City Council Minority Leader Jimmy Oddo attributes much of his success to a good old-fashioned island upbringing
Growing up the youngest of four boys in a devout Catholic household and the son of a city worker, Jimmy Oddo never really put too much thought into pursuing public office. “In our house, the news was always on during dinnertime, the newspaper was spread across the living room floor, and my parents always made sure that even at a very young age, my brothers and I were very aware of what was going on around us both locally and in the world,” the city Councilman said. “But I was a kid from Old Town Road; the idea that I could ever be involved in politics was very farfetched.”
Born and raised in the mid-island section of the borough and spending his summers on the Little League diamond or playing stickball on a sandlot with his friends, Oddo credits much of his success in local government to those early years of his youth—the almost charmed neighborhood existence his hardworking parents enabled set a strong precedent for Oddo’s own personal definition of life, character, and family values.
“I really didn’t have to venture far from the mid-island area,” he recalled. “Taking the train several stops to Oakwood to attend high school at Monsignor Farrell was about as far south as I went. But that’s the charm of living here. My parents still live in the same house where I was raised. Your neighbors…they’re like your family, and your whole existence happens within this one-mile radius.”
Oddo did venture beyond the borders of the borough during college, earning a bachelor’s degree from Fordham University. A desire to get a job in federal law enforcement led him to pursue his Juris Doctorate from New York Law School.
“I wanted to get into federal law enforcement and work for the FBI, but the closest I got was through the painstaking interview process with the Secret Service,” Oddo said.
Unfazed, he further gravitated to the books, reading and studying about ever more aspects of law and government, and a few internships at the District Attorney’s office and other borough agencies helped him gain valuable experience and connections. “I also started working for an undercover private investigator,” he noted. “He was a retired Police Department guy and I applied for the job to gain investigative experience, which I really did earn there.”
Then, in 1991, Oddo’s mother approached then Council Member John Fusco at an Old Town Civic Association Christmas party. “She came home all proud,” Oddo recalled. “She told Fusco all about her son who had graduated law school and she came home with the contact info for his chief of staff. I, of course, was mortified.” But he sent the resume, and in March, Oddo reported to 94 Lincoln Avenue for an interview.
“Fusco was sitting behind his desk and my knees
were knocking,” Oddo said. “But we had a good interview; our family values were so similar—he was the first guy in his family to go to college and his father always preached about education. He hired me. The next thing I knew, I was working for an elected official.”
During his seven year tenure with Fusco, Oddo says he earned both professional and life experience. “The job profoundly changed my life. John taught me so much: how to conduct yourself, how to never to let anyone outwork you. He honed all of the values that my parents had preached for years.”
And while Fusco spoke about the privilege of being an elected official, Oddo said he never really considered himself as a candidate.
“From the time of the special election in February, I literally had only nine months to prepare to run again that November,” Oddo said. “From day one it felt like we were running a marathon at a sprinter’s pace. I had this internal pressure of living up to Fusco’s standard, and to overcome the notion that I was a great ‘number two’ guy. I had to convince myself and my critics that I wasn’t just a great staffer, I could also lead. I had John’s voice in my head telling me ‘Don’t let them outwork you.’”
For the past 13 years, Oddo has taken Fusco’s advice and placed his focus on leading and helping the people of his district. “I unabashedly have the best staff in city government,” the Councilman said. “We live the job 24/7, we know our district, and know what needs to be done. It’s just a matter of putting our heads down and attacking the issues.”
His most prized accomplishment? “I drive past the old Doctors’ Hospital now and I can remember sitting in the emergency room with a fish hook in my finger. I remember, too, praying in the waiting room, thinking about the time when I almost lost my dad. And now, in that historic place, I see the steel going up on an 844-seat school. For me, that school is tangible validation of everything we’ve done.”
The school, slated to open in September 2013, will replace the overcrowded PS 48 located directly across the street.
“My office facilitated that deal. It’s something that I am unconditionally proud of,” Oddo added, though he admitted, too, the job does not come without sacrifice. “The residents of this borough have high expectations for their elected officials and rightfully so. My parents still live and die every bad editorial and letter to the editor, but I try not to let the critics get into my head. I’ll receive a lot of criticism for something I’ve done and then I’ll get a thank you note from a senior who appreciates something my office has done or someone will Facebook me to let me know I’ve made a difference. It takes a short while to earn a good reputation, but a long time to lose a bad one, and I hope to continue serving Staten Island for many years to come.”
Photos: By Vinnie Amessé © www.amessephoto.com