Sins of the Father


Sal Mondrone, 53, worked in the business of what his peers like to call “private sanitation” all his life, as his father and mother had before him. He got on the trucks when he was 14 and never got off.

His was a small, family-owned company in an industry long dominated by racketeers and gangsters. When the Giuliani administration won a new law in 1996 to reform the industry and break the mob’s hammerlock, Mondrone dutifully presented himself to the new Trade Waste Commission and applied for a new license.

He objected neither to the application nor the crackdown on the industry’s outlaws. “I’m happy those freaking guys got caught. They were so greedy,” he said.

Commission staff gave Mondrone close scrutiny.

“They sat me down for nine hours,” Mondrone said. “My wife, she does the books, was there for three hours the next day.”

He was shown a long list of names and asked if he knew anyone. Yes, there were some he had seen or met at monthly trade association meetings in Brooklyn.

“They asked me, was anyone in my family with organized crime,” said Mondrone. Yes, he said. His mother’s sister had married someone, long since deceased, who was with the Colombo crime family in Brooklyn. The uncle had nothing to do with his business, he added.

Did he have any criminal convictions, he said he was asked. No, he said. In fact, he had received several pistol permits, which require FBI fingerprint checks.

Well, did his father have any criminal convictions, Mondrone said he was also asked. Again, he answered no.

It was more than the mayor of the city, asked the same question, could have said.

The Voice‘s revelation this month that Rudolph Giuliani’s father served time in prison for robbery and later worked as a collector for the mayor’s mob-tied uncle gave birth to a wide array of reactions, with two main themes.

One was an outraged chorus of complaints about mudslinging and Italian bashing.

Wayne Barrett, the Voice senior editor who disclosed the information in Rudy! An Investigative Biography, a new book about the mayor, was simply capitalizing on the public’s lust for “the allure and intrigue” of Mafia tales, said former governor Mario Cuomo.

Even if innocent themselves, Italian Americans get this treatment all the time and “Mayor Giuliani is the latest victim of this particular form of torture,” wrote the Daily News‘ Lars-Erik Nelson.

“Rudy Giuliani is being smeared with the dishonest blood of family members,” wrote Stanley Crouch, also in the News.

The other, more muted response was one of consternation and anger at a mayor who had judged so many others so harshly.

“I come from a family that is extremely proud of its Italian heritage,” said Chiara Colletti, a vice president with a college testing organization and former spokeswoman for the Board of Education. “We are much more sensitive to Italian stereotyping than we ever let on. But what [the book] revealed is relevant to the life of a public figure because this is a person who casts judgments on others who are involved in crime, even exposing the pasts of others for his own convenience.”

Louis Mangone, an attorney active in Italian American affairs, remembered hearing the mayor extol his father’s honesty at a gathering at the Columbus Club, the city’s premier Italian gathering spot. Giuliani, whose prosecutions as a U.S. Attorney had been targeted at friends of many of those present, got a chilly reception.

“You can’t visit the sins of the father on the children; we know that very well. But he’s been so sanctimonious on this very issue with others,” said Mangone.

And then there was the response of Sal Mondrone, who so far has been unable to qualify for a waste-hauling license. “I was told by my lawyer I knew too many people,” he said. “I think it’s two standards here. [Giuliani’s] father hung out with gangsters. His cousin had mob affiliations.”

Speaking to Channel 4’s Gabe Pressman about his plight last week, Mondrone wept. “All I want to do is make a living. This is all I know,” he told the Voice.

Trade Waste Commission chairman Edward Ferguson III declined comment on Mondrone’s situation but acknowledged that applicants are asked about their associates. “We have a good character and integrity statute, but we make very sure any associations are more than just social,” he said.

Cuomo, who made a generation of Italian Americans proud with his elegant and articulate liberalism, has been the book’s most vocal critic.

“What’s the relevance? Why print it?” demanded Cuomo, who has been on the receiving end of nasty, unsubstantiated rumors about his own relatives. “Ninety-nine percent of biographers would put this in, especially if it involved an Italian,” said Cuomo. “But in doing a biography, you come across something that is hurtful to him, his children, to his ethnic group, don’t you have to say to yourself, out of decency and fairness, what meaning does it have?”

It’s a thought that leaves historians and writers scratching their heads.

“The notion that a biographer should deep-six genealogical information about his subject is preposterous,” said Mike Wallace, the Pulitzer Prize-winning coauthor of Gotham.

“A parental skeleton in the family closet would beyond question serve as legitimate grounds for speculation about motivation,” said Wallace.

If anyone made the mayor’s father a worthy subject for further exploration it was the mayor himself. He has cited his father’s influence to every journalist undertaking a profile of him since he first made headlines as a prosecutor in the mid-1980s.

As recently as this April, when he announced his prostate cancer, he described Harold Giuliani as “a very, very important reason for why I’m standing here as the mayor of New York City.”

But the mayor has declined to discuss the book’s specifics beyond suggesting that his family has fallen victim to negative stereotypes of Italian Americans.

“I think I’ll stand on my record of having prosecuted and put in prison more members of the Mafia than probably any United States Attorney in history,” the mayor said. In the course of his pursuit of organized crime, he had been threatened with death “at least three times,” he added. “And if that’s not enough to remove the Mafia prejudice, then there probably could not be anything you could do to remove it.”

Those mob prosecutions are well-detailed in Barrett’s book. So are the assaults Giuliani undertook as U.S. Attorney on mob influence in the Teamsters union, and later as mayor on the Fulton Fish Market and the private carting industry. Those efforts have yielded a far more democratic union in the case of the Teamsters and lower prices in the carting and fish wholesale businesses.

But in the course of those probes, investigators have routinely asked uncomfortable questions about family connections.

“It certainly is not automatically disqualifying, but asking about family members is certainly a relevant question,” said Michael Moroney, a veteran federal mob investigator who was charged with investigating dozens of Teamster locals under the court consent decree that resulted from Giuliani’s RICO case against the union.

Yet there were many sons and daughters of alleged racketeers who, while never accused of committing crimes themselves, were banned from the union.

“It’s still a painful chapter. An injustice was done to my family. I don’t want to go into it,” said the son of the former head of a large New York City Teamsters union local who was removed from his own union post for failing to investigate his father’s mob ties.