In the spring of 1991, after answering an ad for a judicial race placed in the local Yorktown paper, I was talked into the unenviable position of running for Yorktown councilman as a Democrat in our then solidly Republican town.
Having been a practicing lawyer since 1974, I felt confident about my qualifications for the position of town judge, but being elected to the Town Board was quite another thing. I have always believed in thorough preparation and the position I then sought required a depth of knowledge that I did not yet possess. My anxieties were, however, soon assuaged when the local committee assured me that I would be well-prepped by “the best of the best.”
A week later, I was seated in the living room of a local committee member when in walked the person who was going to teach me all I needed to know about town government. It didn’t take long for this tanned and eloquent man to live up to his billing. Yes, the “best of the best” was indeed impressive. I was awed not only by his wealth of knowledge but also by his magnificently engaging personality, his sharp wit and his contagious laugh. His name was Albert Capellini and we were good friends from that day forward.
As you may have heard, my very dear friend, Al Capellini, passed away last week, losing his battle to cancer. I tell you, my world and our town will never be the same. Upon reflection, the fact that we quickly bonded in 1991 isn’t surprising since we had so many significant things in common.
For starters, Al and I shared an Italian-American heritage. Al’s parents were born here but went back to Italy only to return at age 21, and settle in East Harlem. That’s where the Capellini family stayed during Al’s first decade, before moving to the Northeast Bronx.
Al and I both graduated from Catholic high schools—I from Notre Dame High School in West Haven and Al from Mount St. Michael’s in New York. Although our tenure was at different times, we each attended Fordham College at Rose Hill in the Bronx. The young Capellini graduated from high school in 1959 and entered Fordham seven years ahead of me. Of course, he majored in political science and was elected class president his senior year.
Always brilliant, Al entered Columbia Law School the year after graduating from Fordham and was an outstanding student. What many people may not realize is that his true love was not the law but rather teaching. Realizing this, Al changed direction after law school, went back to Fordham (now to its graduate school) to pursue a teaching career.
It was at this pivotal moment in his life that his lovely wife, Rosanna (the love of his life), gave him a loving cue that the family needed him to secure employment and discontinue graduate school. Al secured a job with the appeals bureau of the Bronx District Attorney’s Office, where he remained for four years, successfully sustaining hard-fought convictions including two notable homicide cases. Ironically, like our time at Fordham, I followed in Al’s footsteps once again when I went to work for the Legal Aid Society in the Bronx only a few years after his departure.
Outside of the courtroom, Al began his political career by running for the unexpired term (one year) of Yorktown Councilman John Hand, after Hand had been elected to the County Board of Legislators. One year later, Al successfully ran for the position of supervisor, defeating prominent Republican Roger Gofton. Considering the dominance of the Republican Party throughout our town’s history, to win the position of Yorktown supervisor as a Democrat was truly a testament to this man’s intelligence and charisma.
He would hold that office for four years, but was defeated in his lone effort to win an Assembly seat. Having run for office four times in five years, Al hung up his political spikes and established his law office in 1980. His practice earned the reputation of the preeminent land use law office in Yorktown.
The truth is that life had been a wonderful journey for this father of two (and grandfather of two more). His eyes twinkled when he talked, glowingly, about his sons, Jeffrey and Terence. Along the way, he never shirked from giving back to his community. Besides being one of the founders of the Circolo da Vinci organization, he was also a member of the Jack DeVito Foundation and the Lions Club.
I often asked Al about his life and what motivated him to dedicate so much of himself to his community. He recalled for me an experience that he had as a young college student that may have ignited his selflessness, that flame of giving that burned brilliantly throughout his entire life. That experience was a chance viewing of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. As a Fordham intern, working in Washington for the IRS, Al was able to slide away from his duties and, using his Fordham Ram press pass, placed himself not far from the podium to hear one of the most moving and important speeches of our time.
So Al and I had come full circle. Both of us were born into Italian-American households, educated in the Catholic tradition, attended the same university, practiced law in the Bronx, and chose to live in Yorktown, where we served the town we loved so much. But, for all our similarities, what caused me to love this man was the fact that he was one of the most decent and kindhearted human beings I’d ever known.
Al appreciated the good in everyone. His generous, kind and loving spirit recognized no boundaries, not of politics, race, religion, or ethnicity. He would often call both men and women “sweetheart” and he meant it, since for him, interaction with others was truly an act of love.
I will miss you, my dear friend—your kindness, your warm embrace, your contagious laugh, and your encouraging words. All I can say is thank you for all you’ve given throughout the years. You will forever be my inspiration.