Volume 20, Number 42 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | March 2 - 8, 2011
Photo courtesy of Sean Sweeney
The procession for Anne Compoccia stopped in front of her family’s Mulberry Street café to pay final respects before her burial on Saturday.
Anne Compoccia, fearless community voice, dies at 62
BY Albert Amateau
The Church of the Most Precious Blood in Little Italy was filled to capacity on Saturday, February 26, with community leaders and friends of Anne Compoccia, the brash, fearless and compassionate fighter for her Downtown neighborhood who died Thursday, February 24 at the age of 62.
A member of Community Board 1 and its chairperson for 12 years, she earned a reputation as an intrepid advocate who, if she didn’t always get what she wanted, always came away from the negotiating table with a valuable benefit for Lower Manhattan.
With her gruff voice and salty speech, Anne Compoccia waded into the struggles that helped turn Lower Manhattan from a 9-to-5 business district with outlying ethnic neighborhoods into a bustling 24/7 mixed residential and commercial community.
With her fellow Community Board 1 members and local elected officials, she was instrumental in getting ball fields built in the open space of Battery Park City in 1993 and making them a permanent amenity a few years later.
In an interview with Downtown Express a few years ago, Compoccia recalled that after Battery Park City first denied the community board’s request to locate ball fields in the development, she made a direct appeal to then-Governor Mario Cuomo who overruled the public authority which he controlled and ordered the fields to be built.
Robert Townley, executive director of the community-based Manhattan Youth, credited Compoccia with leading the effort that resulted in establishing the Manhattan Youth Downtown Community Center and the center’s use of Pier 25.
She was among the community leaders who convinced the city and the Battery Park City Authority to build P.S./I.S. 89, which opened in 1998 on Warren Street in Battery Park City. She also fought for The Greening of Greenwich Street project that began in 1999 and included widening the sidewalks of the street and improving the Washington Market Park playground.
After federal prosecutors indicted members of the Genovese crime family in 1995 on charges that they secretly controlled the annual San Gennaro Street Festival centered on Mulberry Street, then-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani in 1996 named Compoccia to run the festival, the largest street fair in the city. Around the same time, Compoccia persuaded the city to shut down Mulberry Street between Canal and Broome Streets during the summer, creating the Mulberry Street Mall to stimulate pedestrian traffic. She collected monthly rents from merchants in the mall that were supposed to go to the city Department of Finance. But she was charged with bank fraud after it was discovered that she deposited about $85,000 in accounts she controlled by forging documents.
She pleaded guilty and served 10 months in a halfway house and did community service in a Manhattan hotel for people with AIDS.
She said at the time that she was struggling to save Café 21, a restaurant founded by her father, which was rapidly failing. She said she was “borrowing” the money but the café went under and she couldn’t restore the funds.
She resigned as chairperson of the community board, gave up running the San Gennaro feast and witnessed the dissolution of the Little Italy Chamber of Commerce, which she had founded.
Chastened but not defeated, she continued to work after her sentence at the hotel for people with AIDS, where she helped residents who were going through the prison system and got them jobs. Although shunned by a few, she retained the respect and affection of many of her neighbors.
“She was a great sister, a wonderful aunt and she was generous to a fault,” said her brother, Anthony. “It was her generosity that got her in trouble.” He added, “The church was full at her funeral and I wish all her detractors had been there to see and hear it.”
Although she rarely returned to Community Board 1 meetings, she remained a constant and critical observer of everything in the neighborhood. Around June 2008 she was at the Regal Battery Park cinema with her 5-year-old niece when smoke prompted the staff to evacuate the theater. Outraged that the smoke did not activate the fire alarm, she fired off a letter to the theater manager and to Regal corporate headquarters in Knoxville, Tenn.
A month later she received a reply from the company’s counsel and chief administrator apologizing and acknowledging that the theater safety plan had been violated. He said he ordered the theater to review emergency procedures and check the fire alarm system.
At the church filled with mourners including members of Downtown Independent Democrats, Figli di San Gennaro, North Little Italy Neighborhood Association, Little Italy Merchants Association, residents of Independence Plaza, where Compoccia lived for the past 35 years, City Councilmember Margaret Chin gave the eulogy.
Sean Sweeney, a friend and fellow member of Downtown Independent Democrats, said later, “Anne fought tirelessly on behalf of the Lower Manhattan community and her dedication, hard work and determination will be missed.”
After the funeral mass, the San Gennaro “Red Mike” band led a procession of mourners from the Baxter Street side of the church down to Canal Street and up Mulberry Street to Hester Street. The hearse carrying her body stopped for a moment while the driver got out and opened the doors to let in the air of Mulberry Street, to comply with family wishes.
Perazzo Funeral Home was in charge of arrangements. Burial was in Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Valhalla, N.Y.