STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Her name may have never appeared on a ballot for political office on Staten Island, but behind the scenes, Mimi Cusick was known as a larger-than-life political figure in the borough’s Democratic politics for the last five decades.
During any Democratic race on the Island, Mrs. Cusick could be found putting together a team of volunteers to work on a campaign, stuffing and mailing out campaign literature or running the show at Democratic County Committee meetings.
“Mimi Cusick was a real pillar behind the scenes in the Democratic party for all the years that I knew her,” said longtime Democrat Robert Gigante, the Island’s former Surrogate Court judge and chair of the Democratic Part for years.
Mrs. Cusick died in her home in Westerleigh on Sunday afternoon surrounded by her loved ones. She was 88-years-old.
Gigante met Mrs. Cusick in 1978 when he ran against the late Sen. John Marchi when Gigante worked as the Staten Island Democratic Party’s law chairman.
“She was somebody who was very concerned about our quality of life here on Staten Island and she was a doer,” Gigante said. “Whenever we needed help at the county headquarters or on any campaign, Mimi was always there, behind the scenes, but she was always there.”
She was a lifelong Staten Islander born in 1931 in St. Vincent’s Hospital who dedicated herself to Democratic politics from a young age.
POLITICAL PASSION AND DEVOTED MOM
Mrs. Cusick was a beloved presence in Staten Island’s Democratic Party politics and the matriarch of one of the top Democratic families in the borough’s political history.
In her early 20s she and her brother, John Kearney, the Island’s former Public Administrator for Richmond County, joined the Staten Island Democratic Party as young Democrats.
She served in the party for the remainder of her life and was even re-elected as a Democratic County Committee member last year.
The Island’s Democratic Party is also where Mrs. Cusick met her husband, the late Supreme Court Justice Peter Cusick.
The couple wed in 1967 and went on to have three sons — Peter, John and Michael — Michael now an assemblyman who represents the 63rd Assembly district and serves as the Democratic Party’s chairman.
A CAREER WOMAN, TOO
Outside of politics, once her children left for college, Mrs. Cusick went back to work in 1987 as a school safety officer at PS 30 and PS 22 for 20 years.
Assemblyman Cusick said often on the campaign trail when he would knock on doors in his district, constituents would recognize him because of his mother when he would come face-to-face with parents of her former students or her former students.
Former PS 30 School Secretary Babara Smith of Great Kills recalls being an awe of an older woman coming on the job as a school safety officer. But Smith said Mrs. Cusick went on to become “the best [school safety officer] we ever had.”
Smith said she would knew all the parents and students who came through the school doors and didn’t let anyone she did not know get past her desk.
HER SON’S VIEW; A WELCOMING HOME
Assemblyman Cusick said his late mother never ran for office because she knew she could affect more change from behind the scenes and get into the “nitty gritty of campaigns.”
“Politics was important to her in a sense that she knew that politics was a good vehicle for a better life on Staten Island for people,” Assemblyman Cusick said.
Mimi Cusick was also known to unite Democrats and Republicans together on the Island.
She was known for hosting annual gatherings on New York’s Day, Fourth of July and before, during and after the St. Patrick’s Parade, in her home on College Avenue.
Her parties were attended by judges, senators, governors, and mayors, recalled Kathryn Rooney, chairman of the Board of Trustees of Richmond University Medical Center.
One year, Assemblyman Cusick remembers former Gov. David Paterson and former Mayor Michael Bloomberg sitting on either side of her at the picnic table of their backyard, holding court.
“Mimi was the beating heart of a vast community of friends, family, and neighbors. Her home was where everyone headed for New Year’s Day, the Fourth of July, and for green bagels after the Island’s St. Patrick’s Day parade. You were always welcome at Mimi’s, and you wanted to be there, to bask in the warmth of her graciousness and fabulous smile,” said Rooney.
HER IMPACT WAS VAST
State Sen. Diane Savino said Mrs. Cusick was integral to fellow women in the Democratic Party, often encouraging local women to get involved in politics.
