‘A bright light’ for Bay Ridge: Brooklyn mourns loss of Joanne Seminara

Brooklyn political leader and local stalwart Joanne Seminara died Dec. 15 at the age of 66.
File photo

South Brooklyn stalwart Joanne Seminara died Thursday at the age of 66, leaving those who loved and worked with her in a state of disbelief. Community leaders were quick to mourn the former Democratic Committee member and Community Board 10 chair, who they say was a devoted city advocate with great integrity and dedication to service. 

“Joanne taught me a great deal about the importance and positive impacts of community service,” said CB10 District Manager Josephine Beckmann, who worked alongside Seminara for many years.

Seminara served as a member of the board, which represents Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights and Fort Hamilton, for 26 years, and headed it from 2010 to 2013.

The lifelong Ridgeite began her a career as an attorney and went on to practice in New York and New Jersey for more than three decades. Seminara began speaking on issues regarding estate, trust and taxes at local educational seminars and even led her own legal education workshops. She also spent time teaching at her alma matter Notre Dame High School in Staten Island, and ran for City Council three times, knocking on thousands of doors to introduce herself — and her ideas for a better Bay Ridge.

Jaynemarie Capetankis, CB10’s current chair, echoed Beckmann in admiring Seminara’s mentorship, tenacity and overall ability to lead with honor.

“Joanne’s contributions will forever be part of our history and future,” Capetankis said. 

Seminara received various awards for her work throughout the years, including the Bay Ridge Third Avenue Merchant’s Civic Award in 2017, the Power Women in Business Award from Schneps Media in 2016 and was most recently named one of Brooklyn’s “Best Lawyers” in 2020. 

Councilmember Justin Brannan shared kind words online for the woman he calls his “political mother.” The Bay Ridge pol says he met Seminara when he was entering local politics, and that the two quickly became friends.

“Joanne had absolutely no fear. She had no problem standing alone if it meant standing up for what she knew was right. She was unbought and unbossed, an inspiration to us all,” Brannan wrote in a post on social media. “My deepest condolences to her loving and dedicated husband Pierre, her children, and her grandchildren who she loved more than anything on this earth. She will leave a hole that could never be filled. Joanne was that special. May angels lead her in.”

Tributes quickly came pouring in online, on social media and on an online guestbook for Seminara’s memorial services. There, friends, family and many of those she inspired remembered the local leader as a “guiding light.”

“I will miss Joanne as a guiding light for Bay Ridge. She sought justice for all,” wrote friend Bernadette Hoban.

State Senator Andrew Gounardes said her passing will “leave a giant hole” in may locals’ hearts.

“Joanne was — and always will be — the epitome of integrity,” he wrote on social media. “In many ways, she was a moral compass of the community, always pushing to make sure that people and institutions did the right and proper thing for the neighborhood.”

Brooklyn-based organizations also took to social media to mourn Seminara’s passing — among them, the Bay Ridge Democrats, a progressive political club she founded in 2010.

“We are heartbroken that our friend, club founder, and our long serving district leader Joanne Seminara has passed away. Joanne was an original — a person who shaped our community through her politics, who helped many through her legal work and community service, and who mentored and supported us all,” the group shared on social media. “She was a bright light in our community as a principled, dedicated public servant. She will be missed by so many.”

Seminara is survived by her husband Pierre Lehu, two children, Peter Lehu and Gabrielle Lehu Frawley and four grandchildren, Jude, Rhys, Isabelle and James Joseph. 

She will be laid to rest on Monday, Dec. 14 during a mass at Saint Andrew the Apostle Roman Catholic Church in Bay Ridge. In lieu of flowers, Seminara’s family urges loved ones to consider making a donation to any of the following organizations, all close to her heart: Bay Ridge Cares, Doctors Without Borders, City Harvest, Bread for the World and the Southern Poverty Law Center.