Joe Borelli: I love teaching American Government

Citizens Magazine staff writer

This summer, Joe Borelli marked his 30th birthday with a celebratory fundraiser at the Old Bermuda Inn.  With the campaign for the 62nd Assembly District going well, he had reason to believe this event would be a success.  What he didn’t count on was the outpouring of support from so many people from his past.  Elementary school friends mingled with his co-workers from the City Council, and Community board members traded stories with his high school football teammates.

Joe has been a South Shore resident his whole life and has always had a strong belief in public service.  In junior high school, he got his first taste of charitable work after joining the Boy Scouts.  In only four years, he achieved the rank of Eagle Scout after completing a community service project at the old Camp St. Edwards.

“The Boy Scouts are a great organization.  They teach personal responsibility, respect for America, and a reverence for our citizenship.  I wish more young people had this opportunity,” said Borelli.

In high school, in addition to being on the St. Joseph by the Sea football team and running their Italian Club, he was President of the school’s chapter of the Holy Name Society.  This group, which was run by Father Reilly before he became principal, sought to combine charitable work, moral development, and social trips.

It was during high school, that Borelli got both his first job and his first taste of government.  At 16, he started working at the South Shore Swim Club as a groundskeeper and earned his first paycheck. The following year, after some friendly encouragement by teachers, he began a volunteer internship in the fall of 1999 for then Councilman and now County Clerk Steve Fiala.

“There aren’t many people that are more cerebral, knowledgeable and articulate about the workings of government than Steve.  He’s been a great mentor over the years, and he exemplifies a true public servant,” he said.

Borelli went on to college to receive a Bachelor’s degree from Marist College, where he was a key part of the school’s 2001 championship Rugby team.  He had to work a part-time job during the school year to afford room and board as wellas a second over his summers back on the Island.   In 2003, he became a licensed realtor.

“The real benefit of my brief time as a realtor was seeing how hard it is to get a business off the ground.”

Joe eventually went on to receive a Master’s Degree from the College of Staten Island, where he now works as an adjunct professor of political science.

“I love teaching American Government.  I try to convey to my students that regardless of their goals in life, politics and government will affect them and they must participate in the forces around them,” said Borelli. “It’s great to see them begin to value their own role as citizens.”

Starting in 2005, Borelli served as Chief-of-Staff to Vincent Ignizio in the State Assembly and in that role in the City Council since 2007.   During this time, he has worked on dozens of projects throughout Staten Island.

“Joe does a great job,” said Ignizio. “In any government office, you’re only as good as your staff.  Joe has taken the lead on projects that range from crafting finance legislation to the funding and creation of Martinson Park, which will break ground on October 19th.”

“Managing Vinny’s office has been a great experience. People like he and Councilman James Oddo are young, aggressive, and talented.  They put public service before politics, and quite frankly, I am flattered that they are so strongly in my corner,” added Borelli.

They aren’t the only elected officials standing with him.  Since announcing, he has received the support of Congressmen Michael Grimm and Bob Turner, Assemblywoman Nicole Maliotakis, Borough President James Molinaro, and former Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Joe can point to many successful projects he worked on throughout the district.  But when asked about which ones he enjoyed the most, he pointed to two battles with the Bloomberg administration.

After speaking with the director of Project Homefront, Joe learned that the Firefighter exam applicants who were currently serving overseas in the military were having a hard time getting the required money orders to the City on time to take the exam.  While they were able to help some folks with that issue, Joe began to question why active and retired servicemen and women had to pay for exams at all.  This led to an almost four year battle with the Bloomberg administration to give veterans the same benefits as those applicants on public assistance.  Now veterans are entitled to a free exam at the time they claim their bonus test points for their previous service.

“It didn’t seem fair.  The city was giving free exams to some people based on their economic needs.  No one was saying we should take that away, but it took a lot of convincing and pressuring before they realized that young people returning from service deserved the same treatment.  They Mayor finally got on board, but a lot of the credit has to go to Vinny [Ignizio] and Christine Quinn for keeping the issue alive for that long,” he said.

The second issue he mentioned was his role as an expert witness in the 7th and 8th grade school bus lawsuit against the department of Education.  The plaintiffs won the case in civil court, but lost on appeal. Legislation had to be passed in Albany by Senator Lanza and Assemblyman Cusick before service could be restored.  Borelli played a major role in reviewing and proving the DOE’s “studies” of the service cut were a sham.

“It was a real wakeup call.  We caught them in a lie at the highest level.  To think that public servants would lie as casually as a stereotypical fisherman who claims, ‘The big one jumped out of the boat,’ is simply outrageous.  They didn’t evaluate the problem before the cut it. They simply went ahead and did it.”

Borelli’s work in the school bus case and in a subsequent battle against PCBs in department of Education buildings caught the attention of the United Federation of Teachers.  They recently endorsed him, and they aren’t the only labor union to do so.  Borelli has received the support of the ATU 726, PBA, UFA, and UFOA as well.  Clearly, this first time candidate built a support base from a broad political spectrum.

A little over 8 years into his career in public service, and many of this diverse group were celebrating at with him at the Old Bermuda Inn for his 30th birthday.  Going forward, Borelli hopes his relationships and experiences in government will help him serve the 62nd Assembly District, which includes the entire south shore and portions of New Dorp, Grant City, and Todt Hill.

“The Assembly is a full time job and I want to hit the ground running,” he quipped. “I can’t afford to ease up and let down my friends, family, and the residents of the 62nd District.”

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