Is San Gennaro Feast Sans Mafia Really Better Off Now?

San Gennaro sans Mafia: Is it better off now???
REVISED AND EXPANDED: The New York Daily News: The charity running one of the biggest tourist attractions in the city — the Feast of San Gennaro in Little Italy — gave away only a tiny fraction of the more than $4 million it raised from 2007 to 2012, a Daily News investigation has found.

Over those years, the group Figli di San Gennaro took in $4.4 million in gross revenue, but gave up only $210,500 of that to charity. That’s about 4.7% — just slightly better than when the Mafia was running the feast.

Back in 1996, then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani kicked out the previous charity, saying it was giving out only 3% of what it took in to charitable causes.

At the time, the Genovese crime family was actually in charge, stealing everything in sight — even some of the dollars tacked to the statue of St. Gennaro, patron saint of Naples, that’s paraded down Mulberry St.

That year, the feds busted a gaggle of gangsters, including one named Tony Waterguns who ran a game at the fair, alleging they’d skimmed hundreds of thousands of dollars from the festival for years.

The feds installed a monitor. The charity running the feast back then was kicked out. And Figli di San Gennaro was put in charge.

Shortly after Figli arrived, the amount of charitable giving increased dramatically, from $7,700 when the mob ran things to $185,000 when the new charity took over.

Giuliani promised, “It’s going to be a feast that actually delivers to charity. It will help children.”

Since then, even with a monitor overseeing things, the feast and the charity have had their share of troubles.

I wrote this in a previous story about San Gennaro and am rerunning it here:


Yes, former mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, who recently seemed to wistfully acknowledge that he missed the old days, when the "certain rationality" of Mafia violence held sway over New York, declared in 1996 that the feast was "gangster-free," except for a few minor incidents, such as one effort tied to Joe "Rat" Massino and the more recent move by Conrad Ianniello (who also runs a cannoli shop) and his crew in 2008 to shake down vendors. But what is the larger trend?

I quote from the New York Times: "Little Italy — or Littler Italy, as certain wits have called it — has lost a good deal of its square footage and authentic flavor over the years. Caught between an encroaching Chinatown and a growing SoHo fashion trade, its pork stores and red-sauce joints have been left to huddle largely on its main drag, Mulberry Street. The 2010 census failed to find a single neighborhood resident — not one — who was actually born in Italy."

Could there be a correlation? I am playing devil's advocate, of course, but the question is worth considering. If the mob were shaking down the feast, if it was earning off it, would it have shrunk to what it is today? For me, the answer is, no.

If it were a Mafia ATM machine, I think it would still be thriving. The merchants were shaken down -- but they had a business. The Mafia bleeds people, but not to death; they know if you don't earn, they can't steal from you. How much are merchants earning off this vastly smaller feast, compared with the ones held in years past? What about the merchants not there anymore, earning zip. Ask: were they better off 10-20 years ago?

I am NOT advocating crime, but some things... I don't know. It doesn't seem as black-and-white to me as it seems to appear to others.

Reading the Times story, others seem as wistful as the former mayor (and myself) about the Mafia's historical footprint in Manhattan.

“I know Conrad — he used to have a dessert place, Lo Spuntino, on Mulberry between Hester and Canal,” said Mort Berkowitz, a street-fair specialist who has been running the feast since 1996, when Mr. Giuliani appointed him to the job with a mission to clean up the notorious corruption. “His wife, Rosalie, used to make the greatest gingerbread-house Christmas cakes. To me, he was always a nice guy.”

"Mr. Berkowitz, who once described his own relation to the feast as “the hired help, the Jewish guy from the Upper West Side,” said he had no idea that gangsters still ran roughshod over its vendors.

“I find it incredible,” he said. “No one’s ever said a word to me — and some of these people are my close friends.” Hmmm, interesting....

"The reactions of business owners in the neighborhood were equally incredulous and seemed to fall into one of two groups. There were those like Lou DiPalo, proprietor of DiPalo’s, an Italian delicatessen on Grand Street, who said the indictment would distract people from the contributions Italians had made to the city — the building of its bridges, for example, and the cooking of its food. Then there were those who simply puffed their cheeks and offered up their palms, professing ignorance of Mafia involvement in the fair. ...

But it's not LCN that is described by the Times as "the most serious recent threat to the festival." That rubric the newspaper reserves for "a coalition of fashionable newcomers — baristas, owners of designer stores and residents who use the name “NoLIta” — [who] filed a motion with Community Board 2 to reduce by half the footprint of the fair. Though the motion was defeated by a 20-to-13 vote, the board won some concessions from the feast."

What, may I ask, were the reasons for that "coalition of fashionable newcomers" to try to "reduce by half" a New York event so closely tied to Italian heritage?

What if a fashionable group of newcomers tried to have the Puerto Rican parade cut in half? Or [name any ethnicity]? And I have nothing against Puerto Ricans.

Back at the time, a New York Post story on the "fashionable newcomers" quoted one "coalition member" saying: “They come in with greasy hands” and stain the leather handbags and $300 dresses, said Ying Ying Chong, owner of White Saffron, one of the hip shops that have popped up on Mulberry Street between Kenmare and Houston streets — the blocks where the festival would be banned.

“I have cannolis frying in front of my store!” she said. [Note: she is not complimenting the Sicilian pastry dessert.]

This pissed me off. Maybe Joe Colombo was right. 

One of the guys who we consider a mentor (he helped us develop the name and positioning of this blog when we were preparing to launch) emailed me his thoughts on this story.

I think he eloquently nailed a considerable part of the problem here:

Read your story on the Feast. It's important to note that since Giuliani stepped in to "fix" the Feast it has shrunk to a shadow of its former self. Not only have those neighborhood residents and alumni who had stands each year taken a financial beating, but all those who supplied bread, seafood, sausage, etc. have lost out. Let government step in to fix a perceived problem and it usually gets worse. As RR said, the most frightening words are, "I'm from the government and am here to help you."


  1. Its called capitalism at its best others call it skiming others down right stealing thats the new AMERICA my friends and its not gonna get any better. What.s the line on the game tonite? Philly

  2. New York New York what a wonderful place....

  3. Who.s running things down there again pauley walnuts he forget the the hat again lol

  4. I like the Sopranos reference.

  5. The mob still has their hands in this feast and always will. The only way to rid the mob of this feast is to cancel the feast indefinitely, WHICH I AM TOTALLY AGAINST. There is an overseer as well as having someone installed in the actual board of the Figli di San Gennaro society to make sure things are on the up and up, but they have nothing to do with what goes on at the street level. The same person who is in charge at the street level has been in charge for the past 14 years, and I won't mention any names.

  6. Who do New Yorkers consider the better mayor: Koch or Giuliani?

  7. Good question if im correct ones a democrat and ones a Repuplican i think therefore a split down party lines lol philly

  8. Giuliani, was by far a better mayor with a better background. He would have made an even better president than the douche bag we have today, but by breaking the mob's back, he destroyed our beloved Italian American neighborhoods. Man, those were the days.

  9. I don't think Rudy gave a shit about the feast....this has nothing to do with my opinion of him as a politician. But as a U.S. Attorney I think he focused on the mob for the headlines. And after all that buckshot, the new overseer gives "slightly more" than the mob did to charity!!!

  10. Since Ed has revised and expanded this article, I will revise and expand my comments.
    First off, we can blame Giuliani all we want, but at the end of the day you can lay the fault right down at the feet of the Italian and Italian American people of Mulberry Street. For many years they put their trust in the hoodlums that ran, controlled and protected this neighborhood never thinking that the glory days would end. Even during Gotti's reign people were grumbling about how the neighborhood was changing. At one point the merchants in this neighborhood had an opportunity to work together at declaring the neighborhood a historic district, but that failed also, probably because most of the shop owners never took the advantage of buying the buildings, and believe me, years ago they could have bought them for a song. Take Rossi and Sons, for example. They used to be on the corner of Grand and Mulberry. They were given the opportunity to move next to Ferrara's, which they took, on Grand or close down. Mr. Rossi, the father, now dead had a chance to buy the building years ago, but he didn't want the headache. Today a corporation owns the building. The restaurant that took its place called Novello's is now shuttered. SPQR became the Christmas Tree Store of Little Italy. They are now expanding across the street where il fornaio used to be. I can go on and on about this neighborhood, but I won't. The Italians had a thriving population not only in this neighborhood, but throughout New York. They should have taken a page out of the Jew's book. I am Italian, not Jewish. The Jews run this NYC because they educated themselves and no matter what beefs they have with each other, they stick together as do the Chinese. The Chinese that buy buildings on the lower east side are usually multiple families. I can understand the argument about who wants to live in these cramped apartments and walk up all those stairs, but at the end of the day, if the Italians had worked together and educated themselves earlier on, not this new moronic generation, they could have controlled the neighborhood legitimately as well as the feast and reaped the profits of a historic neighborhood. This has ceased being a somewhat Italian neighborhood for at least 25 years. I can remember about 15 years ago some corporation buying a building on Mulberry in which the storefront housed a shrine to San Gandolfo, and they did everything they could to kick them out. The old ladies were making a plea for the boys of Mulberry Street to return, but to no avail. This neighborhood and the old timers that were left were treated like those poor seniors that are neglected in an old age home. No one ever thought anything like that would ever have happened. An old man considered the mayor of Mulberry Street had his head bashed in by a mugger on Grand Street. Years ago this mugger would have paid in blood. Go to Borough Park in Brooklyn on 13th Avenue and see how the Jews have that neighborhood tied up. They even had the streets rezoned to accommodate their habits. That's real power.
    Now I will turn into Nostradamus and predict the future: There is an old poster of Mulberry Street taken at the turn of the century during the Don Fanucci era. In it you can barely make out a German sign amongst all the Italians and Italian shops. Eventually, this will happened again, only the barely visible sign will be an Italian sign and this tourist trap will be no more. Let's face it. The food sucks down there anyway.

  11. Interesting stuff, Old School...

  12. I know I liked Koch. He was a New Yorker's New Yorker. I remember one Halloween he actually got egged. I can still remember him describing the experience on the radio, the runny eggs running down his back. And he didn't take any shit from anyone! Also on radio he was once guest hosting a show and if someone called in and was nasty to him he just hung up on their ass! What politician does that?? Rudy I never cared for. I know he was an effective mayor but he was also a grandstander. Even the FBI thought some of his big 1980s mob cases as prosecutor were bullshit... I have to find where I read that and maybe do a story....Rudy always seemed to have his eye on a larger prize while Koch only wanted to be mayor, he lived and breathed the job.


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