Throngs Hail Manton
The late Thomas J. Manton's long years of dedicated service to Woodside and surrounding communities as a lawmaker and Democratic leader were hailed by an array of family, friends and colleagues last week as the Woodside post office was renamed in his honor.
Speaker after speaker heaped praise on the affable congressman and city councilmember who devoted the last 20 years of his life to rebuilding the Queens Democratic organization into the most powerful unit in New York City while increasing the representation of minorities and women from its ranks.
The dedication ceremonies at the post office at 39-25 61st St., were led by Congressmember Joseph Crowley, who succeeded Manton both in Congress and as Queens Democratic leader and proudly cited Manton as his mentor.
Other speakers on the dedication program included United States Senator Charles Schumer, Queens Borough President Helen Marshall, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Flushing Postmaster William Rogers and Gerry Sweeney of the law firm Sweeney, Gallo, Reich and Bolz. Manton had been a partner in Sweeney, Gallo, Reich and Bolz until last April. Of the other partners, David Gallo, Frank Bolz and Michael Reich, Reich also served under Manton as executive secretary of the Queens Democratic organization.
The invocation was delivered by Msgr. Michael J. Hardiman of St. Sebastian Roman Catholic Church in Woodside, and the closing convocation was given by Rabbi Stuart L. Berman Sr. of the Woodside Synagogue.
Manton, a U.S. Marine, was honored with a processional by a Marine Corps Color Guard at the start of the program.
The National Anthem was sung by Sean Crowley, brother of Congressmember Joseph Crowley.
Manton's wife, the former Diane Schley, and their children, Cathy Manton Laurent of Schenectady, Tom Manton of London, John Manton of Woodside and Jeanne Manton of Astoria, and grandchildren Nicole, Marc, Danielle and Liam Henry, headed a large gathering of family, friends and political associates who turned out to honor the former lawmaker and political leader who died last July 22.
Following Manton's death at age 73, Senators Schumer and Hillary Rodham Clinton and Crowley sponsored legislation to name the Woodside Post Office in his honor in recognition of his service to the Woodside community.
For three decades, Manton had served Woodside and adjacent neighborhoods as congressmember and councilmember. He started his law career there and resided in the Berkely Towers early in his marriage, according to Crowley. Also, his children attended St. Sebastian Parochial School and the family worshipped there.
Later on, the Mantons moved to Astoria and resided there until his death.
Manton was born in Manhattan in 1932, the son of working class Irish immigrants. According to Crowley in his remarks presenting the post office plaque and in the Congressional Record, Manton often told the story about his father, a plasterer, working in Washington, D.C., laying plaster in the Longworth House Office Building.
Crowley recalled, "[Manton] would often say, 'Only in America can a son of someone who built the halls of Congress one day serve in the halls of Congress'."
Early in Manton's life, the family moved to Astoria. Young Manton attended the St. Joseph Parochial School and then St. John's Preparatory High School.
At this point, the Korean War interrupted Manton's life. He enlisted in the Marines and served as a navigator from 1951 to 1953. Upon being discharged, he showed the same grit and determination he would in his later life as he enrolled in St. John's University night school to earn his Bachelor of Arts degree and from 1955 to 1964 worked days as a New York City cop and IBM computer salesman.
In 1958, he graduated from SJU and, still working days, enrolled in St. John's Law School, where he earned a law degree two years later. He was admitted to the bar a year afterward.
The tall, athletic and handsome attorney launched his law practice in Woodside and started to explore the local political scene with his close friend, Walter McCaffrey. His first really major political career move came in 1970 when he was elected to the city council, representing Woodside, Sunnyside and part of Long Island City.
Working quietly but determinedly, Manton slowly worked his way up in the council hierarchy, eventually gaining chairmanships of the Housing and Building, Education and Economic Development committees.
Two years into his council career, he made a major political career move by becoming the Woodside Democratic District leader and forming his own club, with Rita Brady as his coleader. After Brady retired, she was succeeded by Marie Koneco.
Also in 1972, Manton made a move which he hoped would land him in Congress eventually. The brash newcomer on the political scene decided to challenge veteran Congressmember James Delaney, a powerful lawmaker approaching his 30th year in Washington.
Manton harbored little hope of defeating Delaney and he eventually lost the primary. But he had staked a claim to Delaney's seat, as there were persistent rumors Delaney would soon retire.
Meanwhile, Manton took a step up in his law career when he joined Albert Pennisi and Michael Dowd in a law firm on Queens Boulevard in Rego Park.
In 1978, Manton was still patiently eyeing Delaney's seat when the legendary congressman announced his retirement. Manton, as a Democratic district leader carrying the county organization's endorsement, looked every bit the favorite to win the 9th CD seat.
Standing in his way, however, were Delaney's son, Patrick, a Wall Street broker who had been waiting to inherit his dad's seat, and Geraldine Ferraro, a new face on the scene who was working in the Queens District Attorney's office, then headed by her cousin, Nicholas Ferraro.
Patrick Delaney soon dropped out of contention so it came down to Manton versus Ferraro in the Democratic primary.
