Vox Populi: The O'Shaughnessy Files

By William O’Shaughnessy | Go to book overview

JOHN BRANCA

John Branca, who died this week in Florida at eighty-six, was a beloved Mount Vernon icon. Many knew him as the brother of the legendary Brooklyn Dodger Ralph Branca. But John Branca put up a lot of numbers on the scoreboard of life all on his very own. And for all his laurels and high estate in the world of politics and sports, Johnny Branca was a Westchester townie.

Although he spent his last years in Florida pushing a market basket through Walgreen’s and flirting with the silver-haired widows in the Piggly Wiggly supermarket, John Branca will long be remembered around here as a New York state assemblyman and Commissioner of Recreation in Mount Vernon, the land-locked, struggling Westchester city. He was a celebrated high school coach, and Mario Cuomo even made him chairman of the New York State Athletic Commission where he cleaned up the brutal, violent sport called boxing. And, always, he was one damn good friend of this community radio station.

Back in the ’60s and into the ’70s, “Commissioner” Branca, as everyone called him, would preside and hold daily court on the benches at Hartley Park and listen to the pleadings and importunings of the old men of the neighborhood who would bring him their problems, laden with heavy dialects grown in the hills of Calabria, Guardia Lombardi, and Bari. Branca listened and savored all of it. And tried to assist.

He was a most agreeable figure and a class act in every season. Although he never became mayor of Mount Vernon, John Branca was a powerful political force, and you needed him on your side in every proposition.

Mount Vernon had a lot of vivid and beguiling figures then.

Alan Rosenberg, the legendary Westchester financial guru, played ball at A. B. Davis, which also launched a brilliant guy named Richard Garfunkel. And the great Bob Trupin, who played for Yale, came off those streets. And a brash kid named Jerry Valenti was building up his electrical contracting company even then.

He was of a Mount Vernon when giants walked the land in that city … larger-than-life personalities like Joe Vacarella, Augie

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