Rosemarie O’Keefe, the heart and soul of Bay Ridge’s tight-knit Republican community, died of cancer on July 17. She was 65.
The right-wing activist’s political career started with block associations in Bay Ridge and earned her a spot in City Hall, but she always remained dedicated to her neighborhood and Republican causes.
The Fort Hamilton HS graduate entered the political sphere when she organized a block association on 75th Street to combat a proposal to install parking meters on her street.
Soon, she was traversing the neighborhood as a bona fide community organizer, bringing together the neighborhood’s disparate street groups under the banner of the Alliance of Bay Ridge Block Associations, an organization she co-founded.
O’Keefe’s hard work and tireless devotion to the Republican party caught the attention of Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who made her Commissioner of the Mayor’s Community Assistant Unit, where she assisted families of victims of the 9-11 attacks.
Friends remember her as a staunch preservationist who was always working to restore her 81st Street Victorian home, and as a loyal Bay Ridge resident committed to graffiti clean-ups and volunteer efforts.
Political allies say that O’Keefe — who nearly beat former state Sen. Vince Gentile (D–Bay Ridge) in a 2003 special election for the City Council — will be best remembered for her dedication to the Grand Old Party.
“She had a very strong determined streak about it. When she set her mind to something, it was either her way or her way,” said Bob Capano, who is following in O’Keefe’s footsteps by running as a Republican against now-Councilman Gentile. “Whether she was fighting against historic homes being torn down and turned into condos, or the direction of the Republican Party, she always fought for the good of the neighborhood.”
But friends are quick to note O’Keefe’s dedication to another party — the annual Republican “Christmas” party.
The vocal activist relied on her ceaseless work ethic and fierce resolve to ensure that all of the neighborhood’s Republican leaders took part in the festivity, which O’Keefe insisted be called a “Christmas party,” not a “holiday party.”
At the beginning of the celebration, O’Keefe, ever “insistent and persistent,” would distribute songbooks to attendees and force all of the guests — including Republicans dignitaries like state Sen. Marty Golden (R–Bay Ridge) — to sing Christmas Carols, particularly the “The 12 Days of Christmas.”
“Although it was important for her to her to have political identity, she also made everything a lot of fun,” said Roni Pawson, current Republican District Leader of Bay Ridge’s 60th Assembly District.
“She was able to get groups of people to work together for a common good.”
O’Keefe is survived by her husband, William; her sister Sandy; and two nephews and two nieces.