Ferraro's support came from a local political rival, Francis X. Smith, and the candidate's husband, John, a real estate lawyer. Smith, who had been the president of the city council also had a following in the Elmhurst/Woodside area.
In the campaign, Ferraro, an articulate opponent, caught on with Democratic voters and pulled off a dramatic upset against the favorite. For a second time, Manton was thwarted in getting to Congress.
Meanwhile, Ferraro defeated another favorite, Assemblymember Alfred Delli Bovi, a Richmond Hill Republican, who benefitted from the last reapportionment when the GOP made the district safer still for their candidate.
But Ferraro upset the prognosticators again, defeating Delli Bovi soundly in the general election.
Manton was then forced to cool his heals for several years more until 1984 when Ferraro, after three terms in Congress, decided not to seek reelection after being chosen as U.S. Senator Walter Mondale's running mate in the presidential campaign against Ronald Reagan. Ferraro's dream of becoming the first woman vice president was shattered when Reagan easily defeated Mondale to become president.
But Ferraro's pursuit of history had again given Manton an apparently easy shot at the congressional seat. This time, however, Walter Crowley, Joseph Crowley's uncle, came forward to challenge Manton in the primary.
According to Congressmember Crowley, his relationship with Manton got off to a very shaky start. "I worked very hard for my Uncle Walter in that campaign, and I remember vividly the heartbreaking loss he endured and that I felt myself. Tom Manton was an unspoken name in our household. It was a bad word. You couldn't say that name."
Manton finally made it to Congress and Walter Crowley got to succeed him in the City Council. Almost immediately tragedy struck as Crowley, the father of 15, died suddenly of a heart attack and Walter McCaffrey fell heir to the seat.
A year after starting his congressional career, Manton became the Queens County Democratic leader when the incumbent, Donald R. Manes committed suicide in the midst of a scandal that threatened to put him in jail.
One of Manton's first moves as county leader was to steer Joseph Crowley into the Assembly, occupying the Maspeth/Woodside seat.
Lawmaker Crowley explains, "Manton tapped me on the shoulder at the County Cork Association dance on Greenpoint Avenue, and he said to me, 'How would you like to be the next assemblyman from the 30th AD'?"
Manton encouraged Crowley to get into the primary, which he did and he easily won the seat with Manton's strong support.
About a dozen year's later, Manton again tapped Crowley on the shoulder, this time to offer his protege a chance to suceed him in Congress.
Manton had made all the preparations to run for another term in 1998, but suddenly announced his retirement and withdrawal from the congressional race at a time when no primary could be held for the seat.
Manton's Committee on Vacancies then voted to have Crowley replace Manton on the ballot. Crowley scored an easy victory.
"I was proud to succeed him here in Congress," Crowley said recently. "I know how proud Tom was to serve in this Congress, and I know how proud I am of the work that he did here. There is not a day that I am not grateful for the opportunities that Tom Manton created for me and for my life."
Turning then to Manton's ascension to the Queens Democratic leadership post, Crowley said the move came when the organization was "at its lowest ebb".
But, Crowley continued, "Manton took the reins and brought back the image of Democrats in Queens and in New York City and state. He instilled discipline from time to time, but he worked to make the party the pre-eminent political party, not only of New York City and state, but, many would argue, our nation today."
Manton's major successes lay in his aligning with other Dem leaders to get Gifford Miller and Christine Quinn elected as Council Speaker in 2002 and 2006, respectively. This ensured that almost all Queens councilmembers would receive committee chairmen's posts.
Another of Manton's major accomplishments, in this case assisted greatly by Michael Reich, party executive secretary, was to create district leader-at-large seats, which he filled with minority group members.
Manton also gave support to candidates from minority groups, making Councilmembers John Liu of Flushing and Hiram Monserrate of Corona, respectively the first Asian and Hispanic elected to the City Council. He also aided Assemblymember Jose Peralta the first Hispanic elected to the Assembly. Ellen Young of Flushing was also assisted as the first Asian American elected to the Assembly.
But among Manton's achievements, there were also bitter defeats.
Manton was unable to secure five-county endorsements in New York City for then Council Speaker Peter Vallone Sr. of Astoria when he ran against Governor George Pataki, making Vallone's task all the more difficult.
In this instance, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver blocked Manton's plan in retaliation for a failed attempt by Manton and then Assemblymember Joseph Crowley to mount a movement to oust Silver.
Another bitter defeat was Manton's attempt to win the New York City mayoral race in 2001 with Alan Hevesi as his candidate. Going into the race as a favorite, Hevesi generated problems with the Campaign Finance Board. Subsequent attempts to settle them caused him to lose all momentum in the campaign. Hevesi came in last in a fourhorse field.
The Hevesi defeat was all the more bitter considering that Manton had to choose between Hevesi and Peter Vallone Sr. as the Queens organization's candidate. Manton's instincts told him to reject his good friend Vallone and back Hevesi.
But, as always, Manton was gracious in defeat, as he was in victory. Despite spending a lifetime in politics, an often very dirty game, Manton was always a gentleman, win or lose.