Monday, January 14, 2013

A Thankful Community Pays Tribute To Long Time South Brooklyn Resident Celia Cacace

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Celia Cacace (right) at a tribute held for her on Sunday
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The first ever Neighborhood Soap Box Award
If you use the name 'Carroll Gardens' to refer to our neighborhood in front of life-long resident Celia Cacace, she will immediately correct you and say: "Call it Red Hook or South Brooklyn, the way it used to be called. The other name was invented by realtors who wanted to gentrify this neighborhood back in the 60's"
She was once famously quoted in the New York Times, foreshadowing the changes that would come to  her beloved South Brooklyn, saying:  "I don't care if they are yuppies, puppies or guppies moving in. Gentrification is not going to be good for us."
After an entire life spent in the neighborhood, Celia has to vacate her apartment and sadly, has not found an affordable place to move into.  This week, she is heading to Wisconsin to live with her son.

Her departure will leave a huge hole that may never be filled, because Celia is pretty unique.
Though she never held public office, she was always watching out for her community and was not afraid to stand up for what she believed was the right thing to do.
Fiercely loyal to South Brooklyn, Celia watched out for the seniors, got involved in every issue and gladly shared her vast knowledge of the neighborhood's history.  She seemed to be at every meeting,  whether it was at Public School 58, the 76th Precinct community council, or at Community Board 6 where she was a member for many years. She always took copious notes with her multi colored pens and asked her famous four point questions.

Yesterday afternoon, a tribute was held for Celia at Mama Maria's on Court Street.  It was an opportunity to celebrate her legacy in the neighborhood so the restaurant was filled with neighbors, fellow activists and those who had worked with her on many issues over the decades.
Jerry Armer, a former Community Board Chairperson said of Celia: " She can make anybody do anything."
Daniel Kumer, the current Chairperson of CB6 recalled that: "Celia spoke long after the microphone had been taken out of her hands, but she had earned the right to speak."
Former Brooklyn Parks Commissioner Julius Spiegel recalled his many conversations with Celia regarding the trees and bocce courts in Carroll  Park. "In her honor, I am naming her the 'Bocce Commissioner of Brooklyn'. "
"She is the most generous of people.  She always shares her opinion," Howard Graubard , former aide to State Senator Marty Conor, told those gathered.

Celia also received citations from current State Senator Squadron, Assemblywoman Joan Millman, Councilman Brad Lander, as well as from Brooklyn Borough President Markowitz.

Celia's leaving seems like a defining moment for Carroll Gardens South Brooklyn.   As hard as it is to believe that any one person can have such an impact in a neighborhood,  Celia certainly is a very special person. Walking down Court Street without bumping into her will just never be the same.


Below is a speech given by my husband Glenn yesterday at the tribute, when he presented Celia with the first ever neighborhood Soap Box Award :
I've known Celia Cacace for almost twenty-five years but it seems like I've always known her. I believe that we met at a United Neighbors Association meeting in perhaps 1988 and we began banging heads when I took an interest in Carroll Park, which Celia had been looking after for years. We argued long and hard on many issues over many years. On many occasions, I realized that we were arguing over something or other on which we were in complete agreement. It didn't matter because she was determined to stand and defend her ground.As many of you know, arguing with Celia is not for the faint of heart. Her small size does not match her strength and character. She stands 6'4" in my mind and I will miss her.
I've lived here in Carroll Gardens South Brooklyn/Red Hook for 35 years.  Whatever we choose to call it, it is a neighborhood and Celia has been a big part of it.  Through her work on Community Board 6, Carroll Park and many neighborhood organizations, she has made a difference in many of our lives. 
I spoke with Vincent Mazzone this morning and he said that he was sorry that he could not attend.  He did however make a donation and told me that he would have paid 10 times that amount to get rid of you years ago.  He also said that Celia has always stood for someone or something, never for herself.  Without thought of personal gain, Celia has helped this community and its residents for many decades and she has become, for many of us, the voice of this neighborhood.  If you have a problem, a question or a concern, you can call the Community Board. elected officials, 311, government agencies or look it up online.  But if you want an ally, a  comrade, an advocate, you talk to Celia.
For all these reasons, the Carroll Gardens Neighborhood Association would like to present the first ever neighborhood "Soap Box" award to Cecelia Maniero Cacace.





4 comments:

Anonymous said...

First picture, Celia is on the right.

Katia said...

Ooops. Thanks for pointing out the mistake. Just corrected.

Anonymous said...

It was a wonderful tribute to a wonderful person who gave her life to her community. Celia is a dying breed. It would be fantastic if there was a new generation of citizens as engaged and forthright as she was. Bon Voyage Celia and may the gods of good bless those you advocate for in your long future ahead.

Anonymous said...

I stopped by and was lucky to have a few
Words with Celia outside the event. I'm glad I did . She's been such a part of the fabric of my neighborhood since I moved here from west 109th st near Columbia University, back in 1989. Always knew my name , always said hello, always chatted. I'm sad to see her go but glad she will be enjoying a new place with family. But somehow, I can see her returning, but secretly I know, she can't. I just hope she won't be trapped by the suburbs of Wisconsin and loose her edge. You can take a woman out of the City, but you can't take the city out of her.