Monday, December 1, 2008

RIP Joe Margiotta

Joe Margiotta, the Long Island political legend who was one of the most pivotal figures in Hofstra history, died Friday at the age of 81 following a brief hospitalization. Newsday has done a nice job this weekend of summarizing Margiotta’s life and the legacy he left on the Nassau County Republican Party, which was among the most powerful in the nation during Margiotta's tenure as its chairperson.

I certainly hope the lack of a similar retrospective at the official Hofstra site (as of the time of this posting) about his impact on the school is a matter of Hofstra being closed for the long Thanksgiving weekend and not something more sinister or careless. To not acknowledge Margiotta would confirm, in far colder teams than I could have envisioned, that those now running Hofstra have no real attachment to the University or its traditions.

It’s one thing to ignore the days of Division III football and East Coast Conference hoops. Say what you want about Margiotta’s colorful past—I wasn’t at Hofstra when Margiotta Hall was built, but I remember reading plenty of clips in The Chronicle critical of the University’s continued support of Margiotta following his imprisonment—but it’d be something else entirely to ignore a man who was one of Hofstra’s most prideful grads.

Margiotta, who enrolled at Hofstra in 1946 after serving in the Navy during World War II and played for the Flying Dutchmen football team with James Shuart, often referred to his relationship with Hofstra as a five-decade love affair. And unlike the rest of us, he spoke as much with his wallet as his lungs.

According to his biography in the 2007 football media guide (page 69), he helped land state approval for the law school at Hofstra as well as the original Unispan. Margiotta served the University in a variety of capacities and was among the founders of the Pride Club as well as its predecessor, the Fifty for Hofstra Club.

In his biography, Margiotta was described as “…an ardent and faithful fan, whose attendance at Hofstra athletic events would be hard to match.” He was most passionate, though, about football. Margiotta was the most vocal advocate of upgrading the program and facilities and hand-picked Joe Gardi to become the head coach in 1990, a decision that led to previously unimaginable prosperity for the Flying Dutchmen.

And Margiotta Hall wasn’t named after him because he was the highest bidder after the fact. The first time I met Margiotta was when he sat in on my season preview interview with Gardi in August 1994. It was a little different than any interview I’d ever done, but I was smart enough to figure out that if Joe Margiotta wanted to sit in on an interview conducted inside a building that he built, well, he could do that.

Margiotta continued to dream big about Hofstra football, which he hoped would someday make the leap to Division I-A, but the current powers that be did not share his enthusiasm for a sport that loses the school money by the buckets. And it was impossible not to notice that Margiotta seemed to become another long-time Hofstra athletic figure whose impact was marginalized under the new regime: His biography was not included in this year’s football media guide for the first time since I began following the team in 1994.

Such an absence is inexcusable. So, too, would a continued lack of acknowledgment about Margiotta’s life and legacy by Hofstra.

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Cake Sitter said...

I have mixed feelings about this.

The man abused and misused the public trust in a state that perfected and practically invented the patronage game, to say nothing of the corrupting power of absolute power.

On the other hand, Society determined that he directly paid his debt for 14 months, and he had to walk around with his self-realized stigma for the rest of his free life.

That he was the University's biggest football booster (and among its largest benefactors) is worth applauding. But does that redeem the sins of his "colorful past"?

As far as recognition by the University, he already received it, while he was still living and able to enjoy it with his family (a far better fate than most ex-cons, I would think).

Anonymous said...

Cake Sitter is completely and 100% on the mark. He may have focused on Hofstra as a leading academic institution, which it is not I am sorry to say, (although great law school) Margiotta was nothing more than a masterful patronage hack, unprincipled, and out for the almighty $$$.

Spare us. He left Nassau County in a continual political dysfunctional system. He honned and tailored it, what on earth, is so wonderful about that?

former Massapequan and political activist

Michael H. said...

@Cake sitter: What had he done for which he went to jail? Just stumbled across this post and couldn't get the background story completely.