Christopher Mega, a former Republican state senator and assemblymen whose prolific career, work ethic and omnipresence at community events transformed the way Bay Ridge politicians did business, died Sunday after a long illness. He was 80.
The Borough Park native served in the state assembly in the mid-1970s and was later elected to the state senate, where a defeat to Democratic challenger Joe Montalto by a mere 300 votes after his first term changed the way he did business.
“He never stopped running,” Montalto remembered. “I would go to a community meeting and he’d be at that community meeting. I’d send out a mailer and he’d send out a mailer. He had energy and zeal for that kind of job and he wasn’t going to give up.”
That doggedness paid off for Mega, who went on to win the next two elections and became chair of the senate’s judiciary committee, where in the early-1990s during the height of the crack epidemic, he lobbied successfully to expand state prisons to accommodate the huge influx of inmates convicted on cocaine-related charges. He also was an advocate for tougher sentences for convicted sex offenders.
He helped bring pre-kindergarten programs to his district and sponsored the bill that required restaurants to display posters showing Heimlich maneuver instructions in their eateries.
Mega was appointed judge to the state Court of Claims in 1993, where he served until stepping down in 1998 to run one last time against Vincent Gentile for his old senate seat. The move drew criticism because he would have been paid his pension as a judge and former state senator, in addition to his full salary, were he elected. But he lost that election to Vincent Gentile, (D–Bay Ridge) presently the neighborhood’s councilman, who remembered the race, and Mega, fondly.
“It was an epic battle,” said Gentile. “We may not have agreed on certain issues, but I respected him for his principles that he stood by. He was a good advocate for the community.”
Mega graduated from Fort Hamilton HS, then studied at St. Francis College and Brooklyn Law School.
His first job was as an attorney at a Fifth Avenue law firm, where he was partner. In 1973, he ran for an open assembly seat during a special election in 1973, a seat he held until 1978, when he ran — and won — his first state senate seat, which at that time covered much of southern Brooklyn.
But he was most remembered for his omnipresence in the neighborhood.
“He told me one thing,” remembered state Sen. Marty Golden (R–Bay Ridge), “ ‘People want to see you, to be a part of you, and to know that you’re going to respond to their needs.’ ”
This work ethic meant that Mega was seen everywhere in his district — sometimes attending five community events a night.
“You knew exactly who your state senator was because he was always there and always present,” said Gentile. “You always knew when he was in the room. It set a standard for other elected officials to work as hard as he did.”
Mega died surrounded by family at his home in Saratoga Springs, NY.
Mega is survived by his wife, Madelyn; his two sons, Chris and Jeffery; and his two daughters, Valerie and Jackie.
A viewing will be held at Clavin’s Funeral Home [7722 Fourth Ave. between 77th and 78th streets (718) 745-1445] on Thursday at 7 pm, and Friday at 1 pm and 7 pm. The funeral will be held at St. Ephrem’s Church [929 Bay Ridge Parkway between 10th Avenue and Fort Hamilton Parkway (718) 883-1010] on Saturday at 9:30 am.