“She was a person who helped build the party and showed that women could be as effective as the old boys, but in their own way,” Savino said. “She had her own style.”
“She was always involved no matter what races we were involved in,” said City Planning Commissioner and former MTA Board member Allen Cappelli. “Whether it was Eric Vitaliano running for Congress, organizing people to perform tasks, whether it was Ralph Lamberti running for borough president, she was involved in all of it.”
Now U.S. District Court Judge for the Eastern District, Eric Vitaliano recalled Mrs. Cusick as someone who could find humor in politics and the “last living link to the hegemony of West Brighton Irish leaders of the Staten Island Democratic Party.”
“Though she came from a time when women were viewed as the ‘auxiliary,’ Mimi was a full-throated partner with her husband Pete and brother John Kearney,” Vitaliano said. “It has come full circle now with Mimi living long enough to see [her son] Mike not only a member of the Assembly but also Democratic County Leader, the position her brother John so richly deserved. Her laugh is silent now but, even through the tears, it is impossible to think of Mimi without a smile coming to your face.”
“Mimi was not only the matriarch of a wonderful and beautiful family but she served and advised the wider community — from her local Westerleigh neighborhood to the Islandwide political and civic centers of meaningful decision making — with compassion, wisdom and wit,” said District Attorney Michael McMahon. “With a twinkle in her eye and incomparable empathy and understanding for others, her generous spirit raised up everyone she met. Just speaking with her made you feel good. Including my wife Judith and I, every aspiring Democratic elected official would stop at Mimi’s house and benefit from her sage counsel and her Irish-American charm and humor. We will miss her dearly and extend our condolences to the entire Cusick-Kearney clan.”
A DEVOTED FRIEND TO ALL
Former Borough President Ralph Lamberti called Mrs. Cusick a “friend to all” who was Democrat, but respectful to everyone.
“She was devoted to her family and her faith, and always humble and gracious, despite the high positions her family members had attained,” Lamberti said.
Bishop Edmund J. Whalen said: “Mrs Cusick was one of the people who made Westerleigh and Blessed Sacrament a great place to grow up: Involved, caring, and willing to help make the neighborhood a real family.”
Republican and Conservative Party leaders also praised Mrs. Cusick’s work.
“Mimi is from a family that everyone on Staten Island liked, whether you be a Republican, a Democrat, a Conservative or a Liberal,” said former Borough President and Conservative Party chair James Molinaro. “I recall so well all the St. Patrick’s Parades on Forest Avenue when Mimi would invite us into her home – she made tons and tons of corned beef – and every single person felt welcomed. No one felt like they were intruding. The entire family – the assemblyman, her brother John, her husband Peter – they are really Staten Island community people. Gentle people. It’s a loss. A tremendous loss.”
“Mrs. Cusick was a warm, kind human being. She always welcomed us to her home with a smile after the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, and her goodness was evident. She was proud of her sons, including my dear friend Assemblyman Mike Cusick, and I will forever remember when my mom joined me at Mrs. Cusick’s home when I endorsed Mike for his reelection. That day affirmed there is nothing quite like a mother’s love. She lived a purposeful life, and now she can rest,” said Borough President James Oddo.
Mrs. Cusick’s wake will be held at Casey Funeral Home on Tuesday at 7 to 9 p.m.; Wednesday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Her funeral mass will be held on Thursday morning at Blessed Sacrament R.C. Church at 10 a.m.
Mrs. Cusick is predeceased by her husband of 33 years, the Honorable Peter P. Cusick, and her parents, Michael Kearney and Veronica (Kelly) Kearney; her brothers Michael, a Deputy Chief with the Fire Department for New York, and John, the former Public Administrator for Richmond County.
She is survived by her three sons Peter, Michael and John; her daughters-in-law, Ashley (Bateman) Cusick and Yasmin (Gaffar) Cusick, and seven grandchildren, Peter Stephen, Kelly, Jack, Kate, John Patrick, James and Violet Miriam.
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