratching. The mayor's pointed words came just two months after Molinaro was accused by a mob associateturned government witness of accepting $70,000 in under-the-table payments in two 1998 real estate deals. Ralph Garguilo, a Genovese crime family associate, also said that Molinaro had helped put his daughter in a city job and that, in turn, he'd steered work to Molinaro's son. The accusations were made to FBI agents after Garguilo secretly pled guilty and agreed to cooperate in a racketeering case involving wiseguy influence in the powerful Operating Engineers union. More than 20 organized-crime figures and union officials later pled guilty.
Molinaro didn't deny that he'd sold Garguilo the residential properties (city records showed as much). But he insisted he'd never taken anything under the table or gone to bat to get anyone a job, although records showed Garguilo's daughter did work for the Department of Buildings on Staten Island, an office that has long been larded with patronage hires. The allegations came down to dueling accounts from an admitted mobster and a high-level elected official. No charges were sought or brought.