August 8, 2012
By Joe Maniscalco
When he was about six or seven-years-old, John Mancuso – the Port Richmond native now vying to unseat Republican Nicole Malliotakis in New York’s 60th Assembly District – remembers standing on a picket line with his father outside the Clove Lakes Health Care and Rehabilitation Center.
“I didn’t understand what a strike meant,” Mancuso says. “To me it was just people marching around in a circle holding signs. Later on, I realized how the union helped my dad keep his job when the nursing home wanted to fire the entire staff and bring in new people.”
In the intervening years, Mancuso has built up a Democratic pedigree that includes stints as aides to both NYC Councilman Vincent Gentile and former State Senator Seymour Lachman. If he wins the Assembly seat on the Democratic and Working Family Party lines in November, Mancuso says he will work hard to amend the controversial Tier 6 pension plan, protect collective bargaining and help bring new industry to the state by supporting legalized casino gambling.
“It’s really just about preserving union issues up in Albany and making sure while I’m up there that we’re trying to bring industry back to the state so we can create good union jobs again,” Mancuso says.
In order to do that, however, Mancuso believes he’s first going to have to combat a significant “anti-union climate” that has somehow managed to largely obscure the vital role labor has played in the lives of hard-working men and women of the state.
“Too many people are just overlooking that now,” he says. “They don’t understand it. And it’s mostly the Republican legislators that don’t understand it because they represent a lot of special interests in a lot of corporations that don’t have union labor, and who don’t ever want to have union laborers. That’s why it’s important that we have as many Democrats as possible up in Albany.”
Until recently, Mancuso was proprietor of the family-owned Silvestro’s Deli and Caterers on Staten Island. He holds a degree in culinary and restaurant management from the Art Institute of New York, and studied at St. John’s University and Empire State College. He calls unions the “backbone” of society and credits them with supplying the American economy with a consistent source of high quality services.
“We’re outsourcing all of these jobs overseas, and all of these corporations aren’t using union labor because they feel that it’s too expensive,” Mancuso says. “But they need to realize that when you’re hiring a union member, you’re hiring someone that is a professional in that craft – they’re experts.”
Several month’s ago, Mancuso’s opportunity to become involved in a labor action just like his father had so many years before, came during a dispute with management at the Community Education Centers of Delaney Hall ICE in Newark, New Jersey, where Mancuso now works as an inmate counselor and is a union delegate for District 1199J.
“It was the same thing again,” Mancuso says. “The management was just so anti-union, and they weren’t giving us what we needed. So I had to call in other unions to strike for us outside [1199J’s contract precludes strikes]. “That’s what it’s about. It’s about the brotherhood coming together to support each other.”
Mancuso’s civic mindedness extends to his volunteer work with the 122nd Precinct Auxiliary Police and the Auxiliary Police Highway Patrol 5, where he won numerous awards including Supervisor of the Year and Officer of the Year during a 14-year career as an auxiliary. He also volunteers with the NYC Parks Department Enforcement Patrol’s Mounted Auxiliary Unit.
“I just feel that New York City is not getting its fair share from the State and it’s current elected officials,” he says. “[Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis] is a member of the minority. She just can’t bring home what we need. As vocal as she is and as much as she is out in the community, that’s something I can do as well — but when I go up to Albany I can actually get a bill passed. I can bring home money. I can fund programs that need to be funded and also support labor. She touts herself as supporting the labor movement, but she hasn’t expressed that in any of her votes up in Albany this year.”