Scandal-tarred ex-city official wants to be a judge

Scandal-tarred ex-city official wants to be a judge
File photo by Tom Callan

A disgraced School Construction Authority trustee whose decision to hand out a patronage construction job ultimately led to a teenager’s death in 1998 wants to make more life-altering calls — this time from behind a judge’s bench.

Bay Ridge Parkway attorney Paul Atanasio is running on the Conservative line for Supreme Court, one of eight candidates vying for six available slots in this year’s otherwise dull, off-cycle election.

Atanasio has run for Supreme Court — which handles trials and felony criminal cases — before, and even made a brief pitch to replace former Rep. Vito Fossella, who stepped down after a drunk driving arrest led to the revelation that he had a second family.

But he’s failed each time — possibly because of his checkered past.

In January, 1998, a brick from a construction project atop PS 131 on Fort Hamilton Parkway in Borough Park fell on 17-year-old Yan Zhen Zhao, killing her. A city investigation later determined that a “lethal combination of incompetent contractors, halfway safety measures and laissez-faire supervision” led to the girl’s death.

The accusatory finger was specifically pointed at project leader Gary Marrone, the husband of Conservative Party Leader and Dyker Heights Civic Association President Fran Vella-Marrone.

But the city also found that Atanasio was also to blame: he gave Marrone the PS 131 project at the behest of Vella-Marrone, who was Atanasio’s aide at the time. Atanasio, in turn, hired Vella-Marrone because Mike Long, chairman of New York’s Conservative party, asked him to.

Marrone was never held criminally liable. Investigators ultimately blamed Espo Construction for Zhao’s death. A few months later, construction workers pleaded guilty to manslaughter and failing to provide overhead protection at the school and were forced to pay thousands in fines.

Atanasio resigned from the School Construction Authority in 1999. He reportedly told investigators that he had nothing to do with Marrone’s hiring — although several other School Construction Authority officials contradicted that account. One of the School Construction Authority members even told investigators that he warned Atanasio that “he would have exposure” if he hired Marrone for the job.

Over the last 10 years, Atanasio has been working at his law practice and as treasurer for the state Conservative Party.

Calls to Atanasio were not returned, but Vella-Marone was quick to come to his defense.

“He’s a good, very intelligent person and is a fine candidate for judge,” she said, adding that the PS 131 scandal is irrelevant to Atanasio’s ability to be a Supreme Court judge. “I don’t think it’s an issue.”

Overall on Election Day, Nov. 8, voters boroughwide will be asked to vote for six out of eight Supreme Court candidates and two out of four civil court candidates. Three of the eight Supreme Court candidates — Lawrence Knipel, Betsy Barros, and David Friedman — are judges seeking re-election to another whopping 14 year-term.

Other candidates include Carl Landicino, former election lawyer for the Kings County Democratic Party; Acting Supreme Court Justice Rachel Adams, who is seeking a permanent seat; Civil Court Justice Johnny Baynes; and probate lawyer Renata Landskin.

To find your polling place, visit the Board of Elections website at vote.nyc.ny.us.

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