A key piece of Carroll Gardens’ history is now preserved at the corner of Court Street and First Place, where a street sign commemorating late local leader Salvatore “Buddy” Scotto now hangs.
Scotto, a longtime community activist, died on Sep. 11, 2020 at the age of 91.
“He took on the mafia and lived to tell the tale, that’s a miracle,” said former Mayor Bill de Blasio at a June 29 street renaming ceremony attended by Scotto’s family, friends and city officials. There, Scotto was remembered for playing important roles in the city’s real estate, business, environmental initiatives and politics, especially in Brooklyn, for more than half a century.
The Scottos, along with many Italian-American families, immigrated to Carroll Gardens back in the early 20th century, when the neighborhood looked very different from how it does now. Until the late 50s, the neighborhood, which was sandwiched between territory traditionally controlled by the Gambino and Colombo crime families, was considered neutral.
Given the poor conditions and services in the area around 1960, many moved to Long Island, but Buddy Scotto had a vision of a better corner in Brooklyn.
Scotto got into politics to make affordable housing available and made sure hundreds of trees were planted along the streets by facilitating neighbors to work together, according to those he reached. On many occasions, his family business, a funeral home at 95 Summit St., served as the place to hold unofficial town hall meetings.
“He saw the potential of the Gowanus Canal a century before anyone else and it came to pass, that’s a miracle,” de Blasio said. “He brought people together who thought they’d never sit in the same room and made them friends.”
In the 70’s, when the odor from the highly polluted Gowanus Canal reached Court Street, Scotto took on the lead to what seemed an impossible cleaning and revitalizing of the waterway securing funds and achieving significantly better conditions. Cleanup operations are still underway at the canal.
“I learned about involvement,” said community activist Michael Pesce, who recalled a meeting of 18 Italian-American social clubs Scotto organized in 1965. “I learned about community — strange words in the mid-60’s. What was he talking about? That meeting changed my life and my career.”
Even though Carroll Gardens is still largely known for its many Italian businesses, bistros and gelato parlors, the community’s Italian population has decreased in recent years from 52 percent of the population in 1980 to 22 percent in 2012, according to census data. In that time, the area’s median annual household income more than doubled to $95,600.
The push to rename the street after the character responsible for its beautification came from Scotto’s acquaintances, as well as former city officials he constantly worked with.
Those who paid tribute to Scotto at the well-attended street co-naming also had much to say about the family at-large, including Scotto’s sister, Terry “Dolly” Scotto-Spinelli.
“Buddy had a way of bringing people to his table,” said John Heyer, current owner of the Scotto Funeral Home. “Whether it was for politics or some project, he would do that, but if it wasn’t for his sister Terry, we would have all starved